November 1, 2006
Latest Dance Articles - on doing interviews
White Nights in the Autumn, 2006 issue of Dance Now. The issue is not online, but worth seeking out - along with my article on the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg, Debra Craine reports on the Mariinsky and Bolshoi in their London season and John Percival writes on both company's earliest London appearances. There's a lot more of interest as well, including Jane Simpson on narrative ballets (Great minds. We were seeing some of the same performances in London and it would certainly make one interested in the subject.)
[Alina] Somova has only been in the company since 2003 and is still a coryphée. She’s blond, and all limbs and wild lines – thin, pulled out and hyperflexible. Despite soulful white acts, she seemed to prefer Odile to Odette. She looked coached (at least, compared to ballerinas in many other companies) but she’s strange. She and Kolb ended the adagio in the Black Swan pas de deux four counts early and waited to strike a final pose. In the coda she did messy fouettés that the audience loved, but the audience of tourists in the top priced seats at the Mariinsky would probably have applauded wildly for dancing bears in tutus if Tchaikovsky were playing and the ticket said Swan Lake.
An interview with Yuri Possokhov in the Autumn 2006 issue of Dance View.
DanceView: Are you feeling yet like you know what your voice is?
Yuri Possokhov: I know what my nature is. Not voice, but nature I know. And I want to be as close as possible to my nature. It will be revelation; I don’t want to be artificial.
This interview taught me a ton, including some elemental lessons about conducting an interview on tape. It's not a conversation. It's an interview. If you have a conversation, when you transcribe it, it will have all the ellipses of a normal conversation where the thoughts were clearly understood by the participants, but the words never got spoken. What was perfectly comprehensible at the time reads as either boring or gibberish. I excised a few pieces of the interview where this happened. And even more practically in the same vein, no matter how awkward it feels for the flow of speaking, once you've asked a question, don't say anything - ANYTHING - until the other person has answered in a full and complete sentence. Wait for them to be done in order to avoid ellipses, or what happened more often in this tape: sections where we were both talking at once and it took several repeats to make out what was said.
Possokhov was conducting an interview in a second language for him, a brave feat for any one. A lot of editing needed to be done both for grammar and flow, but I think it's essential; the interview needs to accurately reflect as the person's thoughts and that's not always a verbatim transcript. There were enough changes that I did something unorthodox and let Possokhov read the piece before I submitted it. I wanted to be sure it represented his thoughts properly.
The difference isn't that large here, but as an example, this is the verbatim transcript of the quote above.
LAW: Are you feeling yet like you know what your voice is?
YP: I know what my nature. Not voices, but nature I know. And I want to be as close as possible to my nature. It will be revelation [two short words unintelligible] otherwise I don’t want to be artificial.
Another major change to make the article read better is to pare my questions down to the bare minimum. They were usually longer, with some preamble, chat and explanation done to try and draw Possokhov out - he's not shy, but he's thinking in Russian and answering in English. It's a lot of work. Most of that is cut out, except where illuminative, and Possokhov's answers are spliced together to keep me discreetly in the background. I'm not the subject of the interview.
Posted by Leigh Witchel at November 1, 2006 11:20 AM
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Leigh - a few more thoughts:
(1) Really prepare an interview - think about what you want from it and prepare a list of questions. The old journalistic who/why/when/where/who/which/what grid is a basic schematic which helps you with an interview grid. Read previous interviews with the same person.
(2) Be prepared to depart from your interview grid - allow space for surprises, listen to what you are being told and follow it up.
(3) Have a twin-track mind - allow your interviewee his/her reveries, but get back to your schema
(4)Long silences are vital. Don't fill space. Even if a question appears to have been answered, an interrogative 'and?' can yield a whole new vein of enquiry.
(5) When an interview is apparently over, ask 'is there anything I haven't asked that you feel I should have, or that you're keen to add.'
(6) Don't assume that transcripts of an interview make good reading. They mostly don't. Write them up as features.
(7) Allow the interviewee to go off-record, promising to respect that. Understand the nuances of 'off the record', 'unattributable', 'not for use', 'for background'.
(8) Above all, listen to what you're being told and get agreement that you can ring your interviewee for clarification if something is missing, or not followed up on tape.
(9) Incomplete sentences are fine, unless it's a radio interview. You can pull quotes together from different sections of the interview. In BBC radio documentaries, a 40" answer may be pulled from up to seven discrete parts of the tape. It's down to your integrity how you manage that. You need pretty complete certainty that your construct conveys what the intervieww intended. You are tidying up his prose, and making him perhaps a little more articulate than he really is.
(10) As you say, short pithy questions. You're not performing.
Posted by: Anonymous at November 14, 2006 3:57 PM