Friday, May 6, 2011

Pure Movement

Remember when I first came to London, and I decided that I would have a blog to tell the world at large about my wonderful (and highly entertaining) travel experiences? Well that fell sadly flat now didn't it?

However! I've been re-inspired - in part by all the reading I've been doing of late, and in part by a truly horrific exhibition I attended on the weekend (and I don't mean the Royal Wedding, although that yellow outfit worn by HRH was truly a shocker) - which I will tell you about. That is, You, my readers (ie myself in 10 years when I want to remember the joys of youth and London).

So, this exhibition. On Sunday morning I decided I would take advantage of the sunshine and my freedom and one helpful search on the Time Out website and two strong coffees later, I headed (via the Northern Line) to the Barbican Centre where, according to Time Out, I could view the stylings (read: artwork and possible performances) of dance related material. The website was a little vague, but since I tend to think of myself as one who loves all things dance-related, I knew I was on to a win.

Alighting the tube at Barbican, I was somewhat daunted by the absence of crowds (who I assumed would be flocking to the exhibition in question), but reminded myself that that part of town is always quiet on weekends (since it's mainly a business area, shops stay closed). Entering the Barbican Centre, I first found myself wandering through a hall called The Curve - which, as its name cleverly suggests, is a curved hall. That much was plain at the outset. What, however, was at no point clear to me, was why the artist who's work was on exhibit, felt the need to employ cinema-sized screens to display games from the 80s (think pacman) complete with sound effects at full volume (presumably to equate with the screen-size). Not surprisingly, I was the only viewer of this particular calamity, and my viewing was speedy. What IS surprising is that I felt no concern at this point, no apprehension, about what was to follow.

Parting with ten pounds in the next room (which I entered rather like a bullet hurrying to leave the barrel of a gun), I proceeded up the stairs and to the right to watch the dance show which (I was informed) was about to start. I was immediately baffled. Four adults in shapeless clothes hovered about the re-creation of a roofless house (overhung by the viewing deck). They wandered about, and through the house, calling out to each other in rather an aimless fashion. Initially I was determined to read intent into their behaviour, but when one of the chaps got out a ball of string and attempted to throw the end of it over the outside wall (I say 'attempted' because his apparent lack of co-ordination or practice got somewhat in the way of success), I realised I was dealing with a very different type of 'dance' to that which I am used to. A 'dance', in fact, that requires neither skill, not finesse. One which need not be entertaining to watch, difficult to perform, or beautiful to the audience, or even understood. (Or planned. Or practiced!)

After ten or so minutes, I decided that perhaps I might find something more worthy of my attention if I took a stroll through the surrounding gallery rooms. I wish I could say that the overall experience improved, but I became steadily more confused by what I saw. I finally found a definition of the type of dance on display about halfway round the gallery. 'Pure Movement' (it said) was dance involving movement with no intention. No aim. The style is not intended to achieve beauty, to impress, to attain. Movement for the sake of moving. I gazed in awe at such a concept, then re-evaluated the items that I had seen at the gallery. Poorly executed pencil drawings of a person moving across stage, old black and white photos of a woman holding herself in strange (and doubtless uncomfortable) positions, pieces of flooring cut from various New York apartments from the 70s. All of it intended to achieve nothing. But then not nothing. To challenge, to subvert.

Dance that I would (generally) choose to watch involves skill, purposeful movement, it is performed within the confines of a beat, and the dancers' ability to keep to that beat is part of the skill involved and the joy of watching. Some dancing excites me, some saddens me, sometimes the grace of the dancer is so beautiful it makes me cry. When I watch a beautiful dance, when a dancer performs a perfect and seemingly effortless pirouette, it feels like they have transcended reality if only for a moment, and shown me a world that is above and beyond even that of my dreams.

But amazingly enough, despite the fact that I deeply resent the expense of ten pounds (which could have paid for a bottle of wine and perhaps a nice cheese to go with it), I'm still thinking about Pure Movement. I'm still wondering and questioning myself on my concept of what dance is. And so I can't say that the exhibition was a failure, because it didn't fail in perhaps its only intent - to challenge. But on the other hand, I also can't say I would recommend anyone (that I like) to do more than stay far far away, and perhaps to have a nice cup of tea at Harrods.