Archive for November 18th, 2010

Mini-review – FAR – Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance at Sadler’s Wells

November 18, 2010

I have a complicated relationship with Wayne McGregor, but I won’t document it here: these days, what matters is my friend Wechsler likes him, and I like going out to dance shows with him, so we were absolutely going to see FAR, his latest show currently on (and sold out) at Sadler’s Wells. After my dismal failure to get “Entity,” I forked over for a program, and was given these ideas to muse upon: FAR is short for “Flesh in the Age of Reason,” the title of an Enlightenment era book exploring the relationship of the body to the soul.

This was a thought that sparked my brain off, and, as the curtains came up, I was greeted by four dancers bearing torches with a couple between them, dancing to music by Vivaldi (I think). I imagined the formal music capturing the highly structured society of that era, which the dancers’ bodies represented; controlled bodies, and controlled minds. Only … that control cannot continue, for the mind and the body do not always accept the control put on them. Thus the torchees fading into darkness, thus the dancers disappearing … bringing us into a strange world, perhaps today, marked by a brilliant burst of white flickering lights from the illuminated sculptural entity at the back of the stage.

At this point … well … what am I supposed to say about the dancing that is not just a blow by blow? I’ve changed how I’m spending my time at dance performances now because I spent too much time thinking about what I would say when I was watching the dance (and taking notes) and not enough time watching and experiencing it; this composing and writing was causing me to be unable to get fully into what was going on. There was the same gawky movements as I’ve seen before with McGregor, but now, when I saw them, my mind obsessed on a note in the program in which he talks about “the distorted body,” wondering if when I saw a position that looked unnatural, if I was assuming the dancer was hurt or expressing mental trauma. So I focused on these movements, occasionally flipping to thoughts like “they all look like they’re wearing American Apparel” to “is that reallly supposed to be rape or is that just how I’m reading it” to “I wonder if that big light box causes epileptic fits.” I also yawned a lot and just had a very hard time focusing on what was happening (not helped by having a rather big head in front of me – oh the curse of getting side seats due to faffing about buying tickets). At the end, finally, we had a clear death on the stage, and the light board seemed to be showing the last shimmer of neural synapses as a human’s light goes out – the brain continues to fire for a while – but then less and less – and then the light goes well and truly out.

My overall impression is that the piece seemed to show a lot about how we fight against our exterior programming, and that its our bodies’ desires that overtake the attempts at hardwiring and control that are externally imposed on us. I also thought the group scenes flowed much better than a lot of things McGregor has done in the last two years (i.e. the very yawny “Dyad 1909“) and there was certainly less grotesquerie just for the sake; but I wasn’t really able to grab a narrative. Still, it was a beautifully realized piece in terms of the other production elements, and while I’m not sold on the dancing, I did think it was worth seeing a second time to reflect upon it when my own mind wasn’t fighting so hard at being where it was. And I thought briefly, at the end, maybe I was right when I thought that McGregor was the most likey inheritor of Merce Cunningham’s crown; he’s certainly trying to make something that is so much richer than just a bit of pretty people doing pretty movement in pretty dresses – though I think I might not have minded just a bit more pretty on this evening.

And before I close, Ismene Brown reminds me: once again, Sadler’s Wells has produced a work that literally hurt my ears. This is one of two main complaints I have as an audience member about the venue. They must have a better concern for their audience than to abuse us with overly amplified noise. My other fuss is that they leave the front doors open so that the smoke from in front is blown all the way in as far as the bar; it’s just intolerable and they should institute a complete smoking ban along the entire Rosebury side entrance OR keep the doors shut. But it’s the noise that really bothers me; I should not have to bring earplugs with me when I go to see dance.
(This review is for a world premiere performance that took place on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010. FAR continues through November 20th, and if you wish to see it, please don’t despair at its sold-outtedness – daily tickets are often announced on the Sadlers’ Wells twitter feed, and you can pretty much guarantee there will be just a few returned every single night before the show that won’t make it onto the website. Be persistent!)

On the value of Bloggers

November 18, 2010

It seems these days print critics are all about slamming the bloggers. Two years ago, the questions was merely “are we going to replace print media” (per Jay Rayner); nowadays it’s shocking rudeness, from being called, basically, scroungers looking to get a few free show tickets (see Mark Shenton) to sad people with dull lives and reduced capacity for enjoyment (Tim Hayward) to, most insultingly, untrustworthy clowns with no integrity (Bella Todd in a moment of gutter wallowing).

As someone who’s been happily blogging away about all and sundry for about a decade (my first post was a restaurant review), I’m surprised at the rise of vitriol from the tiny cadre of paid authors. They’re already in a position of privilege, given that they pay nothing for the things they review and have no pesky day job getting in the way of their craft; they have editors and (sometimes) fact checkers helping them look their best; while we’re busily making our ticket budget balance with our gas and electric bill, they saunter into a show on opening night – when everything is supposed to be at its very best – knowing they’ve got a free ticket waiting for them in a special envelope. For them to be snide to us seems ridiculous given that they have so many advantages where we only have devotion.

So, really, why the bad attitude about hobbyists? I think the tide has turned, in part, out of a sense of fear. Bella Todd said we can’t be trusted because we don’t have a name publication behind us; but, increasingly, the total number of writers that do is on the wane. This flood of vanished paid positions is not the fault of bloggers, but rather due to the rise of the internet and instant access to free information online. Print writers’ snippy, superiority-stained remarks seem to come in part from a fear of bloggers; but the decimation of reviewerships is all about upheavals in the print industry. I want to keep reading writers that have been in the trenches for decades, but my ceasing to write is not going to keep them employed.

However, I think the question that ought to be asked is why are so many people coming to blogs for reviews? We do have the advantage of being fast; we’re not limited by “don’t publish until opening” rules, and our format lets us get reviews out there the night we see a show (provided we’re willing to forgo some sleep). I argue, however, our real value is because we are, inherently, trustworthy. Despite Todd’s claims, the fact is I earn my trust, and my reputation, one reader at a time, and the sign of their trust is that they return to read me again. Because we aren’t obliged to keep our “nice” relationships with the theaters, we are far freer to say what we think than print reviewers are – God knows theatrical staff and even art principles feel no reason to refrain from being rude to us, since we’re merely “members of the public ” – and our descriptions of our painful (sometimes literally) experiences much more closely represent that of a normal person going to a show (provided that the “normal person” is just a wee bit fanatical about the medium – two shows a week is not normal by almost any standard, and I usually see three).

I think this focus on the reality of regular people’s experience of shows (or movies, or meals) is why people look for bloggers’ reviews in the first place, because often we are the only ones who feel free to speak the truth without fear of offense. After all, since (for most of us) every show we see is paid for out of our meager pockets, theatrical producers have already got what they really want out of us – our cold, hard cash. And it is paying that cash, and then having to debate the value we’ve received in exchange for our money earned at our frequently dull (or even soul-crushing) day jobs, that takes away those rose-colored glasses too many paid reviewers see weak shows through. We aren’t professionals, but why do people turn to us when there are other people out there with better-expressed views? It really comes down to integrity. I write for love, and to try to learn to become a better writer by “doing” my craft – not because I had a deadline to meet to fill column inches; if you read me, you do so most likely because you want to figure out if you should see a show – and you trust what I have to say. Thank you for this trust; I hope I deserve it, and that you return to read me again; and that, if we disagree, we can discuss it like people who both understand that different viewpoints do not mean that there is a right and a wrong, but that there are merely two different experiences that we can both learn from by sharing our opinions. And that’s one of the things I love the most about theater; it gives me so much to talk about and so many people to discuss with and learn from.

As a final note, without the benefit of an editor to review our work, errors are far more likely to slip into our writings. Proper netiquette teaches the best way to handle these slips is to send a private email to the author enabling to correct their mistake “behind the scenes” rather than posting something publicly. They will appreciate the tact and the “editor” will earn a reputation for being sharp-eyed rather than pedantic. I’m not naming names here, but the guilty party ought to see the error of their ways and amend and apologise for using such a broad platform to mock a rather inoffensive party – to fire at a blogger with an elephant gun makes the shooter seem insecure and petty and does affect your online reputation.

(Another nice discussion of this can be found on Laura Tosney’s blog – have a look!)