During our annual Resolution Festival, there is certainly an atmosphere of opportunity and possibility in the air and it is always exciting to see what people will do next. Usually all eyes are on the artists developing their work but this year, another interesting project emerged that caught our attention. Over the 30 years of Resolution, many of our Resolution Review writers – young dance critics who are coached through a writing programme – have established their own blogs or went on to write for major papers. Lyndsey Winship, the Guardian’s dance critic famously started out as a Resolution Reviewer. But this year, our group of writers did something different: they have formed a collective and launched a new platform, the dance art journal, to continue writing about dance together.
“I may be the person who has set up the website and the social media”, says Katie Hagan, the group’s founder, “but I really want it to be a collective, where everybody is writing, creating and communicating. It’s so easy, especially in dance, to just do your own thing. Art in itself can be quite solitary. We just met at Resolution and bonded ever since, we’ve come together as strangers and now we are embarking on this adventure together. I was tempted to do a blog first, but I felt we have more force as a collective. I love collaborating, you end up in completely unknown territory.”
The writers of the dance art journal organised themselves as a Facebook group and currently consist of Resolution alumni Katie, Sophie Chinner, Isobel Rogers and Stella Rousham, plus theatre writer Jessica Acton: “I want the platform to focus on dance but occasionally reach out across the associated arts, including plays which incorporate movement, for instance. We reviewed Emilia at the Vaudeville Theatre recently which is a fantastic play. The movement director merged seventeenth century court dances with hip-hop, creating a type of fusion choreography that is completely fresh and new.”
Katie is a copywriter for businesses and with that knowledge, is well aware of how content needs to work: “I think dance writing cannot be just reviews, it needs other content, especially features and Q&As. There are a lot more stories that could be told. At the moment, the dance art journal feels very grassroot, but as long as we have good content going up, I think it might grow. We have strong enthusiastic writers who are young and eager and see a lot of work, and I think as long as you have that energy, who knows what will happen?”
Katie was a dance writer in residence at the Cohan Collective, a summer residency with York Dance Project while they were developing, their latest work with Robert Cohan, before she applied for Resolution Review. “I think that’s pretty good going in one year for an emerging dance writer, because there aren't a lot of training opportunities out there.” What did she learn from her mentors at Resolution? “I learnt so much from all three of my mentors, who each offered something different. I had Neil Norman and Anna Winter from The Stage, they were both similar in style, just getting stuck in and churning out the reviews. I had a fantastic post-show conversation with Neil about everything, from ‘who to watch’ and how to survive as a freelancer in the art world. And then I had Donald Hutera who was a very good teacher who really wanted to get something more out of me, which I found really helpful and constructive. He made me dig a bit deeper and questioned why I was saying something. Sometimes dance reviews can be a bit unclear and evasive and he was really trying to pinpoint and grind down what I was saying. It's great when you have someone else to talk to because reviewing is so subjective and talking something through with someone else is really enlightening. I’m really grateful that Resolution gave me the opportunity to work with these inspirational writers. ”
What is it she likes about writing? “Writing copy can feel really arduous when you write for a brand or for other people. Whereas in dance writing, I can be myself. I just like playing with words and finding the right word, because there always is that one right word for the right context and it’s quite thrilling when you find the one that encapsulates what you want to say perfectly. And then sometimes it doesn’t, and you end up wasting 10 minutes on Thesaurus trying to find synonyms...” she laughs. “What I also learned is it is much harder for me to write about something I didn’t like. I found I like to be constructive; I like to offer something for the artists. But then you also have to think of the reader.”
With her job in copywriting she brings a business savviness to the project that will surely come in handy: “There is a great dance organisation in South East London called IRIE! dance theatre, who are offering the first BA degree in Diverse Dance Styles. They do tremendous work and they need recognition so I will write a feature about them.”
Are the London dance venues responsive to a new dance platform on the block? “They are open to adding us to their networks and we are getting on different press lists. I don’t mind spending money to go see stuff, I think you have to do that at the beginning, but of course money is always an issue, especially in dance. I remember Graham Watts telling us at Resolution that regional papers and now national papers are getting rid of their dance critics. Unfortunately, there’s always that hierarchy in the arts, where dance just seems to fall behind, and it is a shame. But that’s maybe why these little projects like ours need to do it instead. I’m not in it for the money, I do have a fulltime job. I do it because I love dance and I like writing about it, and I found other people who do too. And Resolution got us together.”