A friend recently described to me how she considers herself to be entertained if she has been moved, upset, or even traumatised by a piece of dance or theatre. And I think I know what she means. I recently saw Fleur Darkin’s ‘Experience’, and while there was much beautiful movement and clever use of props and speech throughout, the part which engaged me the most was the ‘London’ moment, referencing last summer’s riots with heavy and disjointed electric guitar, flashing bright lights and wild jumps, stamps and screams. In this most raw and exposed moment of the work, the human trauma was evident, and I loved it.
Anyone involved in a creative process or seeking to make work has probably realised that it’s much easier to create movement based on upsetting or negative subject matter. When I was at university this certainly seemed to be the case, where pieces set in asylums or about death and destruction were rife, and there were only a handful of colourful and lighthearted works.
It seems there is much more to get your teeth into, much more emotion in the uglier side of life. But as an audience, what is it we expect when we buy tickets to a show? There are some who will expect beautiful lines, incredible physiques, and pretty movement: something beautiful which can be taken at face value. I myself expect much more from dance performance, and it was only recently that I grasped this; in fact it was whilst watching the recent Channel 4 documentary on Damien Hirst’s upcoming retrospective exhibition at the Tate.
I began to consider the opinions of Hirst’s critics, whose party line seems to be, ‘that’s not art’. I think I’d previously considered my expectation of visual art to be beautiful brushstrokes and an attractive subject, a pretty picture. Now, I do not profess to be in any way an expert; in fact I’m a bit of a novice in knowledge of visual art, but I think what Hirst does goes much deeper, and taps into those human experiences, even traumas, which I relish in dance. As he discussed his various works, which span decades, he talked predominantly of the subject matter, rather than the finished product; he encouraged the viewer to look much further than simply what the eye beholds, and to explore why and how the work came about, and to what it refers. Working with themes of human loneliness, and the juxtaposition of life and death, his often gruesome images present the viewer with environments which urge you to question what you know and how you feel.
Surely this is something we’d all like to gain from artistic experience? Hirst’s work is far from what one would consider to be aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps that’s why it’s ‘not art’. But I think there has to be much more said for something with a bit of soul, vs. something which demonstrates perfect technique.
I recently saw the Javier de Frutos / Pet Shop Boys collaboration ‘The Most Incredible Thing’. Sure, it looked good. The dancers’ physicality was incredible, and the choreography showcased this well. But it left me unsatisfied, and asking the question of what is the best way to engage, or indeed entertain an audience. Multiple perfect fouetté turns are of course impressive, but when does this become simply showing off? I wanted more soul, a more human element, something I could relate to.
Of course, the wonderful thing about the arts is that everyone experiences things differently. That’s why we have access to such a range of exceptional works. And of course, one man’s waste is another man’s treasure; one man’s dead cow is another’s incredible thing. I would encourage you, though, to look at little closer at the ‘waste’, you may just be entertained.