My dance personality disorder: who wins between the dancer, the spectator and the critic?

A long weekend to watch dance and write about it; what a dream proposition for a dancer and writer like myself.

How does one watch dance exactly? I’d not really thought about it in depth before Elefsina, except for a factoid I’d read once about how the areas of the brain that control movement light up when watching live dance performance. Yet, from the moment I sat down for the first performance of the festival, Ayano Yokoyama’s Suiyoubaion, I could tell that I would look at dance in a completely different way. While I concentrated on the bodies I saw on stage, I noticed new phenomena going on inside of me; a process almost as enriching as seeing these 24 dance pieces flash before me in such a short amount of time.

I came to Elefsina physically weakened from a fairly fresh knee injury. As my eyes examined all these bodies twisting and turning, shaking, extending, contorting, stomping and jumping, it was all a painful reminder of my temporary handicap. I realised just how much I look at movement through a dancer’s eyes; I see bodies in motion and immediately my muscles vibrate in mimicry under my skin.

Many times, my dancing neurones lit up, wanting to know how it would feel to live that same sense of intensity I saw on stage, or to possess the kind of physical virtuosity, stamina or faith shown by the performers. Yet, at times, these signs of bodily excitement were also simultaneous with feelings of unequivocal boredom or dislike. Enter the ‘spectator eyes’, those that expect surprise, emotion and are less impressed with pure physical prowess.
Critical, and at times borderline judgmental, this spectator seeks more immediate gratification and has fast opinions.

‘Why are they not introducing new movement now?’
‘This spoken segment is wholly unnecessary.’
‘This was a really beautiful moment!’

My spectactor self is not as kind as my dancer self, who watches with her experience of the creation process and of movement research – she considers the journey as much as the end result. She isn’t beholden to concerns of whether something is good, pretty or makes any sense.

Each show was a competition between which of these two gazes would win, and the referee was a new persona: the dance critic.

Straddling the borders of the dancer and spectator in me, she is attuned to the hairs raising on my arms, the tears welling up in my eyes and the unintentional (but uncontrollable) head bobs or leg twitches. She seeks an emotional response and the almost archaic connection to movement we feel when witnessing dance. She’s the guard rail to the spectator’s nitpicking or brainy nature. She’s the voice that calls for pause when a heavy or complex piece requires time to sink in and work its way up to the brain before a definite opinion can be formed. She warns when pleasure comes only from the body aching to experience the movement rather than the actual visual joy of watching it. She’s a character I’ll be channeling more often.

In four days, I (re)learned what I want to see on a stage, what moves me in the deepest way. I tested how far I could let stories of movement take me, and questioned the limits of imagination, of political discourse in cultural creation, of decomposing and reconstructing dance. All through the squabbles of three voices inside my head. What a treat.

Sedera Ranaivoarinosy