– The hoarding that you walk through from the arse of Kings Cross up to the new, huge University of the Arts London building is painted green and leafy like a hedge. All the yet-to-be-built property up for lease is advertised on the hoarding in huge fake books and magazines. Someone designed this, someone’s job was to think of this and then make it happen. The hoarding provides free wifi (courtesy of The Cloud).
– There are some fountains outside the UAL building and there’s a dog in the fountain. The fountains light up and they are so pretty/ugly that I think about the possibility of a techno-banal sublimity.
– I’ve started to just “let farts out” when I’m walking outside (I’m getting older). I am walking round to the back bit of the building where the BELLYFLOP thing is taking place and I “let a fart out” and then a woman in a white cardigan who looks like the sort of person who is going to the event walks past me and looks at me with a ‘you’re disgusting’ face.
– I see E. and hug her. She smells like fabric softener (she always smells like fabric softener) and her hair is longer and she looks nervous and tired and people keep talking to her and she has to hug them and look interested (she’s organising the thing).
– It occurs to me that maybe everyone in the “London Contemporary Dance Scene” smells like fabric softener, but I just haven’t hugged any of them.
– I pick up a flyer, prominently placed on the bar, that reads ‘Venue Hire Central Saint Martins’. On the back it says ‘we offer opportunities to collaborate with our students, graduates or staff on projects that tie in with your event, or to create and design concepts and content for your hire’
– The gender ratio in the bar is like 4 women to every man, which for a dance event is kind of normal, I think.
– E. tries to make me buy a publication but I say ‘I’m ok, I have this flyer to read’. E. then gives me some olives in a plastic cup. They are warm/slightly sweating. She says ‘we don’t want them any more’.
– I see the white cardigan woman who heard me fart earlier. Feel like I’m definitely going to end up sitting next to her.
– I go to the toilet and I think about how when I go to the toilet these days there is always a tiny extra bit of wee that I can’t get out and then often it comes out in my underpants afterwards, which is uncomfortable and shameful but I’m getting better at being ok with it.
– A man sits next to the toilets eating tortilla chips from a big bag, he picks up some plimsolls and puts them in a Tesco plastic bag, chewing all the while.
– They’ve called everyone over for the first thing [Roberta Jean’s Road Postures] but we can’t go in so we’re kind of “milling” but I’m alone so I can’t really “mill”. I sit down on the side of a purple sofa and look at my phone.
– A queue suddenly forms. I’m happier with this.
– As we go in the two performers (Stephanie McMann + Roberta Jean) are already “on stage” (which is dance flooring, rolled out over a black box theatre floor).
– Stephanie is in a stress position, kneeling with her arms up like wings. It probably wasn’t a stress position when she started, but it takes a long time for everyone to sit down, so it’s definitely a stress position by the end.
– Stephanie does “a solo” while Roberta stands and blankly/neutrally observes. She has a “performance face” on, which I associate with performance art, but obviously dancers are allowed to have it too.
– Stephanie’s dance, I think, in “The 80s” or “The 90s” would have been described as robotic, or something like robot dancing via hip-hop culture. But to me, now, it looks like a Youtube video being clicked back and forth. Or like, some sort of gif, or “glitching” DV. But actually “glitching” feels too early 2000s for it, so maybe not.
– Does it matter what it references? Or, what I think it is referencing? I imagine Roberta (who is the choreographer) recording a video of herself dancing and then editing it and looping bits of it and then making Stephanie copy it but that almost certainly didn’t happen.
– There is no music. Roberta has a big, weird top on, made of what looks like brown suede. On the floor are three office chairs covered in a similar material/the same material, and this material drapes across the floor like a rug. Or like a “red carpet”.
– Stephanie dances near the front row – sort of at them. She gets really close but there is some sort of line (metaphorical as well as the literal line formed by the edge of the dance flooring) that she doesn’t/can’t cross. I was speaking to someone about framing the other day, about how lenses frame in film, microphones frame in audio, and for “performing arts” it’s the stage that frames. It’s funny seeing stuff on a literal stage when you’re so used to more metaphorical staging (in say, a performance at a gallery where people just gather around the performers), because the (metaphorical) stage is so self evident that having a literal stage seems mental. I’m not sure if this dance flooring counts as having a “literal” stage. Stephanie is pushing at the edge of the staging, whatever it is.
– In staged dance (so, I’m defining this as any dance where audience and performers are in separate, non negotiable, pre-delineated spaces), there is an understanding of 3D space in 2D terms. Stephanie + Roberta (who are now dancing “together”, but not together) are working on several 2D planes, but they experience these as 3D movements. Or, we see them working on several 2D planes, but “in reality” they are working in 3D space.
– There is a man on the front row who has the lustrous grey hair of an “older male dancer”.
– Stephanie’s “glitchy” moves are like tics and they make me want to tic which makes me feel suddenly sick (like, physically).
– When Stephanie + Roberta dance together a fully formed thought containing the words “ritualised sex” pops into my head and I can’t work out a way of writing it down. I think about those monkeys that have sex with each other all the time, and I think about gay dolphins, and then I wonder whether dolphins or monkeys have dance and think no they probably don’t need it. This probably won’t make it into the final edit.
– Roberta moves the suede material and wraps it up and over the chair and it feels transgressive that it’s been touched/moved.
– Roberta does this move where she walks with tiny little steps and it’s good and I enjoy watching it.
– I’m aware that I’m writing in the present tense which as I remember is BELLYFLOP’s house style which I know can get a bit grating but trust me it’s the best way to do this thing.
– Music starts and it sounds like the sort of music you’d commission for a piece of contemporary dance. Actually, it sounds like the sort of music I’d make if someone commissioned me to make some music for a piece of contemporary dance.
– Two people leave. It seems like the opposite of a time when people would normally leave.
– The music doesn’t fade out properly, it sort of “clicks” from a very low volume into silence.
– Stephanie moves the chairs + suede material around and sort of puts them “out of the way”
– I’m aware of the lack of silence that fills a room full of people being silent. Programmes crinkle, tummies rumble. One person does a very precise cough (like, the sort of cough that says ‘yes I’m coughing but this is it, I’m just doing it once and then I won’t need to do it again’).
– All contemporary dance movements are trying to find a new awkwardness, the slight change that makes a “natural” movement into an object to be studied/contemplated.
– The same person does another, slightly quieter cough.
[The piece finishes, I go out to the bar.]
– I sit down to write up my notes. Next to me, some Brazilians talk to an African guy about how racist Italians can be.
– Roberta approaches me and says “I always thought you were a Geordie” (I know her ex-boyfriend from Newcastle). I say, “I’m not a Geordie, I’m from Essex which is similar”, which is true (I think) but without context it doesn’t mean anything.
– E. approaches me and says “question” and then we sing the Destiny’s Child song that has that word in it. Then E. asks if I will write about the next thing at 9:15 [the BELLYFLOP FRINGE Cabaret]. I say I will and make a physical joke about her buying me a drink (via me coughing and gesturing to my empty glass). She doesn’t get the joke and the situation is awkward.
– The reason being a Geordie and being from Essex are similar is that there is a strong outside idea of a working class culture formed around a stereotyped dialect and sexulised aesthetic presentation which Geordies/Essex people both resist and play up to.
[They call us up for the Fringe Cabaret]
– I walk in past two dancers in long blonde wigs. One of them says hello to me. I think ‘oh yeah it’s part of the act’, but when I get inside and sit down, she walks in and I realise that I know her but there is no way to explain that people in wigs scare me and that I wasn’t trying to be rude.
– I sit with T. whose girlfriend S. works for Dance Umbrella which is organising the festival. T. has to keep a seat for S. but it is really busy and T. is easily embarrassed.
– I settle down and then see that the white cardigan woman is sitting in front of me. I kind of hope she farts but I don’t know how or why that would happen.
– The presenter or whatever is a choreographer. He seems nice but I realise quickly that I am not the intended audience for his jokes. People “whoop” a lot and laugh but it’s hard to know which bit they are laughing at.
– A kind looking man comes on stage and tells a nice story about a dance organisation. Then he plays a long, indulgent improvisation on the piano.
– Some people come on and do an ironic/non-ironic “Flapper” dance. It occurs to me that I have no control over my own life and sometimes I just sort of “wake up” in places and feel like I have to find the threads of why I am there and who I should feel responsible towards.
– I turn to T. and whisper ‘does it ever feel like you don’t have any control over your own life?’ and he looks at me and just nods like, ‘of course’.
– There is more “whooping”.
– Two women come on in white lab coats and make some in-jokes about someone called Deborah Hay. (Later I Google her and still don’t get it, even after vaguely scrolling through her short Wikipedia page.) The women take their coats off and are dressed like “sexy backing dancers” (?). They do a dance and sing a song about Arts Council funding. It is “funny” and fun. More whooping.
– I have never applied for Arts Council funding, but all the dancers I know seem to be really good at getting it.
– When the women finish the song they give out the lyrics on a piece of A5 paper and I think of those emails that end with “please think about the environment before printing this email”.
– Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome’s thing is good, but I know her and I’m more comfortable with this piece because there is a non-dance person involved and they are doing a flat monotone voice which makes me feel at home like I’m in a gallery and someone from the Art Writing course at Goldsmith’s is doing a performance (that’s a London art joke). I’ve seen the piece before (at another thing maybe, it was in a school in Wembley or somewhere far from my home, in a gymnasium) and it was “better” there because the lights were flat and weird and there was less dancified staging.
– As I take notes I think about if I really “care” about my opinion or am I just pleased that someone has asked me to write about something as though they value my opinion?
– I go to the toilet and think about getting older and dying.
– I come back and Jacob (a male dancer who studied with E.) is singing about funding or an opportunity that he applied for. It is “funny”/self-reflexive. Lots of lols from the crowd. More whooping.
– He starts singing about his penis. There is less lolling/whooping.
– I’m not against self-reflexive art (I make a lot of art about art), but it’s not great when cynical humour stands in for critical content. I think you might need to go through cynicism to get to criticality (or, go through irony for sincerity, or nihilism for morality, etc., etc.).
– Two incredibly beautiful male dancers (I assume they are dancers – they must be something dancey) come on and sing a Sardinian folk song. They have wide eyes like children and put loads of effort into the song they sing, which is crazy and complex and has harmonies that they just about get or sometimes miss and then one of them looks at the other one and they smile.
– They sing a lot of the time with their eyes closed and they sweat and feel what they are singing because it is hard, physical work to sing and they can’t not feel it.
– I wonder if I’m into this because the other stuff has all been very knowing and this seems almost wilfully naive and nice – like they have done this at family parties since they were ten.
– I think about the Brazilians I overheard in the bar earlier. I wonder if they are sat somewhere in here, assuring their African friend that the song is racist.
– A man dressed as a woman performs a country song which is funny when the punchline happens (that the singing voice is a male voice rather than the more expected female voice), but it happens at the start of the song, so it is hard to keep up the enthusiasm.
– Saoirse Ní Bháin comes on and starts doing a kind of dance “roast” (like, she makes jokes about the people who performed before her and about the “contemporary dance community” and BELLYFLOP).
– I’m worried about the insularity of the whole show and I’m worried about whether I will be able to write a review without being a dick about it. I have to work with E. on something soon so I need to be a “good friend” by doing a review, but also by not writing a shitty review. Is this cabaret even a thing that needs to be reviewed? Isn’t it fine that it was for the people it was for? Why do I have to wander in and get all judgemental about something that isn’t for me?
– Then Saoirse does this amazing thing. She teaches everyone some basic Riverdance moves (via racist stereotyping of “the Irish”, which is “her thing” so it’s “ok”), and then picks about 10 people to come on stage and form a back line of “Irish dancers”.
– She gets them to do a series of “famous” moves from Riverdance (I haven’t seen Riverdance, but I get the idea), and then starts up the Riverdance music and starts doing a crazy, parodically-sincere version of Michael Flatley’s dancing.
– The music is loud and Saoirse/“Saoirse” is clearly having a great time and the audience-performers are really enjoying themselves and the audience-audience are clapping along. Visually there is a lot going on, and the audience are kind of “rooting” for Saoirse/“Saoirse”and for the audience-performers to “get it right” even though there isn’t anything to get right and there is a crazed excitement about Saoirse/“Saoirse”’s face like this is the first time she has been able to “actually dance” for ages. Like, let it out and not think too much about it. And the audience “really” enjoy it – not despite the parodic content, but because of it. It is beautiful and enjoyable and funny and frenetic, and even as it protests about the stupidity of dance, it is dance. It can’t not be.
– I don’t remember how it ends but I feel good and happy as I leave the room and then suddenly I’m outside walking back down the leafy green hoarding again and I let out a few farts but before I do I check around me to make sure the white cardigan woman isn’t anywhere to be seen.
Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau is an artist, writer and musician working in London.
Choreographed and directed by Roberta Jean
Made in collaboration with Stephanie McMann
Performed by Stephanie McMann and Roberta Jean
Music by Stern & Guerra and Ghédalia Tazartès
Made with support from Dance4, Chisenhale Dance Space, Dartington and Arts Council England
Host: Matthias Sperling
Performers: Kenneth Tharp, Elsa Petit and Holly France, Marquez&Zangs, Fernanda Muñoz Newsome and Nena Zinovieff, Jacob Hobbs, Moreno Solinas and Igor Urzelai, William Collins, Saoirse Ní Bháin