FEATURE: Writing about Contemporary Dance at Cloud Dance Festival: “Showtime” – Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London, November 2013
“Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?” – Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
As an enthusiastic writer, journalist and dance reviewer, I am always seeking out opportunities to write about dance, theatre and the arts, participate in dance classes and learn more about my favourite things (unsurprisingly, dancing and writing!).
So, upon discovering Cloud Dance Festival and seeing that organisers were offering selected dance writers the chance to attend a professional development workshop, I applied. Cloud Dance Festival is a thrice-yearly platform showcasing the best in new and emerging contemporary dance. It was founded in 2007 by Chantal Guevara, a freelance dance producer, manager and photographer. She is passionate about helping artists to raise their profile and build the connections they need to further their careers.
For the first time, this month’s event – Cloud Dance Festival: Showtime (15th – 17th November 2013) – included the opportunity for promising dance writers, photographers and videographers to attend masterclasses led by industry experts. After sending off a few of my reviews (and a link to https://georginabutler.wordpress.com/ of course), I was thrilled to be invited to participate in a half-day workshop on dance criticism before watching the mixed-bill evening performance.
Cloud Dance Festival received Arts Council England funding through Grants For The Arts for Showtime. This is the first time it has received any such funding and I can only thank all those involved in ensuring the event went ahead as the whole day was a brilliant experience.
Eleanor Turney, managing editor of reviews website A Younger Theatre (a platform for arts writers aged 26 and under), encouraged debate about the purpose of reviewing and the issue of subjectivity, shared advice on the practicalities of writing and gave feedback on our written work. She led an informed and interesting workshop.
All that reflection and debate rallied me to attend a Panel Discussion on ‘The Emerging Artist’ after the writing session. Views from across the vast spectrum of the current arts scene were represented as panellists and audience members alike considered just what the term ’emerging artist’ means.
The panel included Stina Quagebeur from English National Ballet (a choreographer with a performance background) and Laura McFarlane (a curator who also co-ordinates funding at creative networking website IdeasTap). Adam James (an independent artist and live-action-role-play enthusiast who is currently working with dancers) and Rosie Whitney-Fish (a choreographer and dance filmmaker with an interest in bringing dance to unusual locations) completed the panel. The discussion was chaired by Tim Wilson, founder of The Heritage Arts Company.
Striving, evolving and working to gain momentum throughout your early career is something we can all relate to. Everyone in the room felt they were an ’emerging artist’ in some way, as writers, dance students, performers and creatives. An emerging artist is working to become recognised – to go from being an unknown to a known – but the essential advice from the panellists was to stay true to yourself.
We see success as validation from others but the reality is that ‘being successful’ is subjective and personal. The emerging artist is finding their own path and all the panellists agreed that an individual should be excited by their own work (“be the artist you want to be”). This might be a lonely pursuit but the idea of helping out and supporting fellow creative types (collaboration through “creative play”) was also emphasised.
Rosie describes herself as something of a “dance entrepreneur”. She defines this as building your sense of self by honing your skills and using them in lots of different contexts, in order to keep doing what you love. She questioned whether anyone ever “graduates” from the school of emerging art. Once you stop striving, do you stop caring – and does that mean you are no longer a creative?
All in all, the debate was quite rousing and motivating. Young people still have the power to do what excites us, we just may need to find alternative routes to express ourselves and get on.
Finally, the evening performances – which showcased the work of rising choreographers – were a pleasure to watch and review.
Bernie Grant Arts Centre (a purpose-built, multi-arts hub in Tottenham, North London) hosted the festival and proved to be the perfect venue. The centre bears the name of Tottenham’s late black MP Bernie Grant (1944-2000) whose vision for a fairer world inspired him to create this space for nurturing and inspiring culturally diverse creative talent.
Cloud Dance Festival: Showtime certainly left me feeling inspired and excited about all the dance there is to see and write about. Hopefully the future will bring plenty more opportunities to indulge my passion for writing, dancing and reviewing!