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Animated Edition - Winter 2005
Critical faculties
By Donald Hutera
Like many readers of Animated, I'm crazy about dance. It's probably certifiable. I spend an inordinate amount of time watching, writing and speaking about this art form. But I believe you need to be devoted to it, even to the point of obsession, to get the most out of it.

Two alarming but fascinating incidents this past autumn have made me think a little more about the many other people who are attracted to dance, and why. Both involve somewhat unstable individuals.

The first was a post-show Q&A at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall between The Place theatre director John Ashford and French-Canadian choreographer Ginette Laurin, of O Vertigo. We had just seen Laurin's impressionistic, full-length piece Passare, made to commemorate her company's twentieth anniversary and brought to the UK by Dance Umbrella. A stocky, middle-aged bloke in shorts sitting near the stage picked up on something Laurin said about angels. It quickly became clear that he had no coherent question for her, but was instead merely rambling. Recognising this, Ashford cut him off and moved on to the next query. What I found remarkable was the little dance the man did just in front of his seat after being passed over. Was he re-creating Laurin's work in a brief and truncated form? Or was he dancing from his own imagination, perhaps in response to her work and words? There was no way of knowing without speaking with him afterwards, which I failed to do. It was obvious, however, that Laurin's production had connected with this fellow and, by extension, that dance meant something to him.

The second incident occurred during a seminar called 'Dance Moves - into the social and political context,' presented as part of the Oktoberdans festival in Bergen, Norway. Andre Lepecki, essayist, dramaturg, critic and assistant professor at New York University's Department of Performance Studies, had just wrapped up a cogent, thought-provoking talk on 'The contribution of dance to cultural production.' Seminar producer and moderator Camilla Eeg then opened up the discussion to the room.

At some point an intense, restless young Frenchman, possibly a part-time journalist, commandeered the space. Like the man at the QEH, he had no insights to offer but was rather operating from a private, and troubled, agenda. Perhaps he was using the event to uneasily test a half-baked piece of performance art. I was later told that he'd been having big problems with an abusive boyfriend, and that he'd recently lost all his belongings in a fire. This makes sense, especially as he used the phrase 'burn the f******g house down'. He also spoke of rape in relation to Eeg - not as a threat, I think, but rather as a kind of reverse metaphor for his own feelings of victimisation. Until then, the Frenchman's fellow audience members had shown increasing exasperation and impatience with him. This was the last straw. It was as if a bad smell had been let into the room. This section of the seminar was rapidly brought to a close.

In retrospect, I see that I would so like to know why dance matters to these possibly unstable men. It didn't seem to promote clarity of thought, at least not in a way that linked them to others. And as a tool of self-expression it was similarly blunt, and isolating. Yet I can't help but wonder what it might trigger inside them. What needs does it fulfil, what pain does it assuage? What joy does it bring? What would concentrated doses of movement do for their well-being? I tend to think of dance as a potentially liberating force with therapeutic possibilities that needn't negate artistry. Of course there are stresses involved, both physical and psychological, for those who are engaged with it professionally, injury, anxieties over unemployment and funding, a striving for elusive perfection. Or, in the case of journalists, deadlines and the desire to do a work, whether good or 'bad', justice. But the social, intellectual, emotional and financial rewards are great enough to make me grateful for my particular form of dance madness. Perhaps each of you would say the same.

Donald Hutera writes regularly for The Times, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Now and many other publications. He edited the autumn 2003 edition of Animated, and writes Critical Faculties as a regular column. Email donaldhutera@yahoo.com

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Animated: Winter 2005