The Truth and Frailty of 'International Dance'

Interantional Dance is a misnomer. Discuss

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 21 Aug 2009

International Dance - sometimes known as folk dance, ethnic or world dance - is an uncomfortable tag. Classical Indian is shoved alongside butoh, alongside African tribal dancing, Sufi rituals, and even Morris, in a horrible patronising mess.

Even to look at a single country's dance heritage is to survey a fusion of social and theatre traditions, spanning thousands of years, different levels of technique and intention, fertilized by trade and cultural exchanges and evolving alongside the society. To shove Venezuela Viva alongside Ihayami Dance is insulting to both companies: and not due to any lack of quality in either show.

Venezuela Viva has been described as "sexier than Riverdance" - which may be less of a compliment than the company imagine, but still expresses the joyous sensuality of the salsa, Flamenco and live band that tell the stories of Venezuelan culture.

Ihayami's Thrayaa is a gestural meditation of the holy power of truth and beauty, a Scottish company tapping into the Southern Indian past. They have their own distinct identies, emerge from specific cultural values, climates and histories, and celebrate both the purity of tradition and its hybrid evolution.

The only reason that 'world dance' can be used is that most dance forms are defying a specific national identity. Manipuri from Watford; hip-hop from Birmingham; butoh from Glasgow: the modern world has merely accelerated the interbreeding that has been part of culture since mud huts began to gather in groups of three. The Fringe offers a chance to catch genres that are often ignored: if North West Morris is absent, neraly every other continent and nation is represented, and often two or more cultures equally inform the same choreograph

Post-modernity, when it isn't slopping around in difficult jargon and putting people off live and visual art, deconstructs ideas of purity and advocates the hybrid as beautiful. Some of the awkwardness seen in contemporary dance is less deliberate ugliness than the growth of difficult ideas or tentative communication.

And while there is something unique and beautiful in seeing a traditonal dance performed with devotion and respect, the palpable excitement of genre-defying cross-breeding is seductive. Here at Dance Base, Unsung is about the dialogue within Irish culture: using traditional music and dance, it questions assumptions about what it means to offer 'Irish' culture; Michael Popper checks out the infuence of a Russian poet on this English creator. By acknowledging the unique qualities of each nation, each form, the road to recreation, reimagining, is opened and deeper understanding is offered across and within boundaries.