Why Dance Writing?

Ingeborg Zackariassen

Scenkonstguidens skribent Ingeborg Zackariassen deltog under våren i Springback Academy, en skrivarworkshop som årligen arrangeras för danskritiker. I sin text "Why Dance Writing?" reflekterar Ingeborg över danskritikens potential att höja värdet av konst i samhället och hur skrivandet kan verka som motstånd för att slå vakt om poesin.

‘Why Dance?’ was the question printed everywhere during Aerowaves’ Spring Forward Festival 2024; a question which seemed to reverberate through the air during the first edition without its founder, John Ashford, who sadly passed away in December. Although I never met him, I got the feeling, having read about his thoughts and ideas, that his spirit was alive through the intense focus on dance as an art form.

Indeed the question ‘Why Dance?’ did not remain unanswered. A multitude of performances, lectures, discussions, conversations and last but not least articles, offered an impressive array of responses. Presenters, curators, producers and writers from all over the world were present during this 3-day dance feast, a smorgasboard of movement, filled with a surprisingly rich variety of forms.

In the midst of it all I found myself in the small, diverse group of dance writers selected for Springback Academy, an exhaustingly intense review-writing bootcamp. Supported by some of the best dance writers in the world, we travelled between venues from early morning to late evening, attending each performance armed with open minds and sharpened pencils. Towards the end, days and nights seemed to merge, as the few hours of darkness in the hotel room included less and less peaceful sleep and increasingly vivid dreams about the performances.

It felt as though I’d been thrown through a looking glass. I became acutely aware that, having spent all my time in theatres as a dancer for the last 24 years, performative experiences had become second nature, while the role I was tackling now implied a set of challenges I’m still processing how to perform. Embodying the task of reviewing made me realise with my whole nervous system the level of presence, honesty and involvement the role of the critic demands. The heightened situation of watching no fewer than 20 performances in 3 days and writing 5 reviews with strict word counts and deadlines added to the challenge.

A few weeks later, back in Gothenburg, Sweden, I’m still recovering from the immense input of impressions, which in relation to my background as a dancer and choreographer offered new perspectives in more than one sense of the word. In an attempt to wrap my brain around what I experienced and to untangle the criticism from the dance, I started to wonder: perhaps they aren’t tangled at all? In the wake of Springback, I have been contemplating the components needed for a functional dance field. There are interesting links and pathways between dance and criticism, which seem interdependent in their meaning-making capacities.

In Sanjoy Roy’s 2019 article ‘Joining the dots: Aerowaves and Springback’, John Ashford explains that the idea behind Springback was ‘to bridge the gulf between the mainstream press and the growing but hugely underreported independent dance scene.’ Roy writes that unlike many online arts publications, Springback Magazine pays a fee to both contributors and editors, with the conviction that this system will better develop writers, serve readers and ultimately the field as a whole. Importantly, Springback Magazine is editorially independent from Aerowaves, and thus not a promotional tool.

During Spring Forward, each work has multiple critics writing about it, offering the public rich, diverse entry points into the performance. Imagine if every artwork out there could have this amount of sincere attention given to it…

Freedom of expression, independence from institutions, and paid opportunities for writers are rare. I believe other platforms and publications can draw knowledge from Springback’s initiatives – that is, if they want to attract honesty and critical thinking as a counterweight to the superficiality of marketing and endless self-promotion which permeates much of the dance world today.

Something I’ve learned through conversations with arts writer and researcher Laura Cappelle, who I was fortunate enough to have as my mentor during Springback, is that being a critic is a lot more than being critical: it is to be honest about conveying your experience with a work, trusting your knowledge of the field to back up your opinion. Under these circumstances, the critic has the unique potential to be a lone voice breaking through the noise of commercialism, focusing on the art while carrying the responsibility of honesty to build bridges between artwork and public.

Although I’ve been aware of the importance of critical thinking for as long as I can remember, the experience with Springback made it crystal clear how much it’s actually needed for the dance field to develop.

For decades I have worked as a dancer with institutions such as Norwegian National Ballet and GöteborgsOperans Danskompani, as well as working independently as a choreographer. Lately also an interdisciplinary artist and festival curator, I’m deeply immersed in and concerned about the field, and the implications the current cultural budget cuts will have on artists and audiences all over Europe. It’s easy to think ‘well, what can we do?’ But I believe in the power of communication, and here we can do something. We can bring attention to the importance of art in our society through writing.

My motivation when first starting to work as a dance writer was to fill a gap between dance artists and audiences in Gothenburg, to find a way for the public to access dance artists’ ideas, thoughts and practices. Doing so was my way of challenging mainstream marketing, opening up a channel for a deeper insight into the minds of choreographers.

As co-founder of the small arts initiative No Deadline, I work to develop the independent dance scene in Gothenburg and its relation to other art forms as well as to the public. We dream of a dance field both supported and challenged by multiple forms of writing, inquiring as well as critical.

When John Ashford was asked the question ‘Why Dance?’, his first reply was: ‘Because dance is the poetry of theatre.’

This poetry must be protected. To keep dance as an art form alive in this time of budget cuts and doomscrolling, there is an urgent need for more serious conversations, discussions, and dance writing. There’s no question about it.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and write!


This text was originally published in Springback Magazine on 18.04.2024 at []

BILD: Text av John Ashford

Ingeborg Zackariassen

Ingeborg Zackariassen är en Göteborgsbaserad konstnär och skribent som arbetar interdisciplinärt inom det expanderande koreografiska fältet. Hon har en MFA i Contemporary Performative Arts från HSM/Göteborgs Universitet, och har sedan 2000 arbetat som professionell dansare, både för institutioner som GöteborgsOperans Danskompani och frilans. Tillsammans med Toby Kassell driver hon konstinitiativet No Deadline, som skapar föreställningar och arrangerar den årliga scenkonstfestivalen Rabbit/Duck.