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What did you think of the workshop itself and what did you learn for your own practice as a critic?

 

I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to participate in the workshop. The range of participants was very well balanced between academics, journalists, theatre/dance/performance specialists and different levels of experience, meaning that the group dynamic was excellent from the outset. It was a real pleasure to work with such an interesting and friendly set of people, aside from the fact that it was invaluable to be able to gain an impression of different critical perspectives from across Europe. Having this opportunity to see my practice in a wider context, and to learn about the situation of the performing arts in such diverse countries has both broadened the scope of my practice and also whetted my appetite for continued participation in an international network of writers. Although I took a huge amount from working with my colleagues over the intensive period of the festival, naturally even more could be learned over a longer period of exchange, discussion and collaborative practice. Everyone in the group agreed that it would be incredibly useful for us all to stay in touch and find new ways of working together once the workshop had finished, and so far some steps have been taken towards this goal.

 

As far as workshop structure and content is concerned, Anna Tilroe and Pieter T’Jonck both did an incredible job of providing stimulating exercises that were useful to us all despite the wide range of backgrounds and experience within the group. As Anna’s section was very intensive and involved very close reading and in depth analysis of texts, whilst Pieter focused more on approaches to criticism, it may have been useful for the order of their workshops to have been reversed, so that in the second half we could examine the results of the new approaches with which we had been equipped in the first half.

 

Anna Tilroe created a safe atmosphere in which I (and the other participants, as they have stated) felt very comfortable in openly critiquing each other’s work without the discussion becoming personal. Each text was treated with the same detailed level of attention, and we were supported in giving a fair analysis of the writing. This approach was extremely useful in terms of gaining an understanding of how particular critical texts operate, but also in gaining an idea of each others’ styles and the contexts in which we usually work. The group interview exercise (where every member of the group asked at least one question of the two interviewees) was maybe a little over-ambitious: perhaps it would be better to save this for when there is more time available so that participants can conduct interviews in pairs or individually. This could even form enough subject matter for a whole workshop.

 

Pieter T’Jonck was equally skilled in encouraging us all to discuss texts openly, although more time was dedicated to practical work, which was a welcome contrast in conjunction with Anna Tilroe’s workshop. The exercises undertaken provided very interesting points for further investigation and thought, particularly the creation of an “inventory” of everything seen in one performance, and the creation of a set of criteria with which we each assess performances. Both of these exercises have opened up whole new approaches for me when thinking about a show, and I will continue to use them in my practice.

 

Although every minute of Anna Tilroe’s workshop was useful and I would have regretted missing any of it, I think the whole group might have benefited from shorter formal group sessions and more time to read and write. If the first workshop stood alone this level of intensity would be fine, but as we then launched into Pieter T’Jonck’s workshop with just one day’s rest, the whole group seemed quite exhausted by the final days. One solution may have been to have 2 days rest (especially as some participants stated that they had to use this time catching up on regular work, so had no time to rest), or otherwise to have sessions running from 10am till 2 or 3pm in the first week rather than till 6 or 7pm.

 

In terms of content, although I was extremely satisfied with the work covered (and am certain there wouldn’t have been time to cover any additional material), I would have been interested to think more about the role of critic/writer and what this means. I felt that the approach of both workshops focused on a journalistic (and sometimes academic) role rather than any other definition. As the role of the traditional “newspaper critic” is (questionably) increasingly viewed as out-dated or even redundant, and blogs and other electronic media on performing arts take precedence, it would have been very useful to discuss the statuses of these different media in our respective countries, and to have explored different forms, styles and approaches to writing in view of this (including performative, embedded, immediately responsive, collaborative, and more “experimental” approaches). I wasn’t sure whether there was space (both in terms of time, and in terms of the style of the workshop) for experimentation with these ideas.   

 

I learned a great deal about my own practice, and the input of both the workshop leaders and the other participants has shaped my subsequent ideas and work. As was remarked several times during the two weeks, the more you learn, the more you realise how much there is left to learn. The workshop was an excellent lesson in using what you do know to best effect. I am now much more acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and have developed strategies to improve my writing whilst taking this awareness into consideration. Not being a dance specialist, I now have the basis for a dance vocabulary and approach to writing about dance, and hope to be able to develop this by watching more dance and reading more dance writing.

 

Finally, as the only native English speaker, although I was extremely lucky to be able to use my own language throughout the workshop, I was frustrated not to be able to spend more time helping the other participants with corrections etc. when they asked me to. Normally I would be very happy to do this, but as our schedule was so tight sometimes there wasn’t time to help everyone that asked. I don’t know whether resources would stretch this far, but it might be worth considering the presence of a native English speaker who is there solely to help with written language (perhaps as editor or similar) if texts are going to published in a public arena (and if participants therefore wish to correct and elaborate on parts of their texts).

 

And what about the logistics (VTi, Beursschouwburg, lodging, food, transport … ) and the following up by Ultima Vez, Eline and myself?

 

The space very generously provided by VTi was an ideal workshop location. I found my own accommodation, and was very grateful for the financial support provided for both this, and for food and transport. Unfortunately the chef did not understand what cooking gluten-free food entails, and therefore (because I’m coeliac) I was ill during the workshop, which considerably affected my ability to participate. I appreciate that the logistics of the workshop and the festival are very complicated and time-consuming, but when health conditions are concerned, it is absolutely essential to be 100% certain that all concerned parties understand what is required, and what the arrangements will be. It would not have been a problem for me to bring quick-to-prepare gluten-free food from the UK (as it is less available in Brussels) had I known that this would be necessary. However, I was very satisfied indeed with the way that Eline and Annick handled this situation – they paid a great deal of attention to it and took great care to ensure that it did not recur, and that the cost of my food was covered. They were both extremely professional and helpful throughout the workshop, as was Kristien of Sarma, and it was a real pleasure to have them there. I was pleased that they were able to contribute to the discussion a little more towards the end of the workshop.

 

What about the tool online for publishing your texts / audio?

 

The WorkSpace Brussels website was very user-friendly, and hopefully we will continue to use it as a platform for our critical network activities. The only criticism I have is that once the texts were published via the Critical Endeavour page, their listing in the left-hand column was not very prominent, and without the news item created by Stijn on the homepage (or for those texts added too late to be included in that news item!) they did not have much visibility. I was pleased that there wasn’t too much pressure on us to publish a new text every day as our timetable was so packed, but perhaps it would have kept the momentum going if we’d had time to produce one or two more texts for the website each (and publicised the website actively to audiences with fliers etc.).

 

What about Working Title as the frame of the workshop?

 

This is a difficult question to answer as I did not attend ImPulsTanz, so don’t have a point of comparison with any other framework for the Critical Endeavour workshop. I thought that in general the festival was incredibly well organised for a festival of this scale, and that there was a real community atmosphere in the various venues. I was disappointed to see a relatively low rate of non-dance-professionals in the audiences, but this picked up considerably in the final weekend of the festival.

 

 

What would you additionally recommend for the next edition in 2010?

 

As I’ve already mentioned:

-        workshops to run from 10am – 2 or 3pm rather than till 6 or 7pm (or equivalent) allowing more time for practical exercises

-        if at all possible, an editor or designated native English speaker to help with texts to be published

-        greater focus on the role of the critic and new media/approaches to writing (but perhaps this just reflects my own personal interest…)

-        it would have been great to have had the time to produce one or two more texts each for the website – this probably would have been possible with the timetable change suggested above

-        if the workshop focuses on interviews, ensure enough time is devoted to this – it takes a long time to prepare for, conduct, transcribe and write up a complete interview

 

Additional suggestion:

-        it would be incredibly useful if the Jardin d’Europe network could support or help the continued development of the critical network – either by encouraging interaction between workshop participants from each year through an online forum (hosted on the Jardin d’Europe website), or by giving advice to participants wishing to continue their collaborations after the initial workshop. As I’ve already mentioned, the group this year are very interested in continuing to exchange ideas both virtually and face to face, and we’d be very grateful for any help with this – whether it’s advice on finding funding for meetings or the hosting of an online forum, etc.

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