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Making A (da:ns) Scene: The Flesh Made Word

New York Times dance critic Roslyn Sulcas on the art of writing about dance

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Published: 24 Sep 2020


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That is a very important part of what you're doing as a critic… You are actually providing a historical record of what was being made… Live arts are so ephemeral, you know, all live arts. And a record of that moment in a theatre is very different to having some archival footage of a performance.

Roslyn Sulcas, The New York Times dance critic

How can movement be translated into words, and analysed using words?

Roslyn Sulcas grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, where she studied ballet. Subsequently, she became a dancer, before going into academia. Then came an epiphany: in the late 1980s, an encounter in Paris with an early work by then-relatively unknown choreographer William Forsythe struck her with such force that “I immediately wanted to write about it”, she remembers.

Her 5,000-word piece about the groundbreaking Forsythe, published in the UK’s Dance Theatre Journal, put her on the path to becoming a dance writer. Today, Roslyn is the dance critic for The New York Times. In this episode, she speaks to Singapore performance maker, dance filmmaker and arts journalist Chan Sze-Wei about the function of cultural criticism, how her classical dance training and experience of different cultures inform her work, and how she is thinking about the role of the arts critic as live performances move online during the pandemic.

And finally, Roslyn and Sze-Wei chat about the pleasures and challenges of translating a movement-based art form into words. “This is the most difficult part of dance writing, I think,” Roslyn shares. “How do you make it visceral, tangible, kinetic for people?” That question, and its many tantalizing answers, continues to animate the work of dance writers across cultures.

Further explore

Roslyn wrote about Forsythe in her first published piece as a dance writer, and profiled the choreographer more recently when he debuted new work for Boston Ballet—his first for a North American ballet company in almost 30 years. 

Sze-Wei also wrote about Forsythe in a piece about Impressing the Czar, which was  performed by the Dresden Semperoper Ballett as part of Esplanade’s da:ns series 2019

This episode discusses differing critical receptions to Pina Bausch in the US and Europe. Here’s a piece of dance writing by Lynn Houston about the choreographer’s Carnations and how the work questions classical ballet.

The New York Times’ Brian Seibert writes about the novel experience of watching new work by British dance company Rambert that was created to be viewed live online. 

This episode of Making A Scene is produced by Hong Xinyi and Wong Kwang Lin for Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.

About Roslyn Sulcas

Roslyn Sulcas grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, where she studied dance before completing a masters degree in literature at the University of Cape Town, and a doctoral diploma in social history at Paris VII (Jussieu). While studying in Paris, she began to write about dance for British and American publications, becoming the Paris correspondent for Dance Magazine, Dance & Dancers and Dance International, as well as writing for magazines and newspapers in the U.S. and Britain. In 1996, she moved to New York, where she worked as an editor and a freelance dance writer. In 2005, she began to review and write about dance for the New York Times, covering a broad spectrum of dance. In 2011, she moved to London, where she covers dance, theatre, film, visual arts and other cultural topics in Britain and Europe for the New York Times.

About Chan Sze-Wei

Sze-Wei is a dance maker, film and video artist, researcher, arts journalist and mum. Her practice for the stage and screen is focused on perception, sensation and the knowledge of the human body, in connection with the politics of the body. She has shown her dance films and live creations in Singapore and internationally, and has appeared in Singapore and international dance and theatre productions. She has written on dance in Singapore since 2010 for various online and print platforms, including The Straits Times, the Esplanade Offstage, and ArtsEquator..At ArtsEquator she also hosts podcasts and leads a course on dance writing together with Jocelyn Chng and Bernice Lee.

Making A (da:ns) Scene

Curated as part of da:ns festival, this podcast series gathers the insights and expertise of practitioners, producers and writers from Singapore, Asia and the rest of the world. Listen to illuminating conversations across a range of topics about culture, society and the world we live in, centred on a love for dance and movement.


da:ns online

A reimagined da:ns festival 2020 invites you to discover movement across diverging mediums – through your body and from your screen, from 12 – 31 October.

The Flesh Made Word Full Transcript

Get up and move

da:ns festival 2020

A reimagined da:ns festival 2020 invites you to discover movement across diverging mediums – through your body and from your screen. Free your mind and explore dance in its varied forms and expressions with thought-provoking new works, illuminating conversations, introductory videos and more.

12 – 31 Oct 2020
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