For Nico

Dance & Dare – The beginning

Dear Nico,
I know you as a writer of columns for the digital magazine De Wereld Draait Door, DWDD. What I didn’t know is that you also publish in the Dutch national newspaper De Volkskrant. On 5 April 2017, you wrote an article for that paper on a subject that is close to my heart: contemporary dance.

In the article, you parodied the language that some reviewers use. Abstractions and incomprehensible concepts that nevertheless appear on all sorts of dance posters, flyers and websites. Any interpretation of less than 140 characters does the trick. After all, there’s a viewer to be won over. A product to be sold. In the case in hand, I agree with you. This is annoying.

But there’s more to it than that. You start with the sentence: “Let me just come out and say this: I don’t understand dance”. That’s a good intro. Except for a few dedicated dance aficionados, you’ll be likely to have the majority of readers on your side right away. They’ll heave a sigh of relief and think to themselves: “Huh, nor do I” and continue reading, nodding in agreement or shaking their heads.

You see dance as confirmation of what the body lacks. Taking a few leaps in an attempt to escape this worldly existence, you write, can only end in deception. Lisa Reinheimer, project leader with Domein Kunstkritiek read your words and said: “I wish him a different kind of dance”.

Then your family enters on the scene. You describe wild dancing, cowboy-style. Bowls of snacks and glass-topped tables people fall through. I detect a love for Dimitri Verhulst, which I share. A stylistic exaggeration and an obvious contradiction: dance is not for you, but your family is. Here too, I can imagine readers feeling relieved and agreeing with you.

Yet, to me, this contradiction short-changes modern dance. In my opinion, we should be writing differently. Writing in a way that differs from those reviewers who lose us with words that say little. But also different to your current approach. I find your us and them mentality uncalled for.

Your “I don’t understand dance” becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. And whereas you excel in separating dance from the life we live, I would advocate the opposite. (I suggest you read a fragment from Paul Auster’s Winter Journal and try to keep dry-eyed, starting with: “The dancers saved you”.)

So, together with a group of headstrong, ambitious and talented young people, I am committed to using words differently. We are active within the scope of Dans&Durf; and we decide how we write. What we want to know is: where is the soul in our texts about dance? What do we really want these texts to say?

In my first attempt, I discuss the performance D No Body 5 #transcending by chorographer Dario Tortorelli that I saw during Dansdagen in Maastricht. Believe it or not, I wrote this with you in mind.

An old gasometer. The smell of rust and oil. Innumerable tints of brown. The roof is domed. A mini-version of heaven, the sky above our heads. A tangible version. A simplified version with joists. A gallery full of people in thick, zippered coats. Dark blue, black and grey. And on the stage, three figures, a fair distance away from us. Three dancers. Naked.

The light shines in from the left, making skin glow, as if illuminated from within, like an oil painting. Pale, round buttocks, slender hips; a narrow, straight back. Shoulder-length blonde hair. Adjacent, someone with dark arms, neck and shoulders. Part-lit, part-invisible against the background. Firm, plump legs and buttocks. And a third with the same slim, pale body as the first, but smaller. A soft jawline. Clean-shaven head. Lying on the cold floor.

Reclining turns into crawling. Standing up turns into walking. Almost invisible. Slow. I can’t tell whether they’re shivering. I’m sitting too far away. They’re pliant and untouchable, like 2D versions of themselves. Their shadows stand out against the curved wall of the silo. A person on all fours, a person bending and a person standing up. Like a picture from a history book. An image from antiquity.

And then the dark boy turns round. Slowly still. But he turns. Towards us. I can see his face and his genitals. I react like an adolescent. I want to say something like: “Well, hi there, you’re nice!” Make an object of him. I’m ashamed of my banal thoughts. Of the primitive feeling that comes over me. But then I decide that I’m OK with that. After all, there’s no-one here who can hear my thoughts. I don’t repeat them out loud.

The figure with the blonde hair also turns round. The hair is bleached, growing out at the roots, and it frames a man’s face that carries the suggestion of a beard. I thought he was a she. Another penis, but this time it doesn’t touch me. The woman with the bald head has soft curves, small breasts and a slightly rounded belly. It’s as if she has emerged from a science fiction film, a woman with no features. A representation, artificially intelligent.

The light moves to the front from left to right. The movements change. Slowly. The three touch each other briefly. They try out being counterweights, form a perfect circle, hang briefly in each other’s embrace, and then walk on again separately. Marching forward in a straight line. A muscle on a shin flutters fleetingly. It’s the only thing that reveals tension, concentration.

The strong front lighting comforts me. The way it warms their skin. The way they approach it unashamedly. The way it elevates them.

The mounting soundtrack too. An audio feedback sound. Like the vanes of a windmill. The basis for a pop song. The only thing I feel is missing is some vocal huskiness to introduce emotion. I can hear it in my head. Slow elongated syllables, perfectly matched. “I neeeeeeeeeeeed your loviiiiiiiiiing, like the suuuuuu-huuu-hun-shine…” The soundtrack from my favourite film.

Somebody sits diagonally in front of me, shouldering a rucksack, its weight on his belly. I wonder which reality of everyday life this man is trying to ward off or bear while he watches. Which loss, which memory.

Did he, too, meet his family the day before? In partly tiled, partly strip-lit rooms? With rain outside, and games within. Individuals barely daring to look at each other. To touch each other. Who have a degenerative disease, are undergoing chemotherapy. Maybe all united for the first time in fifteen years. All the brothers and sisters, except the one lost precisely that number of years before. An empty place in the family portrait.

The realization hits me that we cannot know what the separate entities on this gallery are experiencing. It is so utterly individual. And then the dancers start walking backwards. Excruciatingly slowly. Disappearing into the ever-deepening darkness. Until it ends. Leaving me feeling a tad distressed because I don’t want to give up yet, don’t want to get up and go outside. Leave this performance behind me. Not yet, not so soon. I’ve only just started to let go.

Nico Dijkhoorn’s column? Read it here. Want to find out more about Dance & Dare? This is the place. Updates will be published on the DansBrabant blog at irregular intervals.

Enrolment for this writing program has now closed, but Nico, if you’d like to join the group – just let us know!