“A review is NOT an audit” said The Straits Times music reviewer, Dr. Chang Tou Liang as part of his opening salvo at the Writing for Different Genres session at the Stephen Riady Centre, UTown, on 7 January. Delivered as part of CFA’s annual Arts Voices programme, the session also included commentary from The Straits Times’ dance reviewer, Germaine Cheng, and accomplished independent arts writer Deepika Shetty.

The Arts Voices programme is a collaborative mentoring programme that connects aspiring NUS writers with industry professionals, artworks and performances to help them develop their craft. Delivered over twelve months, the access provided through the programme, and the variety of tasks involved have been both enjoyable and challenging.

Dr. Chang opened this latest workshop with an engaging presentation ‘Critics Confidential: What good are music critics?’ and he used his personal experiences to impart technical knowledge as well as the many review writing tips and tricks he has picked up throughout his career.

“A review should always aim to encourage,” he highlighted. In fact, the concept that artists and reviewers live in the same ecosystem was fundamental to the Dr. Chang’s process of critique. Without either one, the art scene will cease to thrive. In simple terms: compensate each negative point with three positive ones so that the integrity of the review is maintained, but the artist knows that there are strong points within their performance.

When considering the intricacies of interpreting dance, Germaine Cheng from The Straits Times encourages beginners to start by reading the reviews of industry contemporaries and evaluating your own ideas against them. Recognizing that dance is a difficult art form to interpret and put into words, Ms. Cheng advises young writers to watch more performances than they review. By simply enjoying three dance performances for every one critique, a reviewer’s understanding of the language of movement and presentation expands, providing a greater bank of experiences from which to draw comparisons for future critiques.

Writing daily was at the core of Deepika Shetty’s approach to the craft. Even a tight caption for an Instagram post will help improve your technique in a small way. Inspired by her own broad experiences as a novelist and journalist with The Straits Times, the Times of India and India Today, Ms. Shetty divided participants into three groups who each watched a film currently exhibited at NUS Museum. After watching the film, Ms Shetty took each group through a process she calls ‘Seeing, Absorbing, Scripting’, whereby each creative experience is reviewed internally and condensed into key points which are then crafted into a compelling critique.

The new skills our group developed through this session have already been applied, with many of us attending the NUS Arts Festival as reviewers and the first of our cohort’s reviews due to appear in various outlets soon.

Indeed, the Writing for Different Genres session was a great way to start the year… Write!

By Vivian Ngiam, Year 1, Communications & New Media, NUS Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences