The future of dance writing: Writing Movement – Tampere

The Writing Movement discussion series in Finland continue. The theme for the second discussion at Tanssivirtaa Tampereella festival was the future of writing about dance. What does the dance field expect of dance writing? Why, for whom and where does dance writing live in the future?

The panel discussion had  presentations by dancer-choreographer Samuli Roininen and performing arts professional, dance journalist Jenni Sainio. In addition, dance artist and dance researcher Maija Ikonen and researcher Jaana Parviainen participated in the discussion, and towards the end Merja Koskiniemi, dance critic for the local newspaper Aamulehti, joined in.

The presentations shed light on the viewpoints of both the dance artist and the writer. Samuli Roininen represented the dance artist’s view on writing about dance. He started by stating that even dance writing is necessary but questioning if we actually need dance criticism? According to him no, not in the form of the current practice of criticism. Continuing, he said that there are a lot of different forms of writing about dance and that dialogue is always needed. He pointed out that it’s easy for the receiver or reader to find dance critique but asked whether people are able to find other forms of dance writing, as well? When writing is increasingly  situated on the web, the challenge is to find the relevant content amongst the volumes of information.

Roininen also reflected over why dance workers may have a tendency to avoid reading writings about dance. And, whether the same is true for writing about one’s own work in the dance field? Are we often just too tired to read and speak out, he asked?  Some texts about dance in particular have remained in his mind: An article by Raisa Rauhamaa published in 2008, a text about the Finnish dancer, Mika Backlund, his burnout and his thoughts about the happening years after. Actually, an example of dance sociology, Roininen said. The text had made him think of how married one is to ones’ job in this field and how a historic period often can only be re-examined clearly afterwards.

Roininen has has been personally involved in the world of blog writing from 2009 when Dance theatre Tanssiteatteri MD, where he works, opened a performance blog around the performance Tanssiva Muumilaakso (Dancing Moomin Valley). The performance is written, directed and choreographed by Roininen himself. Writing in public about his own work had at first felt confusingly bare, and awakened thoughts about the blog maybe flattening the performance in question somehow. But, he felt he found just the right relation to writing and found a playful approach to producing text. In the end of his presentation Roininen reminded the participants that as a dance artist it is important to experience and see one’s work as a part of the whole society – the work is not being staged in a vacuum.

Motives of writing
The second contributor Jenni Sainio opened up her personal viewpoint of writing about dance. She works with theatre and contemporary dance in many roles and has worked full-time with audience development in Zodiak – Centre for New Dance in Helsinki between 2009–2011. She participated in the discussion as a dance writer; writing about contemporary dance as a freelance journalist and critic since 2006. At the moment she also works as project coordinator for Writing Movement in Finland.

She indulged that she ended up writing about dance through a deep interest in observing and analysing movement and putting it into words. As she has grown up with visually impaired parents she has from an early age become trained in the role of a visual perceiver and is accustomed putting into words what she sees. She has often also observed how visually impaired people move differently from seeing people. Sainio said that even if she also writes performance critiques, she is not interested in evaluating performances per se. She feels that evaluating at its best is an organic continuum after the observation and build-up of meanings, seeing dance criticism as one forum for verbalizing movement observation, amongst many other forms of text.

To start off she shortly talked about writing on a movement-based art form, about its basic working tools. Those are, according to her, the awareness of the expressive possibilities of a moving body in space, an ability to visually remember movement sequences afterwards, the understanding of different performance dramaturgies and compositions and also the knowledge of the relation between contemporary dance and other performative dance forms. It is important to know dance history and conventions as well as to follow the present time and progress in the field.

When speaking about the term ‘dance field’, she reminded of the many people working with production, communications and e.g. audience development in addition to the dance artists. Though the needs and demands for dance writing are partly the same for everyone in the field,  the requirements for the informative text around a performance often differ from the text that the artist himself writes about his own work. There are different forms of text for different purposes, and even the needs inside the dance field can vary.

Sainio believes that there will be writing about dance as long as dance as an artform represents complex humanity and life phenomena. She believes that writing about dance will stay alive as long as the writing itself remains a creative process for the writer. The demands of the different facets of working with dance writing can vary a lot; the intentions are different. Sainio is especially interested in exploring the motives of a writer, why a writer wants to write about dance. In relation to this she encouraged thinking about the power of the writer and the writer’s own arguments for the work.

Challenging the power of the word
Starting the discussion, dance artist and researcher Maija Ikonen pointed out that the body can be a mirror and tool for innumerable purposes, in arts as well as in science. She feels it is important that the writer is open about his or her background: where are the starting points that the writer comes from. This raised a question from Roininen; does the writer in that way, at the same time, also define his or her audience ?

Researcher Jaana Parviainen verbalized her own approach to dance writing saying that she experiences she is a mediator, bringing information and understanding, translating it to new audiences. It is often a hard task, one has to create new concepts while working. She found it important to provocate the discussion by commenting on Roininen’s statement that dancers do not need critiques as their practice is set in the present moment. Parviainen said that even in the 90’s in the dance field in Finland the thinking existed that dancemakers do not need publicity at all. In publicity, there are elements that you cannot control, she said and continued by stating that contemporary dance is “kind of introvert”. According to her the dance field has so many great things on offer to different life areas. So, how could dance get a big publicity breakthrough, in other ways than talent shows seen on TV? And what then, after a breakthrough? What would we do with it?

Parviainen articulated the issue that was present all the time in the discussion: on adressing this theme we assume that words have power. But is it really so? If an aim of writing about dance is finding new audiences for this art form, maybe more powerful tools could be audience education and audience development projects, and also the possibilities of social choreography. To this Sainio commented that audience development in contemporary dance as an organized and ongoing process is still quite new in Finland. In Zodiak – Centre for New Dance there has been a person working solely with audience development only since 2005. Zodiak’s projects clearly show that the participants become actively involved with contemporary dance and stayed so, even after the projects’ end. Someone from the audience replied that it is also important to think how we would write about these applied dance projects as well as the more ”ordinary” professional dance performances. Maija Ikonen mentioned that it is important that there are texts that shed light on the dance projects that have a clear societal and social link.

Communality, the life of a critic, and many meanings of writing
Samuli Roininen emphasized the importance of communality in dance and in art as a whole. Jaana Parviainen commented that one form of writing about arts and culture is to highlight details. A good example of this is the Finnish culture publication Kulttuurilehti AKKU, published solely on Facebook. She also asked an important question: what are the new concepts besides or instead of dance criticism? And, will anyone of these become institutionalized?

When the discussion held in the small studio of Hällä stage opened to include the audience, the talk brought up the relation between criticism and other forms of dance writing. And also to the question how critiques could be more visual and show off the writer – for example through a video clip, where the dance critic reads the critique himself or herself.

Merja Koskiniemi, who only made it to the very end of the discussion, said that that she started to write in Aamulehti newspaper 12 years ago. It was actually by chance that she ended up to being a critic with a freelance contract. She had at the time thought of her own background as dance maker and teacher as a possible disqualification. According to her, many things have changed greatly during these last ten years: the dance articles in the newspaper have become shorter and the amount of texts have decreased. Also the big changes lately in the Finnish media; freelance contracts and the recycling of one article to many newspapers, have been playing a part in critics questioning their profession a lot at this very moment.

The lively discussion was closed by answering the question of’s editor in chief Veera Lamberg, who also led the discussion. She quoted dance critic, author Hannele Jyrkkä who had spoken in Writing Movement discussion in Kokkola earlier this year: what would be left unsaid of dance if it wasn’t written about? Roininen would miss his new important working tool, Parviainen reminded that the most important thing is the dancing, but that the writing works as the memory of dance by lifting up one issue at a time from the whole vast dance field. She also mentioned that writing carries the possibility of reconstruction. Koskiniemi said the same; that the writer can be able to find something new in the dance by using words. Humanity, a big part of human experience would be unspoken if dance writing would not exist, said Ikonen. Sainio said that dance lives also in the minds of the spectators; the writing catches these impressions and makes them shared. Lamberg herself feels that, for a dance artist, writing is a fascinating paradox; a possibility of self-reflection and creating concepts.

What is Writing Movement in Finland?
Through the Writing Movement project aims to create discussion about dance writing and challenge the writers to try out different forms of writing about dance. As a part of the project a series of discussions about dance writing will be held on contemporary dance festivals in Finland during year 2013. The next discussion will take place in Kuopio Dance Festival June 16th 2013.

In autumn 2013 a Writing Movement workshop will be organized. The workshop is meant for dance artists and people who write about dance as their work. Ten persons will be selected to join the workshop. Dance art will be presented through different viewpoints in the workshop and participants will be challenged to try out different ways to write about dance.

Jenni Sainio & Veera Lamberg

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