Do dancers write differently about performances than non-dancers?

Do dancers write differently about performances than non-dancers? This question has bothered me for quite a while, and as a member of Springback Academy 2016 I had the opportunity to observe how dance is approached from these two points of view.

Starting from personal experience, dancing has moulded the way I perceive the world. A cat’s skilled twists are a miracle of mobility. Moving around in a crowded metro reveals human beings’ capacity to interact, while carrying simultaneously several bags and an open umbrella turns people into nimble jugglers.

I really can’t help it. My dancing experience makes me see the quotidian happenings as choreography.

Watching a performance, I – and probably many dancers – basically focus on the movement with a profound devotion. How is the body being used? What are the technical requirements, and their execution? Why is movement relevant to this performance? In a sense a dancer’s gaze has no mercy. But there’s also a secret dimension to the dancing body visible through technical analysis – the same way an architect can value a construction and understand it through materials, mathematics and measures – but for non-dancers this information is invisible, or irrelevant.

Is this technical vision necessary when reviewing dance for a general audience?

As a dancer I don’t consider myself a purist. I definitely do not admire highly-arched feet, outstanding turnouts or vertiginous backbends as the ultimate values of the dancing body. For me the content often goes far beyond the form.

Examples were abundant during Spring Forward 2016. In Jasna L. Vinovrski’s Staying Alive, for example, her mechanical repetition of step patterns and balancing on an unstable pile of books are actions that question the politics of immigration, and yet the performance contains no ‘skilled’ movement. Similarly, in 10 Minibaletti movement is employed intelligently as a means of reflection, oscillating between a child’s and an adult’s way of thinking. And although Francesca Pennini’s final leap – a grand jeté, in fact – wasn’t technically brilliant, she impressed the audience with this single passionate jump.

As these moments show, there’s no need to ‘understand’ movement when the body itself is able to communicate, intrigue, or astonish by its ability to transform without any technical codification.

So, is the professional gaze advantageous when reviewing dance? And what’s the difference between that of dancer versus a critic? A dancer works with and sees movement, almost involuntary analysing it. A critic works with information – that is, images and knowledge that emerge from the movement. One captures the body, the other captures words that describe the body. The critic’s gaze could be considered an understanding of both the dancer and the spectator, like an in-between state, fully belonging to neither category.

Still, for me the real difference lies in the dancer in me empathising with the performer so much it’s almost as if I’m dancing myself. My desire as a dancer-writer is to take the reader into this ‘secret’ world, and into what I experience when moving my own body. It’s a gaze based not on technique but sensibility, and on something I also recognise in the quotidian choreographies of felines, nimble jugglers or the organised chaos of public transport.

Riikka Laakso