So much dance we see right now features live speech. Jasmin Vardimon's 'Freedom'? Snippets of speech. Lila Dance's 'The Incredible Presence of Remarkable Absence'? Full of stuttering speech. Charlotte Vincent's 'Motherland'? Driven by speech.
Can dance 'speak' on its own terms anymore?
And by speak, I mean communicate. And by communicate, I do not mean use language. What is the language of dance anyway? Banesh? Labanotation? Both so dated.
Turning the clock back twenty years or so, we see the start of a sort of a blurring in the disctinction between dance and theatre, with works like DV8's 'Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men'. Russell Maliphant performs a suggestive monologue whilst Nigel Charnock awkwardly grapples with his own discomfort. But the movement continues to speak for itself long after the monologue ends, with Russell's character manipulating Nigel's into responding.
What if dance wants to make a statement about language?
Now there's a tricky concept.
Vardimon's 'Freedom' used speech to speak about speech - the constant cutting-off of the repeated phrase 'I want to tell you a story... it's about...' suggested freedom of speech was restricted. Vincent's 'Motherland' is another case in point, with a shift from 'any ladies in the house?' to 'any sluts?' making a big bold feminist comment about anti-feminist terminology.
Perhaps this is where the limits of dance lie. How can you communicate through dance about communication through speech?
Both works made their mission statements pretty clearly elsewhere - 'Freedom' with its passionate embraces and curious explorations of its 'jungle', Motherland with its bras, bust-ups and blood. The speech just provided a more direct approach. And why not? After all, both choreographers are unafraid to call their work theatre: Vincent in her company's name (Vincent Dance Theatre) and Vardimon in the summary of her work ('dance theatre' - see her website).
It is difficult to call any of Newson's work 'non-political', but 'Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men' was maybe more psychological exploration than political shout-out. So, considering the examples of 'Freedom' and 'Motherland', is it only through the medium of theatre that such big, bold statements can be made? Is it impossible for dance itself to make an unquestionable statement? And for a dance audience, with the freedom to interpret movement however they wish... does it even need to?