What is it all about?

Running from Dance Ireland to Smock Alley, from Smock Alley to the Samuel Beckett Theatre, I try to catch some vibes of Dublin. I never know which bank of the River Liffey we’re on, and I keep checking the schedule I was given on the first day, unable to remember the title of the next show. I am in a continuous and most pleasant dance flow. I enter another dark room, and I wait to see what the next 40 minutes will bring, hoping to get goosebumps or merely not fall asleep.

The range of possible reactions and degrees of appreciation or dislike for a performance is wide. But having to write a critical review about it adds an extra dimension: you have to have an opinion, and make it understandable to the reader. This parameter was quite new to me, and led me to a reflection about what it means to write a review about a show, and even beyond that: what is it all about in the end?

Watching 21 shows in three days can be challenging for the attention span, but it also has a revealing effect: the shows can echo each other, you can start seeing some repetitive patterns (e.g. the surprising importance of speech and words on stage), and it can lead to increasingly high expectations. Still, as I was in Dublin for the sole purpose of watching and writing, I was fully dedicated to these pleasurable tasks, and therefore particularly patient and open-minded. I was interested in the artists’ research, grateful for even a single second of grace, and forgave the occasional moment of boredom. But I must admit, this is not the real me. In my daily life, I expect more from a show, I want to feel something and I want to be surprised.

So, as a critic, which version of myself should I be and who should I be talking to? Do I consider that contemporary dance is a permanent research field and that it is about the artists going through a creative process and experimenting? Or do I consider that an audience, and even more so an audience that is new to contemporary dance, expects to feel something? But then, isn’t the risk to favour entertainment above all, which may result in the loss of what makes a creation unique?

Perhaps the critic’s point of view should be one of common ground: does the performance I just saw offer the possibility of a shared experience? I don’t think a performance needs to be welcoming to the audience, it can be rough. But it has to ‘let us in’ somehow. That’s how I felt with Leïla Ka’s To cut loose : a very tight solo, the dancer facing the audience but mostly struggling inside. Yet I felt connected and I couldn’t help but think: ‘I didn’t know I needed to see that’.

I deeply believe that movement, as a non-verbal art form, can be a powerful communicator –
and as such, having to write a review about it is definitely a challenge. Overall, I think that each of the 21 times I sat in a darkened venue was worth it, as each artistic proposal brought me something, whether it was a thought, a question or an emotion.

Elsa Vinet