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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Between the margins
Animated, Winter 2001. Is it anti-dancing or an antidote to work that looks and feels the same? The uncompromising use of the body as a means of representation - some love it - others hate it. A performer's physical presence, his or her relationship to the audience and a distinct lack of 'dance vocabulary' are opening up possibilities, taking dance outside its familiar presentational format, placing it in a different context. This potent combination enables the viewer to observe the subtlety and minutia of a performance and study an altogether different kind of dance language - one that is as much about context as it is content as Jane Greenfield explains
Nottingham has always had a strong tradition of live art practice and interdisciplinary work. The city regularly plays host to such artists as Stelarc, Orlan, The Gob Squad, Goat Island, Blast Theory. It seemed natural therefore that Dance 4 embrace a similar aesthetic in its dance programming added to which I have always been drawn to work that lies between the margins of dance theatre and live art.

As a programmer, my remit has to be global. My job is about finding distinctive work wherever it exists and wherever new practice is being explored. Currently I feel some of the most original voices working in new, performance contexts, are coming from abroad.

In London, international work is a 'given' and can be relatively easily accessed by audiences and practitioners with established networks of festivals, venues and promoters ensuring it forms part of the rich and varied diet of dance, music and theatre that frequents the capital. Outside London the cultural landscape differs and in many instances the regions are still developing their 'contemporary' audiences, struggling to find dance friendly venues with the right facilities let alone justify the inclusion of international work. So why go to all this trouble?

For me the answer is simple - international work offers us a window into the global - it enables us to look beyond what we know; providing us with a bigger picture and hopefully opening our minds to other things. International artists bring with them their own distinct voice, their view on their world shaped by their culture and their experiences in the same way our British artists do when they work abroad. Being part of this bigger picture, experiencing a diverse range of minds and attitudes is essential to me, feeding my understanding and creativity as a programmer.

Trying to maintain a specific artistic style within which to work has remained paramount in the evolvement of our international programme. The result has been the creation of events such as the Body Space Image season and annual NOTT Dance Festival which act as platforms for presenting work that steps outside the mainstream and enters new territory - what one might describe as 'experimental'.

A number of factors have come into play to enable this work to happen - an existing network of like minded promoters, an inter-disciplinary arts festival, a decent programming budget, non theatre spaces such as galleries committed to presenting performance, a contemporary arts course at Nottingham Trent University, and last but by no means least, an audience who have been nurtured and developed over the years, who want to see this kind of work and recognise its value.

The majority of international artists we have relationships with are working in the small scale and fit more comfortably within a live art or performance context, such as: Xavier Le Roy (Germany), La Ribot (Spain), Jerome Bel (France), Boris Charmatz (France) and Bill Shannon (USA). Although the resultant work may differ, commonalities exist - their philosophy, approach to making work, the purpose of their work, their minimalist use of dance vocabulary and their uncompromising use of the body as a means of representation. And whilst what you see may be neither recognisable nor resemblant as being dance, the fact remains that these artist are creating work as a result of their knowledge and understanding of the dance form, utilising the power and presence of the body with the mindset of a choreographer.

Many of these international artists are 'arts provocateurs' who seemingly find a genuine interface between their arts practice, their lives and their personal values. Their work has an honesty - far from hiding behind it, they expose themselves through it - emotionally and physically taking us on a different journey, a new kind of live experience, where we as audience members cannot be passive viewers. There is a certain onus on us to see, think and receive the work in a way we are not necessarily familiar with, which can be unnerving because it is neither safe nor comfortable. There is subtext - the messages or images operate on a subliminal level and our job as viewers is to decode or read the work in front of us.

This is especially true of the artist Jerome Bel, where seemingly little happens within his performances, yet everything is 'happening'. Bel has achieved a vast following and is considered to be one of Europe's top ranking choreographers. A handful of works has enabled him to tour his company of established dancers extensively across Europe, and also to South America, Japan and Australia. Yet he uses a language of minimal movement - constructing and deconstructing images - which comes from his interest in space, time and the body as an object. In fact all his work is underpinned by his preoccupation with the notion of identity.

Like a number of the other choreographers, including La Ribot arid Xavier Le Roy, Bel's work is viewed as a kind of 'anti-dancing'. Its strengths lay in the physical presence of the performers and their relationship to each other and the audience. There is also an absence of 'dance steps' and it is this, that enables the viewer to observe the subtlety and minutia of the performance and study an altogether different kind of dance language - one that is as much about context as content.

For me this work embodies a new way of engaging with performance - which might be unsettling - as audiences, we still find ourselves uneasy with silence, long stretches of stillness, vulnerability, nakedness, pain, etc. But does this mean we should avoid it in performance? American artist, Bill Shannon has to use his crutches to take his weight when dancing - this physical task in itself is demanding on the body and he does not attempt to hide the pain. Shannon's performance work is very personal, it is about him, his disability and how it informs his theatre and street performances. He does not hide the reality of what it means to be disabled just to make us feel comfortable.

Many of the artists we work with defy definition or labelling - La Ribot's performance work is as much about visual art as it is dance - and manages to capture the essence of both forms. In her Piezas Distingidas (Distinguished Pieces), a succession of solos sometimes lasting no longer than 30 seconds, the performance resembles a series of live photographic images or pieces of visual art which are then available for sale. And her latest solo project Still Distinguished, uses stillness as the predominant factor, the movement confined to the transitional moments between each 'still' piece.

Xavier Le Roy trained as a molecular biologist, and later in life, as a dancer. His recent piece Product of Circumstance tells this story and combines both a lecture on cancerous cell tissue with demonstrations of contemporary dance technique. Le Roy walks a fine line with this work - molecular biology is a difficult subject to grasp at the best of times! However his ability to weave the two subjects together, describing how his scientific and artistic interest in the human body has led him to where he is now, is fascinating. Such work raises many fundamental questions surrounding what the purpose of performance is and what it looks like.

But artists need nurturing and an environment conducive to the development and making of this kind of exploratory and uncompromising work. Where possible, our relationships with artists are long-term. We stay in touch regularly, discuss ideas for projects and collaborations, even if they do not materialise ... The dialogue is rich. The unexpected becomes the new territory. Above all, it maintains the relationship and keeps us in check with one another ...

Without stretching artistic boundaries, allowing new voices of dance performance to be heard and seen, dance runs the risk of becoming stagnant, unable to look to new artistic horizons. My hope is that by presenting this kind of work, we are advancing the form and developing and cultivating audiences. Whilst there exists value in both the mainstream and the radical, without the latter, and the challenges it presents, a large amount of work is, in my opinion, in danger of looking and feeling the same. So, is it the ultimate antidote? Admittedly it is loved by some and hated by others, but for me that is its strength.

Jane Greenfield, artistic director, Dance 4. Contact +44 (0)115 941 0773

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001