dance & aesthetics, mostly
Review: Joss Arnott, Maaikor Dance, Côte à Côte
Resolution!, The Place
Saturday 8th January 2011
Joss Arnott’s Threshold, the final piece in a dance triple bill showing as part of The Place’s annual Resolution! festival, was a furiously athletic and intense workout for seven dancers, aiming to demonstrate, according to the programme notes, “different states of physicality and the extremities of body mechanics”. The dancers showed impressive technical skill, flinging themselves around to a brutal electronic soundtrack with strength and control, and formed a cohesive and convincing group in a piece that was both varied and well thought out. However, I was left by a nagging question, one that after much thought I am still unable to answer: is this actually art? The dizzying experience of watching the work was perhaps more akin to the experience of watching Formula 1 racing (the exciting bits, where drivers overtake each other or nearly collide or misjudge a corner and almost go spinning into the tyre wall), i.e. more akin to sport, than to what I’m used to thinking of as art.
Take the second piece in the bill, Maaikor Dance Company’s Heart of Ice, for example. A well thought out, well performed work, choreographed by Keren’Or Pezard and danced by Anastasia Kostner. Perhaps it didn’t make me think in new ways about the Antarctic landscape or “dreaming for an unknown place” as much as I’d hoped. But when, close to the end, Kostner stood very still and simply stared out at the audience, letting Thomas Tallis’ Spern in alium wash over her in waves, or fall on her like snow, for what seemed like an age, I felt as if I, as an audience member, was being addressed directly, that a response was being demanded of me, that I should laugh or cry or howl or throw something or whatever I felt like doing, but that I should do something, something other than simply clap politely and then wait for the next piece (which is in fact what I did). I felt as if all the thousands of individual fragments that make up my view of the world had shifted slightly, only very slightly, just enough to make room for a new fragment, this moment in which Kostner stood very still and looked out at us, and Spern in alium fell like snow, and that this new fragment would have an effect on what I think and feel and do, though maybe just a small one. Looking back, I feel more confident in saying that Heart of Ice is a work of art, maybe not a great one, maybe one that shows more potential than polish, but a work of art nonetheless. (I must say here that Maaikor Dance are taking part in a triple bill I’m producing in Canterbury in March, so I already knew a little about their work and where they were coming from, which no doubt had an influence on how I saw the piece.)
So back to Joss Arnott’s work, then (the first piece, The Sicilian by Côte à Côte Theatre Company, seemed to me more drama than dance; it seems unfair to comment on something I know so little about, even less than I know about dance). I ask the question of its status as art in all seriousness, in the hope that someone will be able to answer and help me understand its aesthetics. For example, if the choreographer were to make a second piece in the same style, how would it be different from the first, except perhaps faster and harder? What would the choreographer like us to take away from the piece – how are we to think differently, feel differently, act differently? Is it her aim that the content of the work be somehow transcended by its style, to become pure movement, pure speed, pure aggression? Is the relentless push towards the limits of physicality ultimately undone and defeated by the fact that bodies have limits? Is there something to be learned from an aesthetics of defeat? I am genuinely curious to get to grips with this kind of dance, as it seems to be popular these days (as indicated by the enthusiastic response of Saturday’s audience) – I really hope someone will reply!