I know very little about dance. I haven’t seen much in the way of dance.
This is changing and I love it. Not all of it. I like the feeling of being a wide-eyed amateur wandering into a new world.
I have two left feet – I was never any ‘good’ at dancing – at school etc but I do love dancing. I mean really dancing – til I’m sweating and my feet hurt.
I am slowly understanding as I watch more dance, that as with any art form there is a huge spectrum. I mean I knew there were different styles because I can name some of them – ballet, tap, contemporary, Irish, flamenco…. But I hadn’t considered how different pieces invite an audience to engage with it in different ways, just as with theatre or visual art or music or ….
My naïve misunderstanding that dance is abstract I suppose came from the fact that it doesn’t use words – so meaning isn’t conferred in that direct way. In that moment, I failed to clock that words are indirect too.
Also, two out of the five dance pieces I have seen in the last six months have used text in some way (Smoke and Mirrors by Ricochet Project, Men and Girls Dance by Fevered Sleep). And so much contemporary theatre has elements of dance (recently Rash Dash’s Two Man Show).
A piece I saw last week at mac Birmingham by Rosie Kay’s dance company Double Point: K and Motel, felt surprisingly literal. When I sat down ready for dance, I realise now that my brain and body were primed for abstraction because I’d decided that’s what dance does – it offers threads or sketches for me to interpret and dream around as I feel, depending to a great degree on what I carry into the room with me. These two pieces didn’t invite that at all.
Jacqueline and I recently had a fascinating conversation with Gavin Thatcher – a theatre maker currently writing his Phd on dance and dramaturgy – in a noisy café bar in central Birmingham. I was interested in Gavin talking about his work moving from having a clearly discernible narrative and lots of text towards a looser idea of narrative, a less neat narrative, a narrative more like the experience of life. That this felt like a journey he’d made towards handing over control to the audience – a letting go on his part – and to using more dance and movement.
He said that surprisingly, the literal meaning of dramaturgy is ‘the composition of actions’ – it doesn’t mention language, it doesn’t mention words.
This led to us talking about ‘clearly identifiable products’. If sense and clear meaning are not offered – can we speak of what we have received? Perhaps but it is more slippery. And some audiences will be comfortable with that experience and others will feel confused or cheated or well, uncomfortable.
But as makers – who need audiences/want audiences – how do we invite people in to read the piece on its terms? How do we avoid alienating audiences – or making people feel it’s not for them and emptying the theatre?
And what are the rules or structures for a show if it’s not held by a clear story?
We rambled intently about the experiences of work with ‘space’ in it. About honing our boredom sensor as we make pieces, sensing when the rhythm needs to change, or when we need a surprise.
Artaud said that coming out of a piece of theatre should feel like ‘waking up from a dream or a nightmare’ – we don’t tend to wake from a dream and know what it means, we wake with a mood, a feeling, a collection of images into which we can read many things.
We talked about the differences between the British theatre world and international work and if the huge tradition of linear narrative and text based, plot driven theatre gets in the way of alternatives?
Gavin asked if our often frightening and fragmented world makes us lust for clear narrative, for meaning more than ever?
But we are built to fill in gaps – our brains construct meaning from very little in the way of scaffolding so we can ‘do’ with less.