Towards a new and franker criticism
Artistic quality is my focus as a critic. Easy to say, but then we all know all the other aspects which are involved; the practical, economic and geographic ones, educational elements and levels of development. Such an important aspect as not being too hard on young and coming artists. This only mentions a few, and then there is my own professional boundaries and/or challenges: writing short, writing quickly, with wit and to make it interesting; feeding back whilst having solidarity with the audience and the readers.
So, a festival with the aim and ambition to create platforms and networking structures for younger choreographers and dancers will immediately challenge the artistic quality aspect. To compare a young dancer with Akram Khan or a budding choreographer with Alain Platel is simply not fair. During the Spring Forward Festival in Umeå, where I saw twenty pieces out of twenty four I saw good solid quality, inventiveness and imagination and a strong use of images on stage. I also noted some problems, such as the format. 40 minutes is today seen as a full length choreography, and in several cases I registered a struggle to fill out the time format. The choice of length ought to be an artistic one, repetition (if not deliberate) is an unhappy solution, sooner or later in conflict with the dynamics of a piece. In Spring Forward Umeå edition I saw some clear cases of too long, giving the impression of many endings put on top of another. Well composed pieces, in addition to being well thought and well worked out, need to consider the balance within the dynamics of the composition.
The problems of non-dance-dance is international, and I do not mind non-dance if the choreographic form is strong and clear enough for performing arts. The examples in this festival of if not non-dance so less-dance were several, and sometimes they turned out beautifully, sometimes they just became a boring experience of something missing. The ghost of trendiness and mainstream-flow always need to be chased away!
Being a European network it is very understandable that a certain geographic representativity is wished for by Aerowaves organising Spring Forward. But again, aritistic quality first - other parameters are of secondary priority. Some of the performances I saw seemed to be in Umeå exclusively as a representative of a country which is discouraging - for the festival, the audience - and the country in question.
Saying ”younger” instead of ”young” means a more generous stretching in the notion of being young. It takes time to grow and build an artistic profile, a style and a meaning of your own. I found it wise to stress the ”-er” of younger, and to try to avoid the very student-like pieces which, anyhow, had slipped through the qualified eyes of the jury members. To distinguish between what is younger and emerging is by no means simple.
Still, I much appreciated the diversity in a large number of the performances. Nude or dressed, dressing as a scenographic element, silence, tapping or music, film and photos or sheer emptiness, balance and beauty on one side, wild crazyness on the other. Theatricality is, and always has been, within dance and in Umeå it was again obvious.
The workshop with dance critics where I mentored three critics, was equally an interesting experience. Dance criticism is by tradition more kind and understanding than for instance theatre criticism - why? For long dance critics were like ambassadors of the art form, teaching and preaching. Today, dance is since long an independent art form in its own right and needs no excuses. It is time to be more frank, to relate to the large and often young audience of dance, to meet them and the artists in the many internet platforms where criticism is to be found in the future. Paper newspapers may still exist, but criticism seems to have already gone on-line.