“The vocabulary employed by many artists [whose work address political issues] is based on the conventions of physical theatre which has its own political agenda. The movement is often violent and frequently self-abusive, their actions genuinely risky and replete with repressed (and expressed) anger.
In many dance works vernacular movement is notable for its legibility, for its almost iconic character. Insistent repetition of actions with little or no variation has become a major characteristic, almost a leitmotif, of the work. Their message is clearly, baldy and repeatedly stated.
Unfortunately, whether or not the artists are aware of it, these choreographic ideas are resulting in fascist implications creeping into the pieces. Militaristic rhythms and patterning – the even rhythms of the march, insistent repetition of small blocks of movement material, unison groupings, the simple canons – all these have begun to dominate.
The militaristic images are reinforced by the relentlessly pounding popular music which is frequently used as a musical accompaniment. To compound the problem, the individual dancer, in spite of radical differences in body shape and height in the group, is presented as a cipher, a human machine, mechanically executing the dance material, a cog in an artistic wheel.
In some of the more violent work the dancers bodies suffer bruising and injury which has both an immediate and a long term effect on their work. The implications in this inherent lack of respect for the individual dancers (if taken to its logical extreme) is that they are expendable, replaceable instruments.
Even those works which do not use a vocabulary which damages the dancers bodies but which adapt the marching rhythms, the repetition of material in regimented unison groupings, are tainted with the cultural connotations which attach to these images.”
Sarah Rubridge (1989) ‘Political Dance’ in Dance Theatre Journal Volume 7. Number 2. Autumn 1989 p 26
It’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed some of these works; I have. Although these devices are very beguiling and exciting, I think it’s useful to consider why and think critically about what this means.
It’s also not to say that these are the only values present in them. The works deserve much fuller readings in themselves but it’s also interesting to read across works.
And nor does it mean that these choreographers hold fascist views. Indeed many are trying to rail against or reveal something about totalitarianism. Perhaps nothing should be beyond an artist’s palette but as Gillie Kleiman writes (in reference to various negative portrayals of women rather than these violent vocabularies) “messing up these representations does not undo them. Rather, it does them again, reinforces them, makes another one of them in the world.’
So do we really need to see beautiful young people echoing Bergen-Belsen or a violent rape (no matter how skilful, consensual or well rehearsed it might be)?
Is it helpful to have artists producing an aesthetics of injury and machination when states already do this so masterfully?
I believe that there are places where violence can be explored ethically – in BDSM practice for example.
But in the theatre there are no negotiations, no safe words and no aftercare for the audience members.