A response to Nottdance 2019 by Sarah Tutt.
I should say I’m not drawn to watching people take more than one foot off the ground at the same time…or them jigging about…or watching an old story acted out as some kind of mute Charades on hot coals (please just TELL me he’s dead/lost/married rather than leaping about with your forehand on your forehead and your feet behind you)…
So Dance4’s biennial festival of choreographic ideas – Nottdance – suits me well. Instead of linear, fixed scores, we find something more risky, vital and surprising. Many of the city’s public and cultural spaces are transformed by the uncertainly of the human body in unexpected forms.
This year was no different. Two shows I witnessed took place in The Project Space at BACKLIT– a newly developed glorious cavern of mill-style architecture just forlorn enough to still hold its heritage ghosts and underdeveloped enough to not appear chi-chi despite its potential. With its gallery-finished walls, original features and columns, it provided a perfect placement for both CHAUD and Make Banana Cry.
In CHAUD, the space was transformed into a part club/wasteland/urban dwelling, where the invitation was to negotiate the space at the same time as negotiating our response to what was happening in front of us. After buying drinks at the bar, the audience became disciples to the two extraordinary performers, Antonija Livingstone & Mich Cota, following them through the space as they acted out a series of intimate, tender rituals around the semi-set punctuation of piles of earth, fire and branches.
In another transatlantic offering, Andrew Tay and Stephen Thompson’s Make Banana Cry invited us to place pink plastic bags on our shoes before taking a seat. This simple re-costuming of the audience made us part spectacle as the repetition of pink plastic drew a low line round the room as the auditorium filled up. The space became transformed into an apparent hyper-hygienic catwalk snaking through the space. It was an intriguing opener that got strangers talking. It prompted the unnerving starter for ten – what were we protecting ourselves from?
As it turned out we were protecting ‘them’. Who were they? Urban warriors turned playful creatures, who approached us with intimidating states of territorial overdress and confidence, and who journeyed through a relentless series of upbeat, exuberant states of dress and undress, to finally end up exhausted, vulnerable and naked, prostrate and trembling, at our feet.
Throughout the festival, a sense of questioning was a constant and necessary modus operandi for audiences. We were often not sure. Not sure of our role as audience (do we sit down, where do we sit down, do we get out of the way, do we follow that moving tree stump?), not sure of the genre framing what we were seeing (is it a band? a dance? a talk?), not sure of our response (should I be laughing, shocked, upset right now?), and importantly not even sure of what artform we should be valuing.
This uncertainty continued with Beside by Maribé – sors de ce corps at Nottingham Lakeside Arts – an amusing lost-in-translation battle between man and machine, where the art of listening, understanding and processing information becomes a compulsion. Here ‘dancer’ became ‘interlocutor’ as the banality of live local radio provided a verbal score, to which the performers responded.
A real sense of ‘the live’ is a feature of Nottdance. This ‘liveness’ comes from an apparent invitation to take risks – often physical (fire, heights, proximity, endurance), often situational (live radio, accidental audiences, external weather) and creative (push it, challenge it, dare to…). In turn, this seems to produce work that contains a tangible sense of intimacy, vulnerability and vitality. Something distinctly human. Something distinctly authentic.
This year, it couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. When the navigation of the heartening and disheartening is frantically providing us with an emotional score in our daily lives, it is enriching and cathartic to be confronted with complexities that are tender and intimate and that offer new ways of being and seeing. The work I witnessed did exactly that. It offered me an ‘Elan Vital’ that was contagious. I was provided with a portrait of the human condition that reflected back to me a vulnerability and a serious playfulness that made me feel that change was possible. Nottdance made me optimistic.