In dance we need words. However physical a dance performance might be, there is always something cerebral going on too. Words create a link between brain and body, between the sensation of watching movement and the experience of attending a performance. Words can close the gap between the intention of the artist and the response of the audience. Words can offer soothing answers to questions like: “Is what I am I feeling or thinking about this performance real or relevant?”
Springback is a one-of-a-kind programme that takes the relationship between words and dance very seriously. It’s where words, and those who write them, are given as much care and credence, encouragement and criticism, as the dancers and choreographers who make the movement that is the writers’ subject.
But mainly Springback is special because of the people who become part of it. From different backgrounds, countries and professions, they are joined by their desire to write about performances as reflections of themselves and our world. They like to talk about dance, to make sure that dance can be shared and can act as a seeding ground for ideas that go way beyond the walls of a studio or theatre. Springback nurtures those people whose creativity, ingenuity and imagination is expressed through observation, analysis and translation rather than the production of an oeuvre.
Since its beginnings in 2014, sixty writers have passed through Springback Academy. We first get to know each yearly intake of ten through their short, written application. They then pass through the initiation of a ‘reviewing bootcamp’ during the Spring Forward festival. Sleepless, but sustained by adrenaline, they write reviews about all twenty or so performances under the mentorship of experienced critics. After that, they can participate in the expanded programme that now includes attending Springback Assemblies, writing for Springback Magazine and other activities – contributing to this commemorative Aerowaves at 25 publication, for example.
Increasingly connecting online, these occasions, and most notably Springback Assembly, provide a pride-inducing snapshot of just how unique bringing such a diverse collection of bright and brainy people together to think, talk to each other and write is. I hope and imagine that it’s over the next 25 years that the value of these special encounters will be measured in full.
Springback began as a hunch, probably because John Ashford, in his first professional incarnations, was a words man from the theatre and then a journalist. Springback Academy is the European version of his own original idea Resolution Review, developed at The Place in London. I continue my role with enthusiasm because I was a dancer and words came to my rescue when the body let me down. Writing still provides a bridge to, or back to, dance.
We named our programme Springback ‘Academy’ with deliberate, tongue-in-cheek affectation. But in fact, Springback has now evolved into something that resembles a big, voluble, blended family. I hope it will continue to grow up in the way it has since the outset, organically, with flexibility and in constant forward momentum.
Springback Academy Director
On counting words and countless experiences
Among the things one has to master when writing about dance is how to adapt to multiple formats: short and punctual reviews, extensive and analytical essays, concise and inventive reflections on dance within different media. But for Springback writers, there is one persistent element that goes hand in hand with experimenting in every possible format: the word counting challenge. No matter how easily words are pouring out into blank documents or, conversely, how much you struggle with extracting the right word from the mine of your head and how each sentence becomes a Sisyphean task, you cannot avoid thinking of the ‘ticking’ of words. 102 so far, 38 togo! Every now and then you glimpse into the word clepsydra (look it up!) at the bottom of your page, a kind of typing angst that writers must learn to survive.
However, what may initially appear as an obstacle, later reveals itself as a benefit. Word counting is like text shaping: instead of approaching it like a limit, think of it more like a container, a playground of thoughts which can expand into page long stages or be condensed into a sentence long capsule. Just as the moving body can take giant leaps to express grandeur or settle into minor gestures to capture delicacy.
Springback Academy 2015
I’ll get my hat
On my first day with Springback Academy, back in 2016, I remember attending an introductory lecture by Sanjoy Roy on dance reviewing. At some point in the lecture there was a hat metaphor: a dance writer has to keep changing from ‘wearing the hat’ of the audience member, to the hat of the writer, and then to the reader of their text. In the following years, Springback would keep offering me more ‘hats’ and skills to exercise – notably through writing for Springback Magazine. Entering Springback Academy as a non-professional dance writer, the magazine has challenged me to take my dance writing more seriously. Having the opportunity to receive feedback on my texts and to share them with a wider audience has been an enriching experience.
Learning to write and communicate better about contemporary dance has for me opened up new ways to watch dance – or more correctly, to experience dance as a multi-sensory experience and attend to aspects of it that might go unnoticed. My notes from that first day lecture read: “What does the dance smell like? How does it feel?” Also (while watching), “open your eyes, your ears, your body, your mind, your heart.” I still keep these prompts in mind every time I enter a performance space.
Springback Academy 2016
The buzz on Zoom
Being part of the digital edition of Springback Academy 2020/2021 was an exercise in entertaining and anticipating a variety of alternate scenarios for how the Academy would function. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function” and our cohort of bright Springback writers did just that. Without knowing whether we would meet each other face-to-face in Rijeka, Elefsina, or anywhere at all, we forged a community founded on curiosity. I was surprised and relieved that even on Zoom, coming together and looking at the same performances still generated most of the buzz and excitement that comes with seeing, talking, and writing about dance. Our collective focus online still had the power to inspire reflection and to allow us each to identify what we found moving.
I found our cohort bold and open to tackling the challenging question of how the online viewing experience would affect our criticism, and our reflections were as varied and enthusiastic as the pieces we saw. In a year in which a global pandemic brought live performance to a halt, digital dance suddenly became a field we could all explore together and with excitement.
Springback Academy 2020
6 years of Springback Academy at Spring Forward
- 2015 Barcelona, Spain
- 2016 Pilsen, Czech Republic
- 2017 Århus, Denmark
- 2018 Sofia, Bulgaria
- 2019 Val-de-Marne, France
- 2020 online from Rijeka, Croatia
4 Springback Academy writing programme spinoffs
- 2017 Certamen Coreográfico, Spain
- 2018 Certamen Coreográfico, Spain
- 2018 Taiwan Dance Platform, Taiwan
- 2020 Onassis New Choreography Festival, Greece
6 collaborations with festivals
- 2018 Ice Hot, Reykjavík, Iceland
- 2019 PT19, Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal
- 2019 NID, Reggio Emilia, Italy
- 2019 B Motion, Bassano del Grappa, Italy
- 2021 Re-Think, Umeå, Sweden
- 2021 CODA Oslo International DanceFestival, Norway