Dance is the Word: An Inside Perspective

Dance writing is evolving. Historically, critics have sought to distance themselves but writers are now increasingly connecting with the artists whose work they review.

English National Ballet is wholeheartedly embracing this shift. Its Dance is the Word course offers an exciting opportunity for wordsmiths with an interest in dance to engage with other writers, digital media specialists and even Company dancers. I was invited to join other selected journalists, dance writers and bloggers to attend sessions throughout May 2014 to broaden our awareness of arts writing, sharpen our interview skills and share our written work.

Even better, I was granted an exclusive, behind-the-scenes insight into English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer 2014. The Dance is the Word course runs alongside this annual competition to celebrate talent within the Company. I had the chance to watch the competing dancers rehearse and interview them, before reviewing the competition (held at London’s Lyceum Theatre).

Veteran arts journalist and regular contributor to The Times, Dance Europe and Animated Magazine, Donald Hutera led the course. In the first session, he enthusiastically chaired discussions about the necessary qualities of a dance writer; knowledge, curiosity and a flair for writing were among those desired. Hutera stressed that we must recognise our own biases but aim to write honestly. As dance writers or critics we have a responsibility as ‘professional watchers’ to provide information to the general public and the artists that we are writing about.

A passion for watching dance developed into a successful working partnership for Emilia Spitz and Linda Uruchurtu, co-founders of The Ballet Bag blog. During the course, Spitz’s masterclass on social media emphasised the importance of being part of a global conversation. Perhaps her most pertinent point was that although dance writing – particularly writing about ballet – is niche, there is a receptive audience.

The highlight of the course for me was the opportunity to watch Emerging Dancer 2014 competitors Alison McWhinney, Junor Souza, Senri Kou and Vitor Menezes rehearsing. I was in awe of their technique and artistry in the studio.

McWhinney and Souza oozed grandeur as they ran their Esmeralda pas de deux and Souza showcased his lively personality as he offered a glimpse of his self-choreographed solo Last Minute. Fittingly, he revealed that he had only finished creating the piece a couple of days prior to this rehearsal.

Go to set Emerging Dancer 2014 Final

  • Clement Crisp OBE, Dame Gillian Lynne DBE, Madison Keesler, Senri Kou, Wayne Sleep OBE, Arlene Phillips CBE, Alison McWhinney, Junor Souza, Tamara Rojo, Deborah Bull CBE, Vitor Menezes and Joan Sebastian Zamora on stage at the Emerging Dancer 2014 live fi

  • Emerging Dancer 2014 joint winner Alison McWhinney and joint winner and People's Choice Award winner Junor Souza. © Photography by ASH

  • Emerging Dancer 2014 joint winner and People's Choice Award winner Junor Souza. © Photography by ASH

  • Emerging Dancer 2014 joint winner Alison McWhinney. © Photography by ASH

  • Emerging Dancer 2014 joint winner Alison McWhinney. © Photography by ASH

  • Emerging Dancer 2014 finalist Madison Keesler. © Photography by ASH

  • Emerging Dancer 2014 finalist Madison Keesler. © Photography by ASH

  • Emerging Dancer 2014 finalist Joan Sebastian Zamora. © Photography by ASH

  • Emerging Dancer 2014 finalist Joan Sebastian Zamora. © Photography by ASH

  • Emerging Dancer 2014 finalist Senri Kou. © Photography by ASH

  • Emerging Dancer 2014 finalist Vitor Menezes. © Photography by ASH

Kou and Menezes gave a delightful preview of their La Sylphide pas de deux before I had the chance to interview both couples, along with fifth competitor Madison Keesler (sixth contender Joan Sebastian Zamora was performing Russell Maliphant’s Second Breath in Manchester). This group interview proved enlightening as the dancers’ humility and constant quest for perfection shone through in all their responses to the questions posed.

Having seen the dancers rehearse and spoken to them, I felt more invested in their performances when it came to watching Emerging Dancer 2014. The role of the dance writer is to bring a performance to life for readers. I believe writers are best placed to do this if they have had some engagement with dance and feel connected to the discipline. Consequently, English National Ballet is to be applauded for giving writers this opportunity to ‘go behind the curtain’.

The English National Ballet Dance is the Word experience is certainly an inspiring and motivational one. It has reaffirmed my zeal for writing about dance and, as an alumnus of the course, I look forward to seizing future opportunities to write for English National Ballet.

By Georgina Butler