Thoughts on the Critical Endeavour programme - Lyndsey Winship

I found the Critical Endeavour project and the process of working as a jury on the Prix Jardin D'Europe to be a fascinating, enriching, provocative and very enjoyable experience.

Dance criticism is a niche pursuit and it's rare to meet many people engaged in the same activity, let alone spend three weeks gaining insight, guidance and advice from experts in the field as well as having a chance to debate with each other the issues and the intricacies of writing about dance.

Meeting such a varied group of people from different backgrounds, whose approaches and interests and areas of expertise were so wide-ranging was an education in itself, and having a similarly wide range of coaches across the three weeks was very valuable.

While each of the tutors was skilled and successful in their field, they all came with different approaches, tastes and experiences, and it was heartening to see that there's no single blueprint for a good writer/critic. For example, for me, Gia Kourlas was the person whose writing style and career was closest to my own aspirations but I know that might not match with other members of the group, and it was very healthy to get a glimpse of those different possibilities.

At times the programme felt a little uneven. Some tutors had prepared set exercises, others were more interested in general conversation and debate. I'm not sure whether imposing an overall structure would have been better or not as there is something to be gained from both approaches. We raised a lot of questions that we didn’t answer - but perhaps our aim wasn't to find answers but to open up possibilities. I couldn't help feeling that there was so much more we could have done – we did a lot of writing in the first week, for example, less in the second and third – but then again, with articles to write for Der Standard and for publications at home, and performances to see every night, we hardly had much spare time. Although the 20-minute writing task we did with Gia was a very useful exercise, and proved that you can hone your ideas in a short amount of time. Perhaps setting some reading before the programme began would be one way to cover a bit more ground.

In terms of the Prix Jardin D'Europe, it was, I think, an amazing opportunity to taste the jury process, wrestle with its complexities and frustrations and be gently guided along the way. Again, I would have liked to have more time for jury discussion. The way the programme was arranged meant there were certain pieces we wouldn't see until the very end of the festival, when we had already formed a lot of our thinking about the prize. I know that the festival was planned before the prize came into place, but as a note for the future I would say it's important to have enough time between the end of the competition and the results, because pieces shown at the end of the programme did not have as much discussion time as those shown earlier. For two of the pieces, the second showings were actually after our decision had to be made.

The whole experience was incredibly valuable to me personally as a writer, but I also think it's important to arts journalism in general to nurture young writers, and it's important to the dance field to encourage and enhance the discourse on dance.

Critical Endeavour took some great steps to bring the worlds of choreography and criticism together but I would have loved to have been able to share more time and ideas with the dancers and choreographers (Dance Web for instance) in search of new ways of communicating ideas about art and forge better links between the two fields. I had hoped to be able to spend some time at the Arsenal, maybe even take part in some classes, but again there just wasn't enough time.

Overall it was a fantastic experience for me and a real privilege to be part of Critical Endeavour. I am very grateful for the opportunity and it will definitely influence my writing and my thinking on dance.

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