Thursday, 8 December 2016

Theatre Thoughts: What is Dance?

I've just read a really interesting article that a friend posted on Facebook, and it's made me think about a recent experience of my own.

What is Dance?

Obviously I love theatre, and I love dance, and I attend performances whenever I can afford to or find the time to. I recently went with a friend to watch a very well received and reviewed performance by a major company at an important theatre in London. We left at the interval.

The contemporary performance was set to well known Classical music, featuring a full orchestra and choir and solo singers, who were all exceptional. The dancers were highly trained, moved beautiful and in synchronicity. The staging and lighting were gorgeous. But each disparate element was just that - a disparate element. We felt as though the dancers could be dancing to anything - they weren't in time with the music (deliberately, but irritatingly), the story of the music was barely reflected in the dance, and the lighting didn't complement the performers or the performance.

Image Source: pinterest.com

Maybe, as the original article suggests, the performance had been extensively researched, workshopped and developed so that each individual on stage knew exactly their story and their purpose. But that didn't come across at all. I feel they would have benefited from some dance dramaturgy in the later stages of rehearsals - the 'outside eye' to come in and see if the movement could more closely reflect the stories they were trying to tell. 

Both my friend and I are trained in theatre, we know performance and we know contemporary dance. However much we appreciated the production, we were not enjoying it. 

I know, I know; theatre, in all of its myriad forms, doesn't necessarily just exist for "enjoyment" - it can be challenging, uncomfortable, confrontational. For example, a contemporary dance triple bill that I saw last year, opened with a visceral piece that drew on domestic violence, which made for highly disconcerting, yet riveting viewing. When attending a performance feels like a dry, dusty lecture, something is wrong.

Image Source: Londonist.co.uk

When you have to read an essay of explanation before a show, does it remove the enjoyment from the performance itself? Does it turn it into an intellectual exercise?

I think that this is why dance, and contemporary dance in particular, is seen as inaccessible. Because, very often, it can be. It can seem to be for those "in the know"; those who like to sit and scratch their chins and "hmmm" at each extension or plie. Or maybe it's for those who don't mind when the dancers don't seem to dance to the music that is playing, because dance transcends pure music, and makes its own?

That former sentence could have come straight out of one of the reviews I read before attending.

I don't know. My friend and I weren't the only ones who scuttled out at the interval. The bar nearby did great espresso martinis.

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