Feature: A Big Dance Day
With a brief to inspire and engage absolutely everyone, this year’s Big Dance is on a larger scale than ever before; tied in with the Cultural Olympiad’s London 2012 festival, London alone has hundreds of dance events taking place from 7 to 15 July.
Slap bang in the middle of proceedings, Misa Brzezicki took a wander around some of the events on Wednesday to get a taster of the kind of work happening: a snapshot, a day in the life of Big Dance 2012.
First on my agenda was A Place to Live When We Are Old in Bishops Square, Spitalfields. Argentinean artist Ana Gallardo has set up an installation-cum-dance-class on a stage that is also a homely living room containing comfy sofas and three friendly Mexican dancers teaching ‘danzón’, a traditional form reminiscent of salsa. They’re a sprightly lot despite being in their seventies, their natural grace and rhythm putting my awkward stumblings to shame. For them, danzón is as much social as it is cultural and Gallardo’s participatory event is a look at attitudes to people in the later stages of life through a dance form that is mainly practiced by older Mexicans. Sparked by her own personal musings on ageing, Gallardo explained that she hoped to invite discussion about the place of older people in society. There was a real feeling of a home being created, where barriers of age or culture are removed by sharing and learning movement. Passers- by are invited to come up and learn a bit, although most people were hovering momentarily and wandering off. When I was there it felt like a slight case of wrong time and place. Spitalfields was full of tourists and suits intent on grabbing lunch, mostly unaware of this gentle intrusion into their daily environment. Those that did stop to see what was happening seemed faintly disappointed there wasn’t more to look at, which missed the point. It’s a shame, because it’s a piece that really encapsulates the Big Dance ethos and also works interestingly in a British cultural context, where the marginalisation of the ageing population is a very present issue. All was not lost though; I for one left uplifted by Ana and her team’s enthusiasm, now a dab hand at the basic ‘cuadro’, or box step.
Next up, a prime spot in leafy Spa Green opposite Sadler’s Wells for Dance Means… , an outdoor installation created by dancer Hannah Anderson-Ricketts and photographer Irven Lewis. They’re aiming to explore the question ‘What does dance mean to you?’ and so I was led through the long narrow park, past quotes mounted on white board, photographs of dancers hidden amongst the trees, and dancers engaged in live solo improvisation. Stumbling upon these soloists felt almost like an intrusion on a private moment, as the talented dancers moved around to what seemed to be personal favourite tunes on their iPods. It’s all nicely low key, allowing an audience to encounter it naturally. I enjoyed the location and the movement, but wondered if it would have been good for spectactors to have a bit more of an invitation to think about our own personal response to dance, rather than just appreciating the response of others.
Next, to Greenwich for Dancing Tales. High on concept, this one; it required a cryptic exchange of text messages to reveal the location for what was billed as a sound and movement journey. Eventually led to North Greenwich station, I spotted a likely looking bunch gathering around a gramophone. After being handed a set of headphones, a wonderfully seamless transition from commuter to participant was complete. The audience was joined by a fluctuating group of onlookers joined us as Sophie Arstall and Elizabeth Barker went on a whimsical journey through the greenery. Here was a great example of dance taken out of a traditional context and brought to people in their everyday lives, hopefully engaging them with something a bit different in the process. Having the score piped through our headphones was a nice touch, although a bit superfluous as it turns out – they had an assistant carrying a speaker too, so that the dancers could also hear their accompaniment. It all had a rather sweet, homemade feel; at the end we were each presented with an origami bird that unfolded into a map directing us to Greenwich Dance for a related ongoing installation.
Finally to the South Bank for Big Dance Shorts, a special screening on an inflatable screen for five bitesized dance films commissioned for the festival. Things kicked off with Ben Duke’s Double Take , featuring the puzzling sight of a man dancing with himself. My media-saturated brain assumed it was all done with smoke and mirrors, but there was a far simpler explanation; the man had an identical twin, also a professional dancer and this was apparently the first time the two had danced together. I liked The Click , a ridiculous rhythmic fencing match between Tom Roden and Pete Shenton of New Art Club, while Struan Leslie’s animation Swim was an intriguing venture for dance film and the hip hop fairy tale On The Otherside was a charming Narnia-esque fantasy. Best of all was the beautifully filmed and poignant Vida Longa, an encounter between one of the oldest and one of the youngest Capoeira Mestres in Sao Paulo [Directed by Bertie, produced by Vicki Banwell for Bertie Films].
All in all, they were a fine demonstration of accessible and entertaining dance that didn’t sacrifice artistic or production values. Even the rain didn’t prevent the evening having something of a magic edge; lights along the river, a thrillingly gloomy sky, a decent crowd of cheery punters. Many stayed to round things off with a screening of that classic of sequins, quiffs and forbidden love – Strictly Ballroom – a pretty perfect end to a Big Dance Day.
Most of the events Misa saw on Wednesday are still running this weekend:
A place to live when we are old
Sat 14 July, 12 noon–7 pm and Sun 15 July, 12 noon – 4 pm.
Bishops, Square, Spitalfields
Spa Green opposite Sadler’s Wells
Sat 14 & Sun 15 July, 10am -7pm, with a feature of live performances & mini workshops on Sunday from 3 – 5pm
Sat 14 July, 8pm, Thames Path, Trinity Hospital Greenwich
Sun 15 July, 1pm, East Greenwich Pleasaunce Park
Catch Big Dance Shorts on Channel 4’s Random Acts
Misa Brzezicki is a freelance dance artist, based in London.
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