Contemporary Dance Is Rubbish


by Ira Schiff

We’ve all been there. A dancer is on the stage bellowing his or her life story into a microphone whilst executing some random movement. From nowhere, and for no apparent reason, another dancer rushes across the stage wearing a crash helmet and runs straight into an adjacent wall. All the while, a third dancer stands at the back of that stage, motionless, urinating into a teacup. It’s not real urine of course because that would be ridiculous, did I mention they are all naked?

The soundtrack is a remix of the Chemical Brothers, Mozart and sounds ‘from the street’ all played in reverse at an ear splitting volume. As this cacophony of ‘art’ plays out the audience is going deaf whilst simultaneously wishing they were going blind!

Contemporary dance is rubbish!

The scenario above is probably not too far from describing the worst contemporary dance work you have ever seen. Perhaps having all of those elements together in one show may be a bit of a stretch but you could probably remember at least one performance where at least one of those things happened, in fact, I’ll put money on it.

Do not be dismayed however because we need contemporary dance to be rubbish, at least some of it, because how would we know what the good stuff was until first we witnessed the life changing tedium of a piece of work that is so bad it makes you wonder why human beings are the dominant species on this planet.

All forms of art have these self-made balancing acts going on and its not just the unknown stuff that is rubbish either. Some of the biggest, most successful works are complete trash, but we need them.

As we sit in our seats both mentally doing our taxes and wondering why we paid €50 for our ticket, we are reminded of the splendidly original little work we saw the week before by a company no-one has heard of and probably never will. But we know it exists and we know there is hope and the overblown, pompous rubbish before us on the grand stage fires up those memories, our collective spirit is lifted and we live to fight another day.

As we tolerate the expensive nonsense desperately trying to remember why we like dance and keep coming to the theatre the proverbial light bulb appears above our heads and all is well, sort of!

The film business is famous for it. The recent Oscar ceremony awarded Martin Scorsese two gongs for “The Departed”, one for best picture and one for best director. Despite the fact the film was trademark Scorsese. That is, nonsensical plot, repellent characters, plot holes you could fit a beach house through, absurd dialog, histrionic violence (seriously, my arthritic cat could beat down Leonardo DiCaprio), and at the end of the film everybody gets ‘Dick Chenyed’*.

Hey presto, two Academy Awards and the fawning Hollywood set are kissing your backside for the next 12 months. But we watch this film and it reminds us that ‘The Wonderboys’, ‘Finding Nemo’, and ‘The Tiger and the Snow’ are good movies.

In the ‘art’ world we have Damien Hirst. This guy chops up dead animals or sticks spots on canvas in a random order and the luvvies go wild, snort some more cocaine, hand over bags of cash and get arrested after being found unconscious at the wheel of their car. Standing beneath the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or walking around the National Gallery of Scotland, we chuckle to ourselves as we remember the self important talking heads on Newsnight Review, especially the guy with the greasy slicked back hair, as they strain to use words with four or more syllables to explain why Hirst gives them an orgasm!

Embrace The Freedom

Dance is famous for giving out awards in recognition of uninspired tedium. Just look at the two most recent sets of awards that were announced. More often than not it is the unoriginal, pompous trash that wins the day. It’s not the dancers who are trash mind you because if you’re in the Royal Ballet the work isn’t your fault, it’s the fault of the bone headed director who hired the annoying dance maker.

Getting downhearted about it is not the correct response though. We should embrace this nonsense and say with a loud, collective voice, over and over again, “THANK YOU”. We should thank them for highlighting the very nature of creativity, the very thing that makes dance a million times more engaging than CSI:Miami, football or that stupid singing show (I think she means American Idol, Ed!).

When you go to a contemporary dance performance you never know what you’re going to get. A lot of the time it’s rubbish, but some of the time it’s absolute genius.

Some of my favourite dance makers have also made some of the worst pieces of ludicrous drivel ever committed to a stage. But they got over it, moved on and made their finest works, it’s all part of the thing that is dance, or any art form for that matter. Who knows, even Damien Hirst may one day develop some talent (or perhaps fairies with gold tipped wings will deliver my morning cup of coffee! Ed!).

There is another website called that concerns itself with dance by way of a forum and what passes for a dance magazine of sorts. I have often read through the forum but never participated because many of the inhabitants of that place are such unconscionable, pandering “fanboys” that if you so much as put a word out of place they shut you down without a second look. I’ve heard tell that it is not the only dance forum that behaves in this way, so anxious are they to protect the untainted image of “serious dance artists”.

I have never understood the reservations of so many who participate in this art form, in one way or another, to highlight its many shortcomings. Sitting through the self important musings of Mark Morris without a word of dissent or reveling in the sycophantic backslapping often in evidence at the bigger theaters and still being able to sleep at night. It is a mystery to me.

Embrace your freedom to speak out I say, revel in the monotony of many a dance performance because that is what will save this addled profession from itself, our willingness to admit that contemporary dance is, a lot of the time, complete rubbish!

* Getting shot in the face.

[ Image By Konstantinos Kokkinis ]