A few months ago I attended a show by the Swedish/Icelandic choreographer Halla Olafsdottir. The piece, a duo with Nadja Hjorton, spins on rock n’ roll as experience: it’s loud, spectacular and intensely stupid.
“-Can you hear me Stockholm?”
The material – one of those terms people use but seem to have no idea what it actually means – is in no respect elaborate and the use of space has more to do with blinking lights, smoke and leather jackets. It’s equivoque in the same sense as Axl Rose is an anagram for oral sex.
The audience is shaken, blown away and for the encore – mandatory as this is all about the spirit of rock – they stand up and wave their arms to “We Will Rock You”. The piece has zilch to do with analysis, this is pure intensity and in this sense absolutely radical. It is a piece without safety net, exactly like a decent rock show.
Next to me a colleague from Brussels, the only person in the entire space that isn’t standing up. No, she maintains her distance and keeps her analytical façade up like a scared boxer in the first round. Afterwards she comes up to me and explains that she has many things to say but that it is not the right moment. What does she think? That the piece will be better off because she has something to say? Who does she pronounce herself to be posing as some sort of authority of choreography and dance? Hello, the famous critical distance is just a means to consolidate what dance has already been. Today critical distance equals being sadly conservative, a defensive posture that with a whispery voice contains dance within a defined territory. I’m sick of the concerned face that looks for answers or even worse questions. Don’t you see, it’s the face of a person that is not part of the game. No, I’m not against critical or critique. Criticality is nauseating but that’s another story. No, the problem is the moment of critique, and its concerned-face-expression. If we want to produce something with and for dance, we must put away distance and step straight into the abyss. Critical in respect of experience concerned with representation, makes no difference, but if it is posed onto the self it can indeed move mountains. What you should ask yourself is instead how you are able to participate in the given experience. Why does the dance audience always present this stone face attitude, which most of all reminds me about how I’m myself totally unable to make it happen in a social dance situation. The skeptical distance that I put up is just a miserable reminder that I’m not brave enough to hit the floor, to go nuts to the wrong music or give in to self-expression. You know what, spectacle doesn’t become less spectacle because you put on the skeptical face, propose yourself as an observer or well-meaning critic.
A few years ago it became synonymous with good pieces if the performer looked as if he or she was thinking or where inspecting his or her own behavior on stage. That was all fine, but two weeks after the fad had set off the self-aware, sort of meta alienation, became style and however the performer had done the show so and so many times he or she still looked like it was happening for the first time. Curious, yet comfortable. No no, it didn’t matter if the show had been rehearsed for three months. Over night the thinking performer became representation and all was restored to its commonplace.
We are all aware of a discourse that proposes that critique has been incorporated by capitalism and lost its touch. So why do we still insist? Why do we sit there with our skeptical face looking like we don’t know what enjoying oneself means? Why do we sit around like as if permanently constipated after showing trying to reinstate every experience into something known?
Another few years ago the fad was about clarity. A piece was not clear enough; a proposal that wasn’t transparent was disqualified in a second. But isn’t transparent equal to have to take any risk. Transparency reinstalls the division between body and mind and makes sure nothing unexpected can happen.
The moment something is clear, and we know what it is, it’s also as dead as a Volvo and the only thing we can cherish is excellence and culpability. The thinking performer, the skeptical distance and clarity has made dance into a zombie. But in dance the zombie is not symbolizing that unknown other but has incorporated zombie-life into itself: it feeds on the few exceptions, on the few choreographers that are brave enough to be at least a little bit foolish. Dance has become exiting in the same way as zombies practicing safe sex.
The zombie in dance has ripped to pieces the last little spirit to breach traditions, in favor of a ubiquitous concern for the well-being of dance. It is time that we call in Max von Sydow to exorcise the zombie within, it is time that we put away that skeptical face, the face that seems to want to tell all those that are enjoying themselves that they are stupid, celebrate dance and cherish a sense of havoc and tumult.