Where are the words?
Finding just the right words has usually been a key aim when writing about dance. Which ones best capture the essence of a performance as well as my experience of it?
Things have perhaps shifted for me most interestingly post-Umeå and Springback. The goal of the latter project was to guarantee that every work presented during Spring Forward 2014 got reviewed, and by more than one person. As a working journalist this task plunged me into close collaborative contact with Sally Marie (British), Christel Molin (Swedish) and Chiara Organtini (Italian) – dance insiders, yes, but not professional wordsmiths. Did that matter? I think not. The stamp of individual personalities and aesthetic temperaments came through this trio’s writing no matter what their respective degrees of security in English. That’s what style’s about, I guess. My job was to clarify, hone and honour each unique voice by sprinkling editorial magic dust upon their brief critical responses to the smorgasbord of performances we all consumed over one long, sunny Swedish weekend.
Bringing out the best in their texts yielded a real sense of satisfaction. Springback was, additionally, a valuable learning experience for me too. Stepping outside the ivory tower of my own opinion, I grappled happily with others’ thoughts and feelings. Chiara’s slant was, typically, bracingly poetical-philosophical and Christel’s by contrast more direct and unadorned but just as honest. As for Sally, well, I already knew she was passion incarnate but this was a chance to assist in shaping her astute tumbling of impressions and associations.
I think part of what I gleaned from mentoring these smart, sensitive women is to try to be more creative as a writer, and perhaps take more risks by resisting my own formulae. Writing with juicy authority yet without passing yourself off as some final arbiter of taste is a tricky business. One way of accepting such a challenge is by not disengaging from the work I see by ‘hiding’ behind a false objectivity.
Dance writing is, invariably, highly subjective. I’m fond of both Max Wyman’s notion that ‘All criticism is autobiography,’ and Edwin Denby’s acutely perceptive statement that watching dance is about being able to get drunk on a performance and only talking about it rationally afterwards (which I’ve reduced to the handy motto ‘Drink, then think’). And so although over time I may not remember every choreographer’s name or country of origin, let alone the order in which I saw their work, after this review-driven Spring Forward I may well resist being as pinned down to the kind of critical, star-rated verdict that a more conventional system tends to demand I subscribe to. In particular it renders Springback a model that can easily be adapted to other times, places and groups of people.