Contemporary dance: are they just dicking about?

Posted by: James on: Sunday, 9th October, 2011

It’s one of those things you have to do as an open-minded art-lover. I’ve enjoyed musicals and opera and installations where you tread barefoot through talcum powder in a darkened room, so I figured it was about time I saw some contemporary dance.

Now what is going to become increasingly apparent in this little post is that I have absolutely no frame of reference for dance – comtemporary or otherwise. I know what people dancing in a club look like. Scary, mainly. Ialso know what latin dance is roughly supposed to look like, having paddled at the shallow end of salsa and tango, but beyond that I’m clueless.

I chose a show called ‘Shameless Crowd Pleaser’. This was supposed to be audio-visual – lots of fun and props and music. Put differently: if we didn’t go for the dance, there was going to be other stuff to focus on.

Now it doesn’t have to be well-choreographed and balletic to be dance and I’ve got a fairly broad mind concerning what constitutes art. Clearly these were talented people who knew what they were doing and the semi-structured movements walked an enjoyable tightrope between beautiful and bizarre. It reminded me of a more fluid version of Meyerhold’s biomechanics (no apologies for wanky reference).

Meyerhold-style nutter

Genius or nutter?

There were several clues to indicate that this was a ‘deconstructed’ show, such as little comic asides where the performers would for example, mention that they rather fancied a small snack – like a jelly baby or something. And of course, one of the performers then walked on with a packet of jelly babies. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to pull this kind of japery off, but it was fairly crowd-pleasing – so I suppose they didn’t deviate from the script.

The musicians, on the other hand, might have been taking the piss – I couldn’t tell. They certainly weren’t playing their instruments correctly – apart from the bedpan, for which there is no accepted playing method (as far as I’m aware).

Crowd Pleaser was definitely shameless. Question is: were they shamelessly pushing the boundaries of music and movement or were they shamelessly exploiting the fact that anyone watching a show of any kind will try to ‘get it’ and if they don’t they’ll give the performers the benefit of the doubt.

The shamelessness was also fuelled in part by the fact that the audience was fairly saturated with friends and family of the performers – so much so that our friend Ilai felt he had to put a good few hundred yards’ distance between us and the crowd before saying a bad word about the show. It felt at times like we’d come to a bizarre private function and the show we’d meant to see was happening in a room just upstairs.

My reaction? I was glued to the thing. The whole hour I was entranced. Why? I’d never seen anything like it. It’s the same reason I loved watching some Chinese kids doing the lion dance the other weekend at the moon festival. In the history of lion dances, there have probably been much more impressive performances, but I haven’t seen them: this was my first. I had no frame of reference. And without that frame of reference, I had a really good time.

The reason I feel rather differently about the musicians is because I know one or two things about music – even the weird and wacky stuff, as anyone who’s listened to my music collection on random will attest. I know it doesn’t take a lot of talent to play instruments badly and wheras in visual art I can see the point of using your brush in a different way, I don’t see the point of blowing raspberries down a trumpet.

I’ve learned one important lesson from this outing though: maybe I would do best go to the really bizarre shows alone. I know Ash really didn’t go for the Shameless Crowd Pleaser and I suspect that our new firends asked themselves a few questions during the performance too.

Thinking about it, one of the first things I wanted to take Ash to – this would have been one of our first dates – was an opera with body parts constructed macro-scale as bits of set. In the trailer, people would emerge from a massive arse onstage. Ash politely declined my invitation, suggesting something a lot more sane instead. Things could’ve gone so differently in our relationship if she’d said yes.

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A fairly loose blog about the places I go and the things I think. May also include left-leaning social commentary derived in part from video games.

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