Who am I to say? Inner battles of a dancer turned critic for a weekend

Being a critic at Aerowaves was refreshing, formative, challenging, scary, risky, surprising and a little stressful. I got moved, annoyed, sleepy, surprised, bored; I got sad and I got happy, I lost faith in dance and I regained it. I felt completely out of place, biased, opinionated, entitled, self-righteous, pretentious and reckless. I simultaneously felt compassion and motivation, I got enlightened, inspired, overwhelmed, shaken up, reassured and justified. I felt creative.

What I didn’t get was time to think about my standpoint as a critic. Now, reading back my reviews I ponder my role. As a dancer just starting to be active in the dance community, it felt extremely strange to be on the critic side at the festival. I have mixed feelings about the legitimacy of my thoughts. And my thoughts are mostly built on questions about how I judge and interpret dance. How relevant is my background? If taste is the main criterion for criticism, how much is it forged by my dance education and experience? Is my background and education an asset or does it get in the way of aesthetic appreciation? How do taste and education come together? Do they collide?

A second aspect is the importance of my personal experience. I am a striving dancer subjected to the current lack of opportunities. Given this, do I look at pieces as a ‘professional’ spectator or as a needy dancer? When writing, am I expressing my own frustrations and artistic needs as a performer rather than my view as a member of the public? To what extent is my judgement tainted with envy, a sense of unfairness and even despair.

More generally, I wonder whether being a critic as well as a dancer leads to an inevitable bias and even to contradictions. I acknowledge that my opinion is extremely specific: a trained instinct rather than a visceral one. It is true that most audience at Aerowaves had ‘professional eyes’, but they had a diversity of viewpoints. Should I try to dissociate my criticism from my dancer’s eye so to transform myself into a critic with the view of an ‘average’ member of the audience?

A further consequence of my background is that I know what is to be a part of a creative process, in particular to participate in projects of movement research and all that this entails. My initial instinct was that this should make me more understanding and sensitive to the work of choreographers and performers. But could it be that, in contrast, such knowledge makes me more demanding and less tolerant? Or worse, could it tilt my focus towards piecemeal details and impair my capacity to see a piece as a whole? Do I tend to see only the brush strokes and not the image created by it?

I am asking myself why do I need to write about dance and, in particular, why do I want to criticise someone else’s work. I am aware of some obvious superficial answer: writing and criticising is a necessary – and even crucial – part of artistic evolution. But deep down, this stage of my career is dominated by questions. Nevertheless, my experience at Aerowaves did bring a relieving certainty. My criticism was always the expression of an experience, a written translation of my senses in a specific moment. I have consolidated my conviction that reviews are merely subjective reflections of ephemeral moments and not ultimate judgements or sentences.

I suspect that all these doubts and this questioning are essential to the construction of my own style and approach as a critic. I am, however, at an early stage of my career, and naturally I wonder whether these doubts stem from a more basic question that still looms in the back of my mind: who am I to say?

Lucia Fernandez Santoro