Having studied contemporary dance for many years, I’m convinced that critical thinking, experience in creating dance performances or knowledge of the history of dance in 20-21 century are not enough for the analysis of contemporary dance. The spectator’s perception of this genre of art is highly subjective – just as the reviews from critics or dance industry professionals are.
Many factors create a background for the perception and directly influence what we remember as the impression from contemporary dance performance.
Contemporary dance is very hard to systematize and even more difficult to analyze out of context. That’s why in my review for Edinburgh Showcase I will often compare it with the contemporary dance in Ukraine.
The first thing you notice in the contemporary dance / physical theatre works presented at the Showcase is the variety of approaches to dance performances. The next huge difference from the dance industry in Ukraine is an openly commercial orientation of the productions.
Another fact is that British producers tend to engage artists of different genres and thus create performances that go beyond existing genres.
The desire to present to the public the results of continuous work on creating equal access to contemporary art is an important selection criterion, and this applies for the audience as well as for independent choreographers.
Contemporary theatre in Britain has a well-developed market, and, to my mind, it was this factor that influenced the selection of works for the Showcase. Some people prefer buying vegetables at the market – even though the vegetables there are not packed and often soil-stained. The others choose supermarkets with their standards, structure, and attention to the customer. This was the picture I saw in Edinburgh: the Showcase featured both well-packed, beautifully labelled products, and experimental choreographic researches designed for experienced audience and often defying all spectators’ expectations.
Speaking about the former, I’ll illustrate with Butterfly choreographed by Ramesh Meyyapan. With its easy to trace plot, music scenario and intuitively understandable physical interaction of three actors on stage. Perfectly developed set design and a splendid usage of handcrafted puppets make this performance an interesting watch.
4 х 4 Ephemeral architectures by Gandini Juggling is created as a result of exploring the possibilities of dance and juggling interaction within a performance. One might argue that the dance here is neither impeccable nor original, but it wasn’t the creators’ specific centre of interest.
Contrary to the authors of Butterfly, who make an attractive picture using clear, well-known techniques, Gandini blurs the border between dance and circus, thus creating a totally new and amazing show.
I think OOG performance by Al Seed belongs to the same category. It’s a high quality theatre production in all respects – set design, light and sound design and the quality of performer’s movement. The theme of physical existence of a contused soldier leaves nobody cold.
I felt that An Invitation choreographed by Jo Fong and Pact with politeness (by a well-known and popular in Britain Wendy Houstoun) belonged to a totally different category. The former is a pure experiment with the spectator – during the performance the audience is openly invited to speak up – with text or with movement. The initial seating in two rows opposite each other creates a visual contact and invites the audience to interact. The spectators are constantly facing each other, whether they like it or not. Meanwhile, the performers control the action, animating it and preventing awkward pauses by bringing in a new suggestion at any time. From beginning till end, the action on stage is an improvisation with all the audience engaged.
The second work is very close to the aesthetics of postmodern choreographers of late 20th century. It directly addresses dance as a totally self-sufficient phenomenon in modern art. Performed by Wendy Houston, any movement claims to be a “dance” – though she doesn’t make any effort to make it more aesthetic or somehow meaningful. While performing, Wendy plays both with the movement, which, at spectator’s option, may acquire or lose meaning, and with the sense of words, which alters as the context and word order change.
To conclude, I’d like to mention Douglas choreographed by Robbie Synge. This performance is hard to attribute to any genre of the theatre. It features choreography, performance and visual theatre as well. The action on stage is very simple and easy to understand – the performer manipulates different objects, thus creating and exploring the connections between them. However, the quality of his “presence” and his interest in each manipulation mesmerize the audience.
My thinking on this performance will linger in my memory for a long time, still ringing the notes I didn’t notice at first in the chorus of multiple impressions. In the same way I would describe my overall impression of Edinburgh Showcase – now, when it’s been a month, pleasant memories and further emotions start coming.