Dance alumnus participates in writing course at international dance festival in ParisFri 12 April 2019
Dance alumnus Emily May is one of ten participants who took part in the prestigious Aerowaves Springback Academy 2019, a course for emerging dance writers.
Now it its 6th Year, Springback Academy runs alongside Spring Forward Festival and offers participants a unique chance to review selected performances from the festival, both in long form and as live tweets to engage with dance enthusiasts around the world. This year, the Academy and Festival took place in Paris 5 – 7 APR, where participants were mentored by professional critics Donald Hutera, Sanjoy Roy, Kelly Apter and Laura Cappelle.
Emily May’s reviews from Spring Forward Festival are available to read online.
She was interviewed shortly before Springback Academy about her recent work and future plans. Read on to find out more.
Tell us what you’ve been up to since graduating from the BA (Hons) Contemporary Dance programme in 2017.
For my dissertation I looked at artists’ ambivalent relationships with the “dehumanising metropolis” of 1920s Berlin, so immediately after graduating I went to explore the city I had been obsessively writing about for the past year. I went to do a month-long writing course, and instantly fell in love with Berlin and was desperate to do anything I could to move back.
Eventually, after making various applications and saving up by working at a hotel in my Worcestershire hometown, I was offered an Editorial Internship in Berlin at the monthly English-language magazine, Exberliner. I did a brief stint back in London interning for the Culture Calling recommendations website, before returning to Berlin in October 2018 to intern at SLEEK art and fashion magazine, where I interveiwed choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Trajal Harrell. At the moment I’m interning with online creative magazine, Freunde von Freunden.
Why does dance journalism appeal to you?
As well as telling me that I was always prancing around the kitchen as a kid, my mum said I always had a pen in my hand from a very young age. Dance journalism was the perfect way to combine both obsessions. The idea of capturing the ephemeral nature of dance, and to translate fleeting, physical moments into the written word, is very appealing to me.
I also love the fact that arts journalism allows you to discuss dance alongside other art forms. I wrote a piece about an event here in Berlin that was part contemporary dance performance, part fashion show, for which the designs and choreography had developed organically together. I find this blending of disciplines very exciting and hugely rewarding to write about.
I think that all mediums should be considered alongside each other as equals, especially in these exciting times when the boundaries between art forms are blurring and contemporary dance is becoming increasingly popular. Just take top choreographer Sharon Eyal choreographing for fashion house Dior as an example.
Last year I wrote an online feature for SLEEK magazine entitled Medusa’s Makeover for the #MeToo Moment. This article looked at how the Greek gorgon had been vindicated in 2018 in various art, fashion and dance projects, and related her myth to contemporary issues facing women including #MeToo and a rape case in Ireland which used a woman’s underwear as evidence in a court of law. As part of my research for this feature, I interviewed Jasmin Vardimon about her piece Medusa, as well as Kiki Karoglou, the curator of the recent exhibition Dangerous Beauty: Medusa in Classical Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Interweaving examples of work from different artistic disciplines in order to discuss a wider cultural point was extremely satisfying and is something I would like to continue to do in the future.
Do you have a favourite performance you have reviewed?
Recently I attended a re-imagining of Oskar Schlemmer’s seminal work Das Triadische Ballett as part of the 100 Jahre Bauhaus festival in Berlin. I felt like I had been transported back in time to witness an iconic moment from dance history. I also love reviewing pieces by Tanztheater Wuppertal as Pina Bausch’s choreography has great emotional resonance for me.
How can we access your work to read for ourselves?
I collect all links to my written work on my online portfolio. You can also look at my work on my author pages for SLEEK magazine, The Wonderful World of Dance, Freunde von Freunden, Exberliner, and Culture Calling.
How did you become involved with Springback Academy and what will the course involve?
The application process was quite challenging. We were asked to submit a sample review, a description of our local dance scene, and an explanation of why we wanted to take part in the programme. Each response had to be under 140 words. For someone who likes indulging in lengthy descriptions, this was quite a difficult task! I spent a lot of my time at Trinity Laban cutting down essays that were ridiculously over the word count. But after completing the application, I realised the value of being economical with words and I am looking forward to learning even more about concise dance criticism during my time at Springback.
The course is three days long and will include seeing all 22 shows from the Aerowaves programme, reviewing at least one show per day, producing a longer opinion piece at the end of three days, and taking part in a critical issues seminar to discuss the topics that have arisen during the festival.
What do you have planned for after Springback?
Well, two days after I get back from Springback I will be reviewing Gauthier Dance’s Mega Isreal programme at the Haus Der Berliner Festspiele, which features work by Hofesh Schecter, Ohad Naharin and Sharon Eyal. So I will be putting all I’ve learnt to use straight away back in Berlin.
I have many fantastical plans and dreams for the long-term, from completing a Masters in New York to opening my own Weimar Republic-themed performance venue with an associated magazine. For now, I’m extremely happy to be living and working in my favourite European metropolis and to be exploring all it has to offer whilst interning with Freunde von Freunden magazine, as well as writing Berlin-centric dance and arts content for The Wonderful World of Dance and MutualArt.com.
What are some of the challenges faced by arts critics working today?
Like many other areas of society, the internet and how we relate to it provokes big questions in the arts. Today anyone can post a 280-character review on Twitter immediately after a performance, and whilst some may see this as negative, it’s also inspiring how social media has democratised the arts industry and allowed a wider range of voices to contribute to discussions which they may not have had access to ten or twenty years ago.
Are you keeping up your choreographic and performance practice alongside writing?
Yes! During my studies I was able to show my work at various performance platforms in London, Worcester and Oxford. Since graduating, I and my fellow alumni Reuben Woodall, Leo Meredith, Claire Peers, Molly Lippeatt, Ellen Finlay and Ciara Lynch have presented our work MANufactured at Journey Dance Festival in Kendal and the Dance In The Age of Forgetfulness Conference at Royal Holloway University. The work focussed on John Ruskin’s criticism of mass production and how modern-day labour removes individuality, soul and humanity.
I also created a solo inspired by Roman pantomime which I performed at an interdisciplinary conference at The University of Vienna in June 2018. During the same year, I participated in a research and development project with the wonderful choreographer Rosie Kay. She has mentored me since I was 12 years old and in 2016 invited me to sit on her Board of Directors.
Which part of your course at Trinity Laban has been most useful to you since graduation?
Writing my dissertation was a very formative experience as it allowed me to focus on the period, choreographers and artists I was most passionate about. It also gave me the chance to practise writing about dance in relation to visual art, literature, film, politics etc. If I hadn’t become so obsessed with the 1920s dance and art of the Weimar Republic whilst writing my dissertation, I don’t think I’d have been so determined to move to Berlin!
Also, consistently being encouraged to talk about dance in a clear, intelligent way – whether this was delivering speeches about our choreographic creations or learning about Rudolf Laban’s terms for efforts and movement in choreological studies – has been invaluable in giving me a vocabulary to apply to arts writing.
If you could give ONE piece of advice to aspiring arts writers, what would it be?
Identify opportunities to write about what you love. Like every job, you’re going to have to write articles or reviews that aren’t your favourite sometimes, but it’s all worth it when you know you’ve got a piece coming up on a topic you’re really passionate about.
I’m a big believer in making opportunities for yourself. If you want an internship, don’t wait for a job advert; email and introduce yourself. If there’s an idea you can’t wait to work on, pitch it to editors, and if it’s rejected or you don’t get a reply (which happens more often than not!) write the pieces anyway and publish them on your own platform.