The other season the national venue for contemporary dance in Stockholm advertised their program with a comparison to arena rock. Fuck yeah, that’s an excellent move in order to grant dance an autonomous existence.
The idea was simple. Imagine that what you’d see in the, so called, House of Dance would be as cool as Deep Purple, Santana, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna or Metallica in the football stadium together with forty eight thousand others.
First of all, if I’d be interested in arena rock then I’d buy a ticket. I don’t need to imagine anything to go see dance. Second, if I’m interested in dance and choreography the wet dream isn’t exactly grandpa boogie or four dudes from Australia with the intellectual ability to haul “-Yeah!” between every two songs.
It’s kind of hard to comprehend why a national venue for contemporary dance want us to reproduce an image of three generations of lower middleclass family idyll dressed up in fan T-shirts and etc paraphernalia, downing over prized beers from plastic cups and singing along to songs older than most choreographers. Third, who had the excellent idea that a venue for contemporary dance would gain credibility by comparing it self to the most populist kind of entertainment the world have ever invented. And fourth why would a venue financed to the last penny by the state high five with commercial event culture at its worst. That’s like a reversed cry for help, or like – arena rock equals contemporary dance, so why on earth support dance with tax money when you don’t pay shit for Deep Purples forty-sixth visit to your city.
“Hallo Stockholm! Can you hear me?”
Dance has for hundreds of years been haunted by history, the lack of it, and the nonexistence created by said lack. Dance is like a ghost next to other artistic expressions wandering the corridors of the world’s école des beaux arts like an anorectic Nicole Kidman, or perhaps Heath Ledger with intact The Joker make up.
Dance never made itself a position in the history of philosophy, except as a cute metaphor, because its ephemeral status, nor did it attract much attention in the encyclopedia showing up over the last few hundred years. Dance has been banned from history because as, Peggy Phelan wrote in the legendary chapter 7 in her book “Unmarked” from 1993, performance becomes itself through its own disappearance (softly quoted). And yet dance has, or so it seems, made an immense effort to get its ass into that history.
Yet, something is peculiar with the arena rock capacity that dance lacks. Not necessarily the humongous audiences or the amazing apparatus set in motion, nor devoted fans, hysterical behavior or even the massive manifestation of a group. No, it’s on the other side. Up there on stage. Dance has no Keith Richards or Angus Young, there is no half century old choreographies that make teenage girls faint, no concert dances to which father and son can groove. Damn, I envy those rock ‘n rollers the satisfaction to scream along like football hooligans: “Let’s dance, put on your red shoes and…”
But why is there no arena dance. I always wondered if, for example, a large-scale theatre presents ten evening with an established local company, which is often the case (Rosas in Kaai Theater, Cullberg Ballet in The House of Dance), why not, instead of ten performances with a thousand people per night, rent the local ice-hockey stadium during one night for ten or fifteen thousand people. Then somebody else, not so established, could do research on the stage or present an experimental piece.
“But”, you say, “you wont see no nothing. The dancers will be like ants. I mean dance is something that must be experienced live, and not through over sized video screens.” But is it really? How can it be that dance loses it’s authenticity and the experience its potentiality when supersized, when nobody seem to have a problem with Rolling Stones being genuine rock ‘n roll in front of a few hundred thousand people? And don’t tell me that concerts aren’t about image, if it was about the sound then why don’t you stay home with your headphones.
“But isn’t Riverdance arena dance?” Yes, it is but that’s not to be compared to Rolling Stones but more in line with Celine Dion or The Beatles on Ice.
I believe that the reason has nothing to do with experience. More over I think dance would be great in Madison Square Garden. It would be different of course, but why not great? No, the reason is money, control and power! If Rosas or Chunky Moves would perform in stadium venues the economy circulated would be something totally different, and the moment when there is an option to make money, lots of money, at least three things follow: 1. subsidy units would have to consider it’s support; why should tax money finance dance companies that can fill stadiums? 2. if dance could produce revenue a busload of harsh motherfuckin’ businessmen would knock on the dressing room door, 3. dance would transform into a commercial expression and thus lose some, or all of the privileges of state supported culture.
These are the simple reasons why even the most exclusively big companies forever will occupy the big stages but never go arena, and this is supported by venue and festival directors, because, whatever they say, their watchword is: If we mustn’t change why even think about it? It worked last year so it will probably work this year as well. Why transform when there is nothing to gain?
The central problem of cultural circuits that relies solely on one single wallet (The State) is that there can be no competition, no real lobby or backstabbing. Why? Because, even if my theatre sell so many more tickets, I’m still not gonna make millions? So why? And you respond: “But there are other kinds of people, presenters and curators with guts and ideology. People willing to take risks.”
Yes, there is but risks that only can take place on levels of variation: a little bit better, worse, more, less, daring, conservative and so on. Without doubt, those people are precious and need unconditional support (there are some in Australia), but since they are still running smaller organizations and weekend festivals it is obvious that there are forces in the landscape that prefer business as usual.
State funded culture could be compared to the legal aspects of arms dealing: monopolization and centralization of power produce obscene economical asymmetries and any kind of resistance or attempt to produce transparency is killed through silence, because everybody is guilty.
Yet, something interesting is happening. Right now, in front of our eyes. There’s a new kind of war emerging, produced through a different kind of society, through different kinds of strategies, different economies, elaborating different modes of ownership, distribution and accountability. There is only one problem, on a new kind of battlefield success will obviously also be different. This must be a success that is not recognizable and cannot be recognized by “important” players on the present dance market. However, the situation can be reversed, and to “our” favor. As long as new modes of success are not compatible with established modes of evaluation, it poses a threat to the established. The question today, is whether, and how, small emerging cells of activity, through informal collaborations, can nourish emancipation and structural transformation of what dance can be. Personally I’m absolutely convinced although it will cost, and today is when we start paying. Hell, if we want change there will be collateral damage, and this implies that we have to stop operating through forgiveness and “a little bit”. I say, fuck a little bit, if we want transformation let’s fuck a lot… or I mean, we are speaking about a necessary apocalypse, or give it another name: unconditional betrayal.
Dance is dead, long live dance.
When something dies something new can emerge, but if dance has no history, this means that either dance is new, like NEW, all the time, or is rendered immobile exactly due its lack of history. Is it possibly so that dance precisely because it lacks history cannot issue transformation, and at the same time because it has no history it cannot produce contemporaneity? Further, is the lack of history also the reason why dance cannot turn commercial, as the production of history is linked to ownership and objects? Perhaps we should look for some arena dance, not because we want to end up at the Wembley Stadium but because it promises sufficient stability to produce change, contemporaneity and commerce. Isn’t it weird that as much as dance mourns its lack of history, it’s programs and festival are void of any attempt to create it? This is of course not a matter of unveiling a history already existing, which would evidently consolidate dance as we know it, but to insist on telling history from the battlefields emerging right now. Our history, freed from historians and over weighted academics, belong to everybody and fucks history, in order to produce it. History is not behind us but something we create by remembering to forget.