I think I should talk about the pieces in reverse.
Lisbeth Gruwez is clearly practised at performance. She wears tailored trousers, slicked-back hair in a quiff, brogues and a shirt buttoned all the way up. She has a stern, direct gaze towards us, with a slight frown. I struggle not to think of the TV programme The L Word. She begins with simple arm gestures, which walk that line between fluid and tense which contemporary dance can be so good at.
It builds. It builds. It builds. It starts again.
The soundtrack is a drone, with fragments of ‘ultraconservative American televangelist Jimmy Swaggart’, according to the programme.
In the main chunk, every movement corresponds to a fragment of text, which gradually builds until we are able to hear the whole sentence and see the corresponding phrase of movement. It is whip-sharp, executed with maximum physical capacity every time. Tiredness doesn’t get a look-in. With the gaze directly at us and the gestures so neat, it is a little too much one thing for my taste. Whilst I find this very earnest, committed physicality actually a pretty thrilling and refreshing kind of engagement in the context of supposedly ‘exhausted’ dance, the tight, tight structure that it operates in feels rather textbook; coherent to the point of killing any opportunity for ambiguity.
Rewind to 8 o’ clock. Jeanne Mordoj has been brought in at the last minute after a company pulling out. In La Poème, there are eggs everywhere: coming out of her jacket, out of her bra, out of her knickers and, the illusion tells us, back into her mouth and down her throat. She makes a funny, egg-filled, hamster face. Mordoj is a contortionist and juggler, who also makes work for theatre. Dressed vintage-y, she deftly flips a pair of ‘chicken fillets’ onto the backs of her hands. She bounces her boobs up and down in time to the music. She slides an egg-yolk down her arm.
I wonder what messages these actions fire off in a dance-specific context? I’m not totally sure I’m that concerned, actually, considering I had such a nice time watching the piece. However, I would question the message that this eclecticism in programming seems to be putting forth: that dance is somehow losing its specificity; or that specificity is no longer relevant; that the dance field is, rather perversely, no longer about dance. Dance is doing dance and it’s doing theatre and it’s doing circus and there are no longer any borders between these things! I am highly sceptical about this proposition that dance’s future lies in the act of cross-fertilisation (because all programming suggests and creates a future, no?) What does it matter if it’s dance or not? it seems to say: the interest is outside dance, so let it bleed outwards.
If we are to go beyond a mere lame acceptance that dance is an art, if we are to shout and jump around and seriously champion the fact that dance is an art, with all our artistic and programming might, then suggesting What does it matter if it’s dance or not? is perhaps dangerously close to suggesting What does it matter if it’s art or not? And then ultimately we may as well just stay at home watching the water dripping from our taps, because arguably that is just as likely to be art or dance as anything you might see at the Tate or at The Place. How can dance incorporate many kinds of activity and be a totally unashamed, radical, on-the-button art-form if we only give a limited, half-interested value to something being dance at all? To what extent does the cross-fertilisation of dance programming out into theatre/circus/visual art-forms signify and perpetuate an insecurity about the limits and insularity of dance as an art? I would really rather we moved on from these feelings.
Company Bal/ Jeanne Mordoj: La Poème
Creation and performance: Jeanne Mordoj
Sound designer: Isabelle Surel
Lighting designer: Claire Villard
Outside eye: Julie Denisse
Co-production: Les Subsistances, Laboratoire international de création artistique à Lyon.
Lisbeth Gruwez/ Voetvolk vzw: It’s going to get worse and worse, and worse my friend
Concept, choreography & dance: Lisbeth Gruwez
Composition, sound design & assistance: Maarten Van Cauwenberghe
Styling: Veronique Banquinho
Artistic Advisor: Bart Meuleman
Light design: Harry Cole
Light Assistance: Caroline Mathieu
Production: Voetvolk vzw
Co-production: Grand Theater Groningen, Troubleyn/Jan Fabre, Theater Im Pumpenhaus and AndWhatBeside(s)Death.
Diffusion: Key Performance