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Animated Edition - Autumn 2004
Critical faculties
Roving dance reporter Donald Hutera gets the community buzz in Nottingham and Finland
The Italian film director Roberto Rossellini once remarked that 'Society is laws, community is love.' Sounds good to me. Being part of the dance community is a privilege. I know I'm lucky. Deadlines can be tough and sleep virtually nonexistent, but after much dues-paying I actually make a living doing something I love. I travel like crazy, and I love meeting artists. I'm glad these people exist, beavering away around the globe. I'm grateful some have the guts, let alone the talent, to make work at all. My world would be poorer, and not just financially, without them. At times I'm so besotted that even stuff that gets on my tits makes me happy. Better strong reactions than bland indifference.

Just lately I've felt the buzz of an unexpectedly strong, positive sense of community at a couple of dance festivals. This past May at Nottdance, in Nottingham, I stayed up all night writing Dance Umbrella News after spending the bulk of the day focused on Choreographus Interruptus, an audience development project in collaboration with h2dance. Doggedly I checked my email before heading, exhausted and therefore especially vulnerable, to bed. An American relative had referred me to a website that held images of literally war-torn Iraqi children. Eventually I shut down the computer sickened, saddened and hugely impotent. Faced with these atrocities I couldn't help but question the value of my professional pursuits, and of dance itself. Having no immediate answer I crashed for an hour and was up again in time to sit in on Oogly Boogly.

Here's an extract from the Nottdance blurb about this utterly unique performance piece, cooked up by Tom Morris and Guy Dartnell: 'What happens when a group of 12 -18 month old children are let loose in a soft, safe space with a group of adult performers who follow and reflect their every sound, move and mood? This playful interaction between children and adults, witnessed by an audience of parents and carers, creates an unpredictable celebration of innocent being.'

Does it ever. Simple, direct, funny, joyous and moving, Oogly Boogly restored my website-damaged faith in the power of dance to affect lives and in human beings generally. It also resonated with me as a model for how kids and grown-ups can co-exist.

Cut to the last week in July, and the thirteenth edition of Full Moon. The Finnish town of Pyhäjärvi (pop. 6,300) hosts this annual contemporary dance festival smack in the middle of a blessed 'nowhere' of lakes and forests. Attracting a mix of professionals, locals and international guests, it must qualify as one of the best small events of its kind. On any scale Full Moon is special, and community is the bedrock of its success.

This year two things in particular struck home with me there. One was the floppy-haired young soloist Jukka Ristolainen, an envelope-pushing yet entirely accessible Pied Piper of dance who daily travelled the same route down main street regardless of the weather. In loose, rustic garb he danced on the doorsteps of Pyhäjärvi's banks and supermarkets, speaking in Finnish (and, for my benefit, English) to whoever was drawn to follow his progress through town. He was the living embodiment of dance as a peculiarly charming yet completely natural activity. I'd love to see Ristolainen doing his thing on the streets of, say, Nottingham or Leeds.

Another key discovery was the work of Alito Alessi, the 50 year-old American director of the Oregon-based DanceAbility Project. A deeply persuasive, articulate speaker, his aesthetic could be summed up like so: 'I'm not interested in disabled people. I'm interested in people.' With calm missionary zeal Alessi explained his approach to teaching as a means of 'fulfilling the values of contemporary dance in a way that isolates nobody,' adding that 'Beauty isn't an idea, it's a physical response in the body. And it doesn't have to be a pointed toe.'

Given these and other statements along the lines of 'Disability lies within society, not in bodies' and 'I get respect for doing what's natural,' Alessi is about as smartly quotable as they come. The proof was in the pudding of an open workshop demonstrating his methods, improvisational building blocks to do with finding your own body sensation, making a relationship, time and design. The movement devised by a mostly Finnish group of participants was emotionally-charged and kinetically engaging. DanceAbility's power and appeal was reinforced by this translation of one wheelchair-using dancer's attitude towards her own flesh and bones: 'There will always be some surprises, but it's just life. Her body is her gala dress - what she wears to the ball. It's perfect for her.'

Donald Hutera writes regularly for The Times, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Now and many other publications. He edited the Autumn 2003 issue of Animated, to which he is a regular contributor.


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Animated: Autumn 2004