London ArtsCross Reflections 03: Dance writing
Vida’s class on dance writing gave us an insight into her methods: feeling, capturing, experiencing and then emphasizing is the process which dance writers go through in experiencing movements and then encapsulating their own feelings and expressing them in writing. While we were not unfamiliar with this very emotive and experiential approach to writing, this lecture did cause us to look again at this approach. I discovered that Chinese and Western approaches to dance writing are not quite the same. They emphasise physical sensation while we pay more attention to states of consciousness. These are just observations on the different approaches, conventions and traditions, and do not contain any value judgements on the different approaches to writing.
On the topic of dance writing, Lu Yisheng shared a realisation: dance writing is unable to capture the full meaning of the work which it seeks to interpret. In other words, he was saying that dance is a particular art form, which uses movements of the body to express meaning. Writing, on the other hand, is a different skill. No matter how hard one tries, writing can never be the same as dance. Professor Lu’s words gave us pause for thought. Should dance writing be considered as a way of describing, or of creating?
I should note here that there are many forms of dance writing. But for a dance writer, describing and creating are the most fundamental concerns.
For a dance writer, it is clear that describing is the most fundamental responsibility. The dance writer must use carefully thought out, precise language to describe and record, articulating his most basic impressions of a work. This type of writing requires an ability to write demonstratively and to feel intuitively. It also requires a reliable sense of intuition. However, any effort to engage in describing for the sake of describing carries risks and potential traps. This is the result of the particular nature of dance as an art form. In other words, if one seeks simply to describe a work of dance, no matter how closely one observes, and no matter how comprehensive one’s notes, one will never be able to recreate the original appearance of the work. Dance writing for the purpose of description will therefore always be incomplete. With this in mind, it seems that dance writing should take place at the level of creation.
The “writing” in which the dance writers are engaged represents their subjective understanding and explanation of the things that they observe. During the process of explanation, they are primarily seeking to express their own interpretation and conclusions, based on their interaction and consideration of their subject. Of course, this expression incorporates personal characteristics and orientations. Naturally, there are different approaches to interpretation. The writer can seek to interpret the intentions of the dancer or choreographer. The writer may also seek to express in writing the meaning which she drew from the work. The final products of such efforts may also differ hugely from one another. This is directly related to a number of factors, including the aesthetic background of the writer, his capacities for observation and feeling, his preparatory work and his degree of familiarity with the work. Of course, where
Description and creation should coexist and interact with one another.
With regard to the question of whether it is preferable to write in one’s native language or in a foreign language, we don’t need to go into too much detail. Of course, it is easier to stimulate one’s thinking when using one’s mother tongue. I agree with Xu Rui’s assessment. “When using your mother tongue, you tend to focus on how to think. When using a foreign language, you are limited to thinking about how to write.” I have experienced the same feeling. Although I once wrote a thesis on dance using English, the painful nature of this process means that several years later, I still remember it as if it were yesterday. Except where one has no choice, I do not enjoy the process at all. Of course, this is also directly linked to one’s training. The Taiwanese academic Chen