Reviewing the review and the viewer
By definition a spectator is ‘a person who is present at and views a spectacle’.
A viewer is ‘a person or thing that views’. The audience, spectators at a public event, collectively view. But a ‘reader’ can ‘look carefully so as to understand the meaning’, ‘apprehend or interpret the meaning’ and still has room to ‘make out the significance by scrutiny or observation’. If audiences were called 'readers' rather than viewers how different might that feel?
Emergence is a chance of reflection and reframing, addressing the contemporary and changing matters as makers, writers and viewers. With the Internet, information saturation is at our disposal. The way we watch and read is affected by the quantity and quality of information available, our choices and positioning on this information are becoming ever more important? So in the wake of Aerowaves Spring Forward and Springback Academy, platforms for emerging dance professionals, a new generation, I wondered: What responsibilities do the roles of the dance reviewer and the dance viewer have; and do these responsibilities extend towards the artists and the art form?
To consider the position of the reviewers it’s necessary to ask; what is the objective of the review and whom does it serve? Is it the readership, publisher and author? Yes. What about the art form and the artists? Yes again, surely? Reviewers bridge audience and artist, they often write for organisations and to those readerships; artists are part of these readerships! As arts journalists they have a power and can act as the tentacles that probe outwards, a public voice attributed to be objective, knowledgeable and specialist. Aside from description and critique, a review can carry intention, giving purpose to the writing that could be an offering. It is a vehicle for what an individual wants to achieve through their writing. It is maybe worthwhile to reflect on the nature of the review as a vehicle and whether reviews are considered as ends, beginnings or something in the middle. For artists, audiences and reviewers critique is valuable, especially when it contextualises both individual experience and wider understandings. But is it possible for relationships based in critique to work with artists to promote, challenge and ultimately advance the contemporary nature of this evolving form?
In offering a contextualised opinion a review shouldn’t furnish their reader with an opinion. Nor act as a shortcut to watching work, or the final decision on whether or not to see a work and then what to make of it. There should be autonomy to the review but the information should not suffer because of this, it’s a question of how to be both specialist and universal. Creating new audiences whilst simultaneously challenging the current ones. It is a means of cultivating an audience that will in turn cultivate the form; in dismantling any pyramid structures can the different roles of engagement work to feed the one engine, where expectations include what individuals expect from themselves! Where individuals assert their ability to be engaged, with opinion, prepared to learn and invested. Then each role becomes culpable to the larger scheme, of ‘contemporary dance’ as an art form.
For this, audiences (reviewers included) need to be both caring and wanting if they place the art form above individual desire, supporting in one way and pushing in other. Desire can be present, needs to be present, but it does not wait to be engaged; instead it reaches outwards towards the work and tries to meet it. Desire is not a passive receiver and ‘wanting’ is crucial to avoid any confusion that work needs to be purely entertaining. ‘Wanting’ can put demands on the form, ‘wanting’ can invite possibility and ‘wanting’ can affect the distribution of funding. Artist and viewer needn’t be subsequent to each other but in tandem, to hopefully guide support to greater risk and ultimately greater return; risk which challenges entertainment vs artistic interest, notions of how we spend/experience time and challenges the evolution of the work. Reviews are a place to begin these encounters, to get people involved and to build an audience. Review writing and dance writing in general is a tool to elevate the status of contemporary dance and, accepting the problematic nature of writing about an ephemeral and phenomenal art, remains essential to the development and distribution of a marginal form.
This is the ‘information age’ where brevity and immediacy frame our writing and our experiences too. In this short attempt to explore these roles, maybe it could be a time to reassess the relationships to one another of artist-reviewer-viewer, viewer-artist-reviewer, reviewer-viewer-artist, whatever the configuration, and highlight the responsibility of autonomy and importance of reciprocation.