A blog raveled in randomness
‘Showtime’ was under a special event ‘Let’s Get Physical’ at the Wellcome Collection in London. There were four dance performances and later a Q&A session where the performers shared their personal experiences in dancing. Before the performances started, a screen showed an animated video of infographics of dancers’ breathing rate and heartbeats. Created by Evan Morgan and Nicole Karakin, the animated video had three different colours associated with can-can, tango and ballet performers’ heartbeats. The purpose of the room was set for the audience to think about the movements of dance and how it affects the human body.
The first dancer was Catherine, who used only her right arm and stood showing her back to the audience during the entire performance. With the omission of facial expression and limited usage of limbs, I was focused on her right arm and the shadow that hit the background. Catherine moved her right arm according to the music, and she looked straight in front not losing focus of her shadow or on her posture.
Catherine’s simple performance triggered a big question in my mind: what is dance? Her presence challenged—what I am now afraid to say—a ‘typical’ bodily structure of a dancer, and her performance was not as extravagant as the other dancers later in the show due to her physical disabilities. But was it not dance?
My notion of dance was conventional and narrow. When someone says the word ‘dance’, I immediately think of a dancer twisting and turning. When someone says the word ‘couple dance’, I would imagine a dancer swinging another dancer in the air with flashy lights beaming from the stage. These strong, dynamic gymnastic movements were the main components in the formation of what I thought was dance. But Catherine proved me wrong. Movements hard to perform without strong physical strength instantly grabs attention to a mundane audience like me, and with dance competitions nowadays, the public is getting larger and larger and the dynamics of movements need to be liked by the majority. Emotional expression is not a safe play in a modern competitive world since its interpretation varies within individuals. So many art forms (not only dance) are working towards conformity. Catherine’s performance reminded me that dance is just a sequence of movements in reflection and expression. Whether the audience might dislike or favour the performer’s interpretation that should not anchor the ways the performer wants to move his or her body. Her movement with her only right arm was a performance.
The second dancer was Rachel, who did not use the stage and performed graciously along the aisle. The audience had to move their posture to look at her movements, and it felt like it was the most intimate performance between the ballet dancer and the audience.
Which performances need to be elevated on stage? I do not know the history of performance, so I will not write out any assumptions on how stages were formed, but I do think that with the growing variety of dance performances in a community, there were ones that were better than the other in the eyes of a public. So to share their talents with a larger audience, performers would utilize visible platforms from a mat on a street to an ornate stage in an elegant hall to distinguish themselves as performers from the viewers. But the longer the distance between the viewer and the performer becomes, I feel the intimate connection between ‘us’ and ‘them’ growing weaker. Rachel did a wonderful performance where we saw an elegant ballet dancer swooning the audience because her waves of movement quickly touched our hearts without its ripples fading away. Stages are small contributions to the ambiance of a performance, but do all dancers need to be elevated away from the audience?
My opinions stated on this review are not concrete, and I am certain that my thoughts on dance performance (in general) will morph into another form of idea after I post this on my blog. But that is what art is. Art is constantly changing and the ways of presentation can be debated, and that is why we continue to look out for performances, museums and galleries. It is feeling that we cannot forget when questions and emotions erupt from a novel piece of art. For me, art is an addiction—in a cultural good way.
*Note* There were two more acts after Rachel: the third group was Liz and Joe, who did two performances of improvised tango, and the last dancer Viktoria did a fashion walk wearing a very bright flashy dress with one left leg amputee that was ornate with flashing mirrors and jewels.