We're fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance – Japanese proverb
I gave Scottish dancing a miss this week, and instead treated myself to a night at the lovely Grand Opera House enjoying one of my favourite art forms— modern ballet. It's certainly not to everyone's taste: my daughter is a very keen dancer, and hopes to make the stage her career. However, her first experience of modern dance led her to declare it "Random. But in a good way", and any attempt to drag her along to similar performances has been unsuccessful. My sister is very arty-farty, and can normally be relied on to be a witty and erudite companion, but other work pressures took precedence on this occasion. So I was flying solo, unusually.
I bought a ticket for my favourite seat in the front row of the upper circle, ordered a glass of wine for the interval, and sat down to peruse the programme. Thank goodness it was free! By the time I'd added up the ticket price, car-parking and interval drinks it was looking like a very self-indulgent luxury, and I found myself wondering if it was worth the expense and effort.
The show was titled Bitter Suite, and was performed by Diversions, Wales' national dance company, who I'd seen a few times before and found entertaining and innovative. The show was in three parts, each lasting just under half an hour, and each evoking a very different feel.
The first piece, Hinterland, featured some beautiful fluid shapes against a pastel background, and was set to the music of Alun Hoddinott. I hadn't heard any of this composer's work before, but I was utterly charmed by its arcing melodies and orchestral richness. The dancers wore costumes in a floaty grey fabric, and the whole piece had a rustic and bucolic quality to it, which was as relaxing as a walk in the woods.
Next up we had Form, choreographed by avant-garde Stijn Celis, who took the dancers from moving in unison, marching defiantly across and back, upstage and downstage, before breaking into partner and solo work, finishing back en masse. The dancers were clad in ruffled white shirts, shorts, and a paintbox array of coloured tights and fishnet stockings, looking like a cross between Shakespeare and Rocky Horror. They also worked for some of the piece with a text box, quoting lines like "Will happiness ever find me?" and finishing with "How do I come across?" This piece elicited plenty of laughter from the audience, as they got the jokes and the playfulness.
Finally, we had Lunatic, from Nigel Charnock, which opened with wartime searchlights that faded away to reveal a big brash moon. Members of the company danced around in their pyjamas, came out into the audience, spoke and laughed, and in the end stripped down to underwear and high heels. En route they referenced such iconic images as Minnelli in Cabaret, and a Vogue-era Madonna. Once again, this piece revealed a real sense of humour at work, but also a tangible feeling of unease and apprehension. The spoken word and audible sighs and screams will no doubt be frowned upon by purists, but you can't be at the forefront of the arts, breaking down barriers, without some feather-ruffling.
And that's what I like about contemporary dance, I guess. It breaks new ground, and presents something different. It makes you think about what you've seen. It almost demands from the audience that they react, rather than just sit there impassively. Bravo bravissimo!