Dance is the word.
Words are wonderful. Put them together in a certain way and the end result can have the power to express all manner of emotions. The careful ordering of words is much like the combinations of steps in dance. A witty wordsmith can elicit a response through the mastery of language, just as a clever choreographer merges movements in a unique and meaningful way.
Dancing and writing are what I do. Writing about dance allows me to share my insights and enjoyment and, as I have become more established as a writer, I have started to forge links with companies and make contacts within the industry.*
English National Ballet perform extensively, both on tour and in London. I’ve had the opportunity to review productions (including The Sleeping Beauty, the world premiere of Le Corsaire and Christmas favourite, Nutcracker) and interview dancers (such as Tamara Rojo and Daria Klimentová).
A press invite to English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer (an annual competition held to recognise and nurture young talent within the Company, scheduled to take place at Lyceum Theatre, London, on Monday 19th May) arrived in my inbox the other day. This was swiftly followed by an offer to attend English National Ballet’s series of Dance is the Word events for dance writers. A couple of confirmation emails later and Saturday (10th May) saw me pirouetting into the capital for the first writers’ session. Selected dance writers, journalists and bloggers were invited to Westminster Reference Library by English National Ballet to discuss our experiences of writing about dance, consider best practice and share ideas.
World-renowned dance journalist Donald Hutera led the discussion.
He writes regularly for The Times, Dance Europe and Animated Magazine (to name a few) and has an energy and enthusiasm for the arts – and communication – that is incredibly infectious.
Donald explains: “I like the dialogue around the arts and the fact that so much of it is about opinions, thoughts and feelings and relationships. There is an idea that I go back to often; this idea of a triangular relationship between the people who make the work, the ‘professional watchers’ and the public. Their thoughts, actions and opinions are linked. They all want and need things from each other in order to do what they are passionate about. Without the audience and the writers, the creator has no one to respond to their work, and without the work we have nothing to watch or write about.”
Donald has watched and written about every conceivable dance style but he revealed that ballet still intimidates him. He told me: “It does still intimidate me – just a little bit. It’s because I have never taken a ballet class before in my life! I think it’s too late for me to try one now.” Although I have trained in classical ballet since early childhood, I reminded Donald that age is but a number and assured him it really is never too late to start.
Founders of The Ballet Bag Blog Emilia Spitz and Linda Uruchurtu have a humanities and hard science background, respectively, but their love of watching classical ballet saw them launch The Ballet Bag in April 2009. The Ballet Bag was set up to prove that ballet “is not stuffy, old-fashioned and inaccessible” and is now a leading arts destination within the blogosphere for all things ballet (history, terminology, reviews, interviews and biographies).
Emilia led the assembled writers attending Dance is the Word on a whirlwind tour of blogging, punctuated with questions concerning social media use and suggestions of good dance blogs to visit.
She said: “We started the blog because we had a shared interest in watching and talking about classical ballet and we wanted to network. Blogs are all about community and bringing people together and, as the arts sections are cut from newspapers, blogs are filling this gap. Dance (especially ballet) is very niche. But there is a worldwide audience.”
Emilia is immersed in the dance industry. She highlighted how Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets allow writers to instantly connect with dancers, choreographers and dance companies. Consequently, dance writing is evolving. Gone are the days when writers are completely distanced from the artists. Now, we can communicate with them directly and be in constant conversation on social media.
Although this can be of huge benefit to performers and fans, David Watson, digital media manager for English National Ballet, warns those of us attending Dance is the Word how this can pose problems for companies. He said: “Social media policies for dance companies are being developed. I spend time teaching dancers that they need to be media savvy and have correct social media etiquette so that they can join in the conversations, without being at risk or posting about things the Company wants to reveal itself. We can’t have pictures of costumes going out if they have yet to be premiered onstage, for example.”
Dance criticism and writing surrounding the arts has traditionally been about having some distance and remaining objective. However, when it comes to objectivity, the whole ethos of blogging seems to gel with Donald’s view that total objectivity is impossible but also unnecessary.
Donald advises: “We have to be aware of ourselves as writers and as people and acknowledge the baggage we bring with us. I don’t like to use the term ‘critic’ – it has implications – I say journalist, or writer. I want to engage with my audience and with artists, not be sat in my ivory tower and making judgements. I can know people socially and engage with them and still respond to a piece of dance or theatre that they create. Certainly, I have a responsibility to my readers to respond to a work as honestly and fairly as I can. But I definitely take pleasure in the wider aspect of writing in the arts. Pleasure from the discourse, the analysis and getting behind the scenes to know and understand the artists themselves.”
Speaking of getting behind the scenes, this intrepid reporter will be waltzing off to Markova House – the home of English National Ballet – next weekend, to have a peek at the dancers in rehearsal. I’ll let you know how I get on!
An extract of this piece on Dance is the Word is featured on Total MK.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.