Questioning Dance

Blog by Gareth K Vile | 27 Jun 2010

It has not, so far, been a vintage year for dance in Scotland. Tramway seems to have withdrawn from its traditional programming of left-field European choreography and the visit of the English National Ballet was a disappointing throwback to the effette style of the 1980s. Against this, Scottish Ballet continues to teeter between contemporary and classical, including new versions of old favourites while a steady stream of visitors to the Theatre Royal and EFT has provided an overview of the current state of the larger British contemporary scene.

In this context, two nights of dance at The Arches are all the more important: the Scratch Night saw an interesting work in progress from Jack Webb that appears to have been influenced by the European anti-choreographers, while the following Dance Triptych pitched an hour long physical theatre workout from Knocking Theatre against two shorter pieces from Scottish artists. Knocking's Mhyfos (sic) could more happily have stood alone. A bleak meditation on the remaints of ancient legends, it wandered in the drak against a soundtrack of electronic buzz and hiss. A lack of humour and seriousness aren't necessarily weaknesses, but this mythology consisted of spectacular moments and long linking passages of walking, crawling and moving the set. It did capture an existential helplessness- a mood more than supported by The Arches' walls, but seen far too often in this context. Having had an hour or so of entertainment in the first half turned Mhyfos into a formless shamble, rather than a taut explosion of ideas.

Mhfos' major weakness was the priviledging of ideas over choreography: using junk as props and costumes, they evoked a subterreanean world of broken concepts and confused narratives. Yet the strength was in the imaginative use of the core material, the recreation of iconic entities as damaged, fragmented symbols of contemporary inertia. Avoiding any recognisable dance movement did strip the piece of the joy that so often comes from the display of trained dancers: it reduced the choreography to the fashionable nihilism that often passes for profundity in Live Art.

The first half, made up of Tom Pritchard's This is Live and Elaine Kordys' Movement Signatures, suffered from similar anxieties. Pritchard had around ten minutes of interesting dance, which he padded out to half an hour with ponderous reflections on the nature of performance. Taking on the meaning of liver performance is a great idea, but was executed in a self-iindulgent manner. Kordys' film, a collection of individuals explaining why certain moves are their signature, is another good idea that fails due to a lack of critical insight. There was no attempt to define why these moves were worth watching, and each perfomer was allowed to justify their choice uncritically. Both Pritchard abd Kordys have thought about ways to avoid predictability, and are trying to question the nature of dance. The failure to provide answers is only a temporary problem, assuming that they can force their question through more rigorous processes.