Dance and anti-dance: a totality

Tess de Quincey and Stuart Lynch at Copenhagen’s Dancin’ City

The largest festival in the world for modern and new dance, Copenhagen’s 4th International Dancin’ City was grand, eclectic and provocatively programmed. It proved to be a success despite enormous competition in a city inundated with performance (Copenhagen is European Cultural Capital for 1996). Despite mutterings about the death of European festivals, blockbuster survival tactics were replaced with a bid towards totality.

An intense spectrum moved from the pure dance of Merce Cunningham to Jérôme Bel’s ultra reflective Anti-Dance, creating a feeling of a ‘classless’ festival where obscure and risky work was presented alongside big budget quality product. The emphasis was not only on interdependence but also on the presentation of history and process— perhaps an extension of Scandinavian democracy or maybe a clear strategy for a dialogue between artists, theorists, critics and audiences and for a future multiplicity of works and forms.

The Merce Cunningham Company (US) was overwhelming. Five divergent pieces from the latest five years of Cunningham’s 50 years of work, were challenging and extremely demanding, leaving the dancers perpetually at the edge of their technique. The most recent work, Rondo (1996), is fresh, ingenious and provocative.

Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker (Belgium), with her renowned company Rosas, presented two new works. Rosas Danst Rosas is the company’s first and now famous minimalist performance from 1983. Four women confront three basic forms of lying, sitting and standing over two hours. Emotional narrative is placed within a conceptual framework that paradoxically both enhances and cuts its intent. It is a repetitive, teeth-grinding and mature tour de force that is without compromise. The second, de Keersmaeker’s latest piece, Mozart/Concert Arias, is a splendiferous homage to Mozart with a 34-piece orchestra on original instruments, three opera singers and the company’s 13 dancers. It is a beautiful, humorous and abundant work that maintains a contemporary insistence within its 90s meta-staging.

Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (US) presented three pieces. Having once epitomised the legend of the brilliantly athletic modern dancer, the reverence for youth and muscle is unfortunately still maintained. Nevertheless Bill T’s passion carries through and the company itself exudes great warmth. Unfortunately, his working around Kurt Schwitters’ UrSonata is a travesty of a pivotal work. The languages are far apart and this simplistic misconception proved their incompatibility.

With superbly technical dancers, massive high-production capability and Phillipe Guillotel as costume designer, Philippe Decouflé’s work Decodex (France) was extremely popular and a captivating success. An upstaged circus enchantment as opposed to a ‘dance piece’, it leaves one with that Andrew Lloyd Webber feeling and a sense of the baroque epitome of ‘Frenchness.’

Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara and his company Karas performed I was Real—Documents. Other than some quite beautiful suspended moments at the beginning, the work had a tendency towards a muscle-bound hyperactivity alongside its strong Japanese spatial aesthetics. Some delicate and complex choreographic patterns juxtaposed a resonant presentation of stillness—even if a deeper relation to emptiness and to space was not so forthcoming.

Non-director, non-choreographer catalyst Alain Patel and the Flemish company Les Ballets C de la B composed a brilliant, chaotic cacophony La Tristeza Complice. As the men piss in their trousers, boys beat up mental cases and young girl dancers are molested alongside the rocketing tempo of a North African break-dancer with wings and a ballet pastiche on roller-skates, what comes across is a sense of quiet, reckless but insistent observation. The piece has an animal-breathing as each vivid dancer seethes in and out of the suspended mass which is further swelled by Dick Van der Harst’s arrangement of Purcell set to a magnificent gendarmerie of 10 harmonica accordions plus a superb solo soprano.

Sasha Waltz & Guests (Germany) presented the entire Travelogue series of performances, which were very popular. The work is humorous, entertaining and well produced which, combined with a quirky if at times overriding heterosexuality, assures absolute success.

A double evening event with three solo works by José Navas (Venezuela) and a single group work by Quasar Companhia de Dança (Brazil) also drew large audiences. The youthful and sensitive ballet-defined duende of Navas combined well with the raw, humorous and temperamental choreography of the Quasar’s punk-street feel.

Wayne McGregor & Random Dance Co (UK) has been hailed as the “New English Thing.” The work is young, exuberant, fast and frantic but lacking in the weight and the coolness required to achieve clarity. When the dancers are stretched to their very best, one is reminded of Molissa Fenley’s ‘hyperdance.’ But within these repetitions there is not the same rigorous commitment to a danced continuum as presented by Fenley in her stunning solo at the ‘94 festival.

The young French choreographer Jérôme Bel presented Anti-Dance; two quiet, slow and committed one-hour works. Via the symbolic exchange of objects in the first piece and actions in the second, they confirmed, antagonised or metaphorised typical dance structures. These provocatively programmed works would normally be described as performance art. Although arguably ‘anti-dance’ they were decisively moved and powerful.

Our own work, Epilogue to Compression, was a 12-hour piece aiming at a summation of Compression 100 (Sydney, May 96). The final hour, presented within a theatre, was very definitely a hybrid piece, cutting and slicing between narrative and non-narrative, performance and dance. It received a mixed response with the durational aspect most clearly understood by the visual arts field.

Owing to our own involvement we were unable to cover the strong Latin grouping as well as a number of Scandinavian works: Tango El Gran Baile (Argentina) from Buenos Aires, and Europe’s leading flamenco group La Familia Farrucca (Spain). From Scandinavia Tero Saarinen (Finland) and Ingun BjØrnsgaard (Norway) presented well-received, disciplined postmodern works. From Denmark, a large number of local artists represented different trends within the Danish dance scene: Anders Christiansen’s intense, idiosyncratic work is predominantly butoh-inspired. Tim Feldman’s first larger-scale collaborative work, with dancers from Venezuela, Cuba and USA, integrated postmodern dance with video images. Bysteps was a showcase of short works by six independence Danish choreographers (Jens Bjerregaard, Kamilla Brekling, Lene Boel, Anne Katrine Kalmoes, Lene Østergaard and Mikala Lage) ranging over the various streams of postmodern into new dance area. The Paradox Event staged a beach ballet, while Transform is a prominent, annual event where Danish and international choreographers present site-specific group work in often fascinating environments. This third festival presented Mehmet Sander (US/Turkey), Kitt Johnson (Denmark), Motionhouse (UK) and Bo Madvig (Denmark).

In bringing together the varying trends of contemporary work from around the world, the festival showed a strong sense of commitment to a forum for dialogue rather than just to the presentation of confirmed product. This insistence is a challenge and, for dance/performance junkies, the entire festival was a solid shot in the arm.

Performers Tess de Quincey and Stuart Lynch are based in Copenhagen and Sydney. Dancin’ City, Copenhagen, August 1-18 1996

RealTime issue #15 Oct-Nov 1996 pg. 5

© Tess de Quincey & Stuart Lynch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 1996