FEATURE: Cloud Dance Festival: “Showtime” – Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London, November 2013 – Milton Keynes angle
Milton Keynes-based writer, journalist and dance reviewer Georgina Butler is invited to a dance writing masterclass in London and reviews city-trained choreographer Jo Meredith’s newest work
Having carved out a niche role reviewing the dance productions at Milton Keynes Theatre, a writing opportunity at an event showcasing innovative choreographers was too good to miss.
I have been a dancer and a writer for as long as I can remember. Ballet classes are a necessity in my week (not forgetting jazz, contemporary – any excuse to have a bop) and writing has always been my ‘thing’ – from excelling at essays to reporting for Milton Keynes’ favourite newspaper.
Hopefully, regular readers enjoy my reviews but I am always keen to improve and broaden my understanding of both dance and writing. Imagine this journalist’s excitement, then, to be selected as an emerging dance writer for Cloud Dance Festival: Showtime, held in London over three days (Friday 15 to Sunday 17 November).
This thrice-yearly gathering allows groundbreaking choreographers to share their work. As part of this latest festival, Cloud Dance held professional development workshops in dance writing, dance photography and dance filming, led by industry experts.
So, on Friday, I joined four fellow wordsmiths with a keen interest and background in dance at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, in North London, for a four-hour writing workshop.
As an enthusiastic theatre-goer, my intention when penning a review for this website is to entertain, inform and – to an extent – educate, as well as offer an opinion.
Perhaps you, the reader, will have attended the same show, or are looking forward to seeing it during its run. Maybe reading the review will inspire you to get booking tickets as soon as possible – or put you off completely! Whether you are intending to see the reviewed show or not, I always endeavour to write a piece that is compelling copy in itself.
Describing some of the history and the narrative is useful – and often essential with the ballets – and passing on “insider info” regarding technique or movement vocabulary hopefully means some of my zeal and knowledge is conveyed.
The hardest part of writing a review is that there just is no “right” way to do it. Workshop leader Eleanor Turney, managing editor of reviews website A Younger Theatre (a platform for writers aged 26 and under), emphasised this throughout our discussions concerning how to craft a response to a production.
Subjectivity is a key issue. We all bring our own knowledge, preconceived ideas and expectations to a production – these can affect our experience of a show. This subjectivity, combined with the rise of the internet and a ‘democratisation’ of the discipline of reviewing, means that anyone can be a critic.
However, the best reviewers will aim to use their self-appointed authority in a constructive, informative way, remaining aware of their own limitations and subjectivity. Ensure an appropriate tone and a winning way with words and the end result should be a piece of writing that both describes and analyses a production, while engaging a reader.
After the workshop, it was time to put pen to paper when the curtain lifted for the first evening of Showtime, a mixed-bill of rising choreographers’ offerings. There was more than enough talent to choose from when it came to scribbling notes of review-worthy pieces – including some home-grown here in Milton Keynes.
Choreographer Jo Meredith premiered Chimera, an absorbing theatrical piece for four dancers, incorporating live spoken word. Jo trained locally with Kathleen Woollard in Stony Stratford from the age of 6 to 18 and then at London Contemporary Dance School.
‘Chimera’ explores the themes of illusion and delusion, questioning what is real for us and what is simply our imagination. A magician sets up his table of tricks while his female companion directly addresses the audience. As she ponders the nature of reality, a second woman dances with a male partner. Soon, both couples are immersed in dancing, accompanied by a beautiful cello and piano classical composition.
The movement is clean and fluid and – while the script describes uncertainty and implausibility – the partnering and storytelling communicates conviction and intent. This whimsical piece, bathed in warm stage lighting, leaves the audience wondering which, if either, of the couples the speech referred to and whether what was just witnessed really did occur at all…
> Keep an eye on https://georginabutler.wordpress.com/ for more of my reviews, interviews and features and follow me on Twitter @GeorginaLButler for dance/theatre updates.
This feature is also published on the Milton Keynes Citizen website