Sunday, 12 October 2014

Who Makes the Nazis?

new contemporary dance for autumn
I hope he'll forgive me mentioning it - but, then again, he put it on a social media site - but Jack Webb recently received a message about Inside Opulence, his entry at Arches Live! Although the sender enjoyed the choreography - the decadent world Webb has been exploring teeters on the brink of erotic ecstasy and solipsistic despair, and easily appeals to audiences beyond the contemporary dance enthusiasts - they were upset by the programme note that stated Webb's support for the YES campaign.

Then they called him a nazi.

The whole 'calling someone a nazi' thing (and this was a straight-up accusation, not a subtle hint) makes me worry about the state of British politics. It's pretty unfair on the SNP - they get this 'oh, they are nationalists and socialists' insult when I can't see that much socialism in their policies (socialism not being the same as being a bit left-wing or having policies that recognise the state's function to support the weakest). But when it comes down to comparing a bright young choreographer to Goebbels, I take a bit of a tantrum.

First of all, it is inaccurate: if Inside Opulence had had an interlude where Webb addressed the audience to remind them that the Jews were behind the failure of the YES vote to win the Referendum, I might have seen the connection. However, he was wearing a fairly slinky pair of leggings that really showed off his strong dancer's thighs and bum: this would have reduced the speech to an ironic comedy, anyway.

If an artist wants to use a bit of his programme to state his politics, that seems fair to me: Webb had just given his all and, without a post-show discussion to give the audience a chance to ask dumb questions, a little note at the bottom of the cast sheet hardly counts as a Nuremberg Rally. 

The increased politicisation of theatre, which has mostly come from writers placing their politics at the heart of their scripts, hasn't always encouraged great art - it tends to be polemical and preaching to the choir. From my play-school Brecht understanding, there is a danger that explicitly political themes are unhelpful: if Aristotle is to be believed, they purge the audience of their feelings, allowing them to pretend that they have done a spot of activism by the time they buy their tub of ice-cream at the interval. 

But Webb's work doesn't do this: as the writer says, he enjoyed the choreography and only realised that he was supporting a murderous regime of dancers in spangled tops after the show finished. I've thought over Inside Opulence and can't find anything that betrays Webb's political views... indeed, I am more interested in the sensual politics that he explores, which suggests, against Blake, that the road of excess leads to the hard shoulder of misery. 

There are a bunch of questions that I have not worked out yet about the relationship between art and politics, and art and the artist. I try hard not to equate the art with the artist - I believe that the grammar of theatre interacts with the artist's intention and the audience's experiences to create meaning. Even if...

Look, Jack Webb is not a nazi. I am not saying it again.

Even if I happened to be a nazi, or a Daily Mail reader, or a Marxist, the very act of presenting my ideas in a play to another person would distort them. I think that the artist is, generally, innocent. The meaning of their work is defined by the audience and... in the case of cat-calling YES (or NO) campaigners, it might just take one to know one, eh?

The final reason for my tantrum is that public discourse is so debased. There's another example on twitter at the moment: someone said I only got two stars at my recent parents' evening. Apart from rather liking the idea that a joke about my age could be funny, I was pleased at two stars: it's a lot better than the mark I got from the last person I had sex with: they also suggested that I work with a dramaturg in future. 

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