An Artwork About the Artwork?
The dance world is traditionally accustomed to seeing the figure of the critic standing there, slightly above the artists, judging or attempting to provide a solid, grounded, and unbiased opinion about an artwork. This figure tends to evoke a slight feeling of awe and respect due to their aura of knowledge and objectivity. But what if we shift the paradigm? What if we set the critic free from the burdens of objectivity and a rigid approach? What if we dare to view the dance critic (or dance writer) as just another artist who, instead of offering an objective opinion, creates an artwork about the artwork?
Traditionally, dance critique was meant to be a form of objective reporting, informing readers about the quality and characteristics of a dance performance. It offered a critical perspective, helping them make informed decisions about attending future shows. However, in our postmodern age, where established norms are re-evaluated and the notion of objectivity itself is experiencing a severe crisis, new forms of dance writing are being called for.
An example of such a new form would be writing creatively about dance, using poetry, metaphors, or rather abstract language. This allows the dance writer, through their words, to craft a separate artwork about the artwork.
The essence of this approach is not new. While the art of writing a poetic response to artwork has been in use since Homer’s times, it flourished during the Romantic era and is commonly practised by writers and artists today.
I was introduced to a similar approach for the first time in a workshop held in 2021 by Taneční Aktuality, featuring lecturers Hild Borchgrevink and Annete T. Pettersen. Two years later, during another of the magazine’s events, the issue suddenly came up again. Many questions were raised. Isn’t creating an artwork about the artwork, in fact, more meaningful for the audience? Isn’t this a more direct way to enhance the audience’s understanding and appreciation for a certain performance than a critical review? Can this approach add even more depth and extra layers of meaning to the dance itself?
By creating an ‘artwork about the artwork’, the dance writer grants the reader an immersive experience instead of providing a detached analysis, as traditional dance critique would do. The writer’s own creativity empowers them to capture the intangible and to articulate the emotions and feelings dance often evokes. Through the writer’s verbal lens, the audience has the chance to co-experience the dance performance on a purely intuitive level.
Such an approach invites everyone—audiences, critics, and creators alike—to engage actively in the co-creation of meaning. Each perspective and interpretation adds further, valuable nuance.
As dance continues to evolve, so does the writing that accompanies it. Could the ‘artwork about the artwork’ approach become a testament to the transformative power of words? This final chapter is yet to be written.
Editor's note: This text was written as part of the project Dance Criticism in a European Context. The project is implemented with the financial support of the European Union through the National Recovery Plan and the Ministry of Culture.
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