Brighton Fringe 2019
A tongue in cheek but contemplative lecture performance, posing challenging questions about the language of contemporary dance and it’s cultural connections and relevance. With the help of Jørgen Callesen, Boaz Barkan reanimates influential figures from dance history to create a visual investigation into rarely explored territories.
I was drawn to this show by the question posed in the title. Anyone who has trained and worked professionally as a dancer or physical theatre performer will be acutely aware of the potential to poke fun at the idea of expressing oneself “through the medium of dance”. An understandable cultural joke when looking from the outside in, or from an untrained eye, and one that will cause the artist to cringe and laugh at the same time, as we all get the joke. The idea that all those years of sweat and self-discipline could be reduced to simple comments like … “I don’t understand what they’re trying to say!” “What does that movement mean?” Do these questions reveal an uncomfortable truth?
Boaz Barkan bravely asks the awkward questions we perhaps, have been too afraid to ask such as: Can we really discuss dance?
Do we have the language for it? Should dance not be experienced through one’s body? What’s going inside the dancer? The audience is invited to make their own enquiries too. Barkan’s enthusiasm is infectious and as he shares his own inspirations and conflicts, he playfully guides us through the evening, all the while dancer, Jørgen Callesen morphs through various iconic figures of the dance world. We meet Jérôme Bel and explore his idea of “non-dance”, Yvonne Rainer’s and her notorious No Manifesto and Tatsumi Hijikata’s expression of Butôh, culminating in a narrated reimagining of his 1968 work, Rebellion of the Body.
To provide a little background, Barkan’s piece was originally inspired after seeing Jérôme Bel ‘s work Pichet Klunchun & Myself, a choreographic dialogue between Bel and traditional Thai dancer Pichet Klunchun. Two acclaimed dancer/choreographers, seeking to understand the different languages and cultural relationships to dance.
Bel’s work exposed the cultural disconnect to the ancient past that has occurred in the various contemporary and modern dance forms that arose in the 20th Century. This is in stark contrast to forms like traditional Thai dance, Khon. As with many ancient dance forms all over the globe, Khon is so deeply embedded in the culture that the question of understanding the language of dance is bypassed, as it is integral and inseparable from daily life. It is sewn into the myths, legends and the worldview of the given culture so the question perhaps never arises.
Barkan’s work picks up where Bel left off and he burrows further down this road, pondering the choices made by various 20th Century artists in response to their political and cultural environments. Artists like Rainer and Hijikata each in their own way, aimed to fly free from the roots of the past and forged new ways to express themselves and Callesen’s interpretation celebrates them. Barkan’s passionate quest and burning desire to answer these questions is courageous and drives the whole piece.
The stripped back approach to set and props complements the style of questioning and leaves the exposed Callesen open for inspection. At times he appears awkwardly vulnerable, but Barkan’s playful humour and self-deprecation balances this out.
The Old Market is a perfect venue for the Q & A aspect of this piece. The audience were happy to fire questions his way and Barkan happily embraces all opinions.
This is definitely an intellectually driven piece and those that are new to the history of Contemporary Dance will come away a good deal more knowledgeable.
I was definitely confronted by this production and, on reflection, I came away with my own questions about dance and it’s place in our culture. Having been gifted artistic freedom in the modern world, have we succeeded in forming new languages or are we a little lost? In our attempt to be unshackled from the past, have we thrown the baby out with the bathwater? Whatever the answer we will forge ahead and I am grateful that Barkan has opened up the conversation.