In and outside the box

Things peculiarly clarifying (yet also potentially distorted) happen when you attempt to digest 23 largely 40-minute dance works in two and half days. You start to get a stronger sense of what you might want from live performance generally and, perhaps, dance in particular.

Whether or not it was the influence of occasional bouts of exhaustion on the part of my psyche and perceptions, a brace of subjective needs came to the fore at the mad, wonderful marathon whirl that was Aerowaves Spring Forward (Barcelona). Basically I realised two things.

One: At some level I want to be acknowledged as a vital part of the performance process. What that means, essentially, is that at Spring Forward I found I was responding best to works that, tacitly or explicitly, communicated the notion that ‘This was made for you. We’re glad that you’re here. We couldn’t have – or maybe wouldn’t have – done it without you.’ To unpick this idea just a bit, it’s not a question of me being entertained so much as the fostering of an engagement that is a central part of the unspoken agreement between artist and audience. Not all artists seem to care so much about establishing this connection with the spectator. With those works the feeling is that what I happen to be watching or experiencing might as well be taking place in an empty room or almost a void. The welcome alternative is that my presence, and that of others, somehow ‘completes’ or enhances the creative act.

Two: I like the freedom to move. By that I don’t mean I want to get up and join the performers, or lope off and make my own dance (although I must admit that both do have their individual appeal). What I’m talking about instead is the chance to not always be confined in a seat facing a stage. How rigid and even old-fashioned, or certainly conventional and overfamiliar to me, such a static set-up can seem. I favour works that permit me to shift my perspective and have a greater choice about the angles from which I absorb them. This isn’t something that needs to be taken to the extreme, say, of strapping me in a harness and hoisting me above the playing area (although that is something I’ve daydreamed about, and with no little degree of longing), besides which such a far-fetched and health-and-safety-testing tactic would by necessity impose limitations of its own. Perhaps all it really involves is greater possibilities for the presentation of performances that are more interactive or immersive, or that at least allow for an increased mobility on the part of viewers. Not everybody would find these sorts of arrangement attractive, and fair enough for anyone who belongs to the ‘sit back and do it all for me’ school of thought. I just suppose that after close to forty years of dance and performance-watching I can’t help but appreciate any invitation to think and, indeed, be outside the box of traditional ‘them and us’ staging.

Donald Hutera