Contemporary art is always at its best when it poses vital questions about the world we live in. Lately though, it seems that contemporary dance in Hungary has more questions about itself than anything else. The creators of game changer – Zsófia Tamara Vadas, Csaba Molnár and Imre Vass – have already examined issues of dance performance, its spaces, and the role of performer and audience in several different formations, notably in Hodworks’ boundary-breaking shows.
‘Sorry – we tried, but we failed. We tried to get back to normality, the dark theatre and make a dance show, do what we do best, but we couldn’t,’ says their post-pandemic confession on the flyer. So they set out to change the game instead. Well, we’ve known since Marcel Duchamp that if you put an object in a museum, it becomes a piece of art. Similarly, if you put an action on stage, it can be a performance. In an attempt to turn the rules upside down and tear down the fourth wall, game changer starts with a fake post-show talk, and on this night the audience proves very collaborative in asking questions about and giving their opinions of a performance that never was. (This beginning is reminiscent of ‘Block game’, an idea by Dutch theatre director Jan Ritsema, and of Spitfire Company’s Constellations III, seen at Czech Dance Platform 2021, that starts in a similar way.)
Later, the trio acts out a rehearsal: they chat, warm up, experiment with ideas and solos. It almost looks natural and improvised – except we all know it’s just as staged as those fragments of ‘actual’ performance that the rehearsal sometimes blends into. Yes, theatre is full of contradictions. And if we hadn’t understood earlier that the audience are expected to be partners here, then we surely will when the dancers imitate various ball games without balls, in a scene that’s choreographically virtuoso but symbolically banal, where the dancers start passing the imaginary balls to us.
The lines between experiment and exhibition blur – but does this really challenge the perception of the seasoned art lover, 100 years after Duchamp? The creators consider game changer as a first stop on a journey of radical research, but at the moment it also feels like another symptom of contemporary dance’s years of identity crisis. But here’s hope: game changer 2.0 arrives in May – and is full of promises.