I’m confused. I’ve spent the past week thinking a great deal about encounters between people who practice dance or performance as their main activity and people who mainly do other things and join in with dance and performance events: hearing from Rajni Shah and her collaborators as part of the symposium Beyond Glorious; talking to Rosemary Lee for an interview that will be published here; seeing a scratch of the Dad Dancing project; talking to the good folk at Chisenhale Dance Space about experimentation in participatory work. And with all this background, and more, I still can’t find a way to comprehend Untrained; I am not at ease with its ethics. I don’t understand. So I ask:
Why is dance presented as a set of tricks that one can do or not do?
Why are the performers telling me about their fathers?
Why are women only mentioned in love songs?
Why do I think that the audience are pitying some of the performers?
Why do the trained performers always come first, making an example in our minds of what might be ‘correct’, for the untrained performers to almost always not meet?
Why do you keep referring to these two men as ‘the untrained’?
Why do I hear this as ‘the unwashed’?
Why is the work structured in such a way that the audience is compelled to clap or not clap after the offering of each performer?
Why does it feel a bit like a circus?
Why am I comparing the two professional dancers to one another?
Why do they always appear to be trying to outdo one another?
Why are these people mainly competing on stage?
Why is the set-up so macho?
Why are they infantilised?
Why do the professional dancers look like they’re taking the piss when they copy the movements of the professional environmental engineer and professional designer?
Why do the professional dancers move so similarly?
Why does it look like the environmental engineer and designer have learnt to model themselves on these two particular dancers?
Why do I only like the following parts:
· When they copy the film scene
· When they do the choreography together
· When they comment on each others dances
· When they sing
· When they show us how they take off and put on their t-shirts?
Why in the post-show talk does the choreographer assert so many very conservative things about dance and dancemaking and humans?
Why is ‘man’ a category and not part of a spectrum?
Why are there only the categories untrained, semi-trained and trained?
Why are we talking about bravery?
Why is meeting and making friends with an engineer and a designer such a special part of the project for the dancers? Don’t they know anyone who isn’t a dancer?
Why are dancers marked as a separate species here?
Why would we accept this removal of our humanity?
Why, if the work takes five days to set up with a new cast, have these people flown across the world?
Why am I so tense during and after experiencing this work?
Some castratingly-tight trouser wearing men once sung ‘are we human, or are we dancers?’, setting ‘dancers’ apart with an unclear differentiation. Simultaneously I heard this in all its multiplicity: are dancers better? Special? Obedient? Full of flow? Weird? What was in that aspiration or trepidation? Lucy Guerin Inc’s Untrained induced similar inner conflict around titles, preconceptions and misguided broad sweeping statements.
Ingredients were on the tame side: a proportion of physical activity from the every day (standing, sleeping), a proportion of physical activity from dance training languages (ballet, locking, breakdancing), some spoken personal revelations (not too intimate), some playing (best impression of a cat, breath holding). What the arc of tasks created what reminiscent of pissing contests, a bit of braggadocio. It got boring and it left me a bit cold inside, feeling partly like a tick-list of 21st century performance practice tropes mixed with memories of hanging out with groups of guys as the only female in the room. Air guitar? Reference to film? Something about a girlfriend?
Guerin works on an assumption that dangerously misses the point that my ordinary is not the same as the person sat next to me’s notions of ordinary. Create a context for comparison, fine. But don’t sell it to me with inferences that are superficial, insulting, short-sighted and irritating because of the implication the dancer is at once both special, but a bit boring because they are so physically literate. The lexicon of the project in which they refer to each other as the ‘trained’ or the ‘untrained’ grates. My physical reaction to those words cannot be surmounted, not when the prancing pony is galloping through my mind.
I repeatedly found my heart sinking further and further with every reference to ‘ordinary’ people in the post-show talk. Creating a divide between professions and activities necessary within a particular job description is of course fair at times, when requisite training is the difference between a lovely bit of heart surgery or a badly painted fence. I’ve nothing against drawing to attention the obedience and dedication (and countless other qualities) dance training requires. Revealing process has been a major concern in creative practice for the last 30 odd years or more. Guerin is not alone in her questioning, nor in the task-orientated composition tools employed, or in her appreciation of a performer fully committed to carrying out their action, without shyness or bravado; the four male performers all held my attention with full quality of engagement in their various tasks.
Concept/direction: Lucy Guerin
Performers: Michael Dunbar, Alisdair Macindoe, Ross McCormack, Jake Shackleton
Music: Duplo Remote
Production Manager: Matthew Scott for Megafun
Producer: Annette Vieusseux