Artists & Critics aiming for the same North Star?
In October 2023, Taneční Aktuality / Czech Dance News, organized a gathering at which it invited dance writers to examine to what extent dance review can be sustained as a media practice in today’s information landscape.
We shared the idea that dance review plays a crucial role in acknowledging and promoting the evolution of dance as an art form. Shedding light on the richness of various dance forms facilitates a broader conversation about the role of art in shaping and challenging societal norms. However, dance critique can also fall short of truly bridging the gap between what is intended to be experienced or understood and what is being shared with the audience and readership.
In the debate, we imagined favourable outcomes or scenarios for involving the audience and readership. It became clear that underneath the need for more agency is, in fact, a need for community. A community in which all sides feel seen, acknowledged, and appreciated for their contribution. In order to achieve that, the question arose of whether or not it would be beneficial to develop a conversation between artists and critics after a review has already been published. What would be lost? What would be gained?
Engaging in a dialogue with artists allows dance critics to uncover a performance’s hidden layers – its inspiration, purpose, and artistic intent. By delving into the creative process, critics can go one step further and provide audiences a peek behind the curtain. It would go beyond merely focusing on just the performance, the product.
Understanding the artist’s intent enhances the audience’s ability to connect with the emotional and conceptual dimensions of the performance. By understanding the process behind the translation of form, a more profound and immersive experience is created which the audience can take home with them.
One could argue that this translation should happen without having to be clarified. Yes, that is indeed the art within the art. However, just as the intent can get lost in translation through form by artists, it can also get lost in translation in critics’ writing. So, ultimately, both parties can fall short.
Finally, a meaningful dialogue with the artists allows the audience to access new dimensions of appreciation. As audiences witness the dialogue unfold, they gain a nuanced understanding of the artistic process and the considerations that shape a dance piece, fostering a culture of appreciation for the complexities of dance creation. Furthermore, the dialogue might provide audiences with tools, concepts, and ways of thinking about the topic research that they can take away.
The idea of having a conversation between artists and critics seemed to be a utopian and overly romantic scenario within the wider debate. Current critics have found that many artists are not especially open to having their work discussed in public. Furthermore, writers don’t feel that they should explain or expand upon their point of view regarding an artwork that they have reviewed. Some believe that conflict is necessary at times and that this process is a natural way of developing the arts. These points of view, and their respectful, realistic struggles, are valid. Yet, the question remains: what would add more value?
As somebody who comes from both sides of the spectrum, both creating and writing about dance art, and as someone who currently educates future professional dancers who need to use reviews for their theoretical work, this issue has always been important to me. I personally believe that there is an immeasurable amount of untouched potential in the idea of conversing with one another. In the symbiotic relationship between dance critics and artists, the true beneficiaries are the audiences who partake in an enriched dialogue. The value derived from this interaction extends beyond the confines of the theatre, creating a more profound, informed, and connected dance community. As dance critics and artists engage in conversations, they elevate the audience experience, providing a gateway to the heart of the creative process. In my opinion, that might be the shared North Star.
Ultimately, the question is, what value do we wish to add? And what outcome are we willing to be responsible for?
Written from the workshop Sustainability of Dance Media organised by Dance News in Ostrava, 6-8 October 2023, supported by the European Union and the Ministry of Culture through the National Recovery Plan.
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