The Long Dance
A number of pieces in this year’s Spring Forward dance festival might have been mistaken as being the product of a group of A Level drama students who’d all been given the same brief for their exam. Now this is absolutely not to say that the quality of work wasn’t high or that there weren’t some exceptionally clever and entertaining performances, but that the general body of work at the festival reeked of a similar theme: long, slow, and drawn out.
Dance is a form of communication, and in the same way that musical numbers in a show help to express something that couldn’t be said as eloquently or as strongly by another means, so too should dance. The trouble with certain pieces this year was that the dance – or rather movement in many cases – didn’t seem a fully justified means of presenting their ideas. The taboo show Dig My Jockey - a bizarre piece about equestrian fetishism - consisted mainly of barely moving images – a heavily-pregnant woman straddling a man on all fours, or a whip being swirled around the stage continuously. It strikes me that perhaps these could have been presented as a series of tableaus, rather than a near 40 minutes piece, and still have had the same effect. Or at very least, halving its length wouldn’t have hurt their message and may have retained attention spans for longer.
Of course length can be, and certainly was, integral to certain works. Jan Marten’s gruelling endurance test that saw eight dancers jumping in synchro for 70 minutes wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive had it been much shorter. Similarly, Margrét Sara Gudjónsdóttir’s Step Right To It saw the performers move at such an excruciatingly slow pace that wouldn’t have allowed them to accomplish very much in any less than their 40 minutes on stage. With each of these pieces though, the length of their performance was directly relevant to their message. Furthermore, if it becomes evident when considering the piece as a whole, why it was necessary to last that long, it can be much easier to enjoy it and reflect on the work.
Perhaps we can be more forgiving of unnecessarily long dance when it displays a high level of skill or is purely entertaining. However, Nora Elberfeld’s You’re from the 70ies but I’m a 90ies bitch was long and repetitive and involved little more than taking small steps around the stage, sitting and standing. Where then, with a piece like this, is the joy in watching these repetitive movements for the best part of an hour? Similarly with Ramona Nagabczynski’s work which saw three dancers rocking out – for lack of a better word – to loud music for about 15 minutes before descending into a wrestling match, there was little technical marvel in the piece. No, dance doesn’t always have to be technically challenging, but when a piece is devoid of a high-calibre of dance, gratuitously repetitive and drawn out, it does beg the question of whether self-indulgence has overcome the aims behind the work. Of course this raises the issue of whether dance should be for the artist or the audience, but with a lack of direction and focus in a piece, it appears that there is little possibility of the latter.