I remember having a pillowtalk conversation about attendance at the arts versus sport in Australia, as you do. My view was that the arts are as popular as sport in Australia – it’s just that people aren’t going to arts events en masse all the time and they’re going to lots of little events, so arts folk are less visible. ‘If everyone’s going to at least one gig a week, that’s… a lot of people,’ I said, being both too lazy and maths-challenged to actually come up with a number. ‘But most people aren’t like you. You would be statistically (something or other that means abnormal),’ my then-partner said. ‘I’d say most people would go to about one gig a year, maybe two.’ I made various snorting and chortling noises indicating disbelief. What could those people be doing with their time? And what do they do to fend off reality’s nasty side?
‘Coffee?’ I offered. Naturally, while waiting for my favourite morning noise – the merry gurgle of coffee into pot - I consulted the Interweb for evidence that I was right. I was wrong. He was spot on. MOST PEOPLE IN AUSTRALIA ONLY GO TO ONE GIG A YEAR!! (Cue very quiet snorting and chortling noises indicating disbelief). Return with coffee and a change of subject. ‘Goddamn, that yeti’s been in the garden again.’ ‘I was right, wasn’t I?’ he said.
All this is by way of saying that I have seen a fair number of performances. So when I saw Nederlands Dans Theater recently, it was gratifying to know that I’m not jaded by my accumulated years of arts consumption. Far from it – during the show, I thought I might have some kind of beauty coronary. Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, a dancer would assault me with some other divine combination of limbs moving through space, or the train of a dress, a grand swathe of blue silk that covered the entire stage, would suddenly billow in sympathy with the Phillip Glass score. (You can see the beginning of this in the YouTube footage at about 5:05)
Also enjoyable was the post-show, breathless, high camp/Valley Girl-type conversations with people who’d also seen this performance. ‘Oh my God! Did you nearly DIE?’ ‘I think I was shallow panting the whole time!!’ ‘It was like…Oh my God’. ‘My friend kept making little squealing noises.’ ‘I want them all to live at my house. I want them to run the country!!’ The next morning, I was on the phone to a dancer friend, telling her she must sell her child if necessary to get to the final show.
At the end of the third and final work, Silent Screen, choreographed by Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon, my friend and I joined the rest of the audience in applauding the company until our hands hurt. Other audience members shouted and whooped as the company returned again and again to receive the love. When a performance has moved me, I try to store as many images in my memory as possible but inevitably before I’ve left my seat, much has disappeared into the ether. But then, the ephemeral nature of performance is also part of its magic. We left the theatre, somewhat dazed after being so roundly assaulted by beauty, to join the ‘Saturday night in the city’ world outside, where the next performance we encountered was a busker with a long mullet playing a bad rock solo outside Flinders Street Station on his electric guitar. All aboard the Reality Express!
For a peep at what I loved so much about the Nederlands Dans Theater performance, this promo features excerpts from two of the works I saw:
And a question to ponder, if you’re so inclined: if writing about music is like dancing about architecture, what’s writing about dance like?