Saturday 18 August 2012

MEITHEALand Worst Case Scenario

The double album is a notoriously hard beast to appreciate: with four sides of vinyl to cover, it is difficult for any artist to maintain any initial vitality and the irony of an art form that begun in the sprightly single (three minutes of buoyant youthful energy) stretching over a length more suited to the weighty themes of opera is often enough for the critic to reject the project out of hand.

The dance double bill battles with the opposite problem. Choreography evolved, in both western and eastern traditions, into a long form: the use of specific gestural languages to fill in plot (a feature of both Bharatanatyam and ballet), the set formats of pas de deux or solo, the emphasis on large companies and spectacular costume all evolved in the context of an art form that would fill an evening. Yet the pairing of max.IMEALLdance and Taciturn Dance Company suggests that the shorter the piece, the sweeter the impact.

Billed together under Dance Base's overall theme of a journey around the world, this is not an attempt to contrast Scottish (Max.IMEALLdance) and English (Taciturn) approaches. Rather, they are connected by the youth of dancers and choreographers, the quirky use of music - ranging from Alvo Noto to Henry Mancini, this is a fine example of post-modern eclecticism, where high and low art, the populist and the experimental rub shoulders and find community - and a dedication to staking out the edges of dance and adapting the past's techniques to contemporary dynamism.

Perhaps Max.IMEALLdance's MEITHEAL could be read as a comment on the mechanisation of the dance process. The emphasis is on precision partnering, patterns revealed through the group's collective movement and the sparse, yet imaginative use of lighting that draws attention to the dancers. The focus and seriousness of the company ensures that the intention to represent the way that the group functions as a unit prevents any sense of the individual dominating the whole: the choreography responds more to the discipline of the corps than the spectacular show of the soloist.

Worst Case Scenario, however, emphasises the individuality of the three Taciturn members. They trawl through a series of disasters, explaining, in dance, how to best survive them. It's witty, playful, each episode a  brief burlesque of the logical advice given to those caught without a parachute or about to punched in the guts. The three women come across as likeable characters - when they work together, perhaps to attempt a saving hold, they never meld into a unit, like Max.imeall, but seem to resist the lure of merging by emphasising their individual physicality and identity.

If this double bill is more than a pleasure, or a linking between English and Scottish dance (I would call it contemporary but since Fringe 2011, the phrase has been rendered meaningless), it reveals current experiments within UK dance. Both are easy to define by critical jargon, although this would be far from a total explanation of their works and process: Max.IMEALLdance are a collective, disciplined unit emerging from the technical schools of dance discipline, while Taciturn are Dance Theatre with a dash of comedy and Live Art.

Of course, that last sentence says nothing about the actual pieces. It simply signifies that there is an interest in these works for certain audiences. Like star ratings, it flatters to deceive, an attempt by the critic to hide the fundamental problem of assessing dance (is it a totality that cannot be deconstructed into words without losing its essential meaning or the experience). For the record, both pieces give pleasure: MEITHEAL for the quality of dance, Worst Case Scenario for the personality and style.

The rock double album, however, remains a really bad idea, for the most part.

Dance Base, 16- 25 August 2012

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