Sometimes it’s no wonder to me that the public generally associates dance with boredom. Time and time again I find myself bored at dance performances. And I’m a dancer. So I can hardly blame lay people for not actively seeking out dance more often.
I recently saw New York based choreographer Stephen Petronio’s I Drink the Air Before Me at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and although I don’t believe the role of a critic should be to acclaim or disparage a show according to their own personal tastes, I will say the show was incapable of holding my attention. Choreographically there was no arc, no catharsis, only an endless parade of solos, duets, and ensemble dances that went on for too long.
The larger problem is that this is a trend regularly manifesting itself in the dance world. I consistently see boring dance. A huge culprit for this is self-indulgence. It seems few choreographers have the wherewithal to know when their work should be edited. So often I get the gist of what’s going to happen in the first five minutes, and then watch a very predictable dance unravel. Because dance is engaging to create and perform does not make it engaging to watch.
The program notes told me I Drink the Air Before Me was inspired by 'the whirling, unpredictable, threatening, thrilling forces of nature'. If I was supposed to experience a microcosm of a storm onstage this was lost on me. The wholly abstract dance phrases seemed to have little reason for existing beyond demonstrating Stephen Petronio’s ability to create phrases and the dancers’ ability to execute them accordingly. In this light the performance was akin to a talent show. I’m not inferring that dance has to be literal or have an apparent meaning, but it had better have a clear purpose if it wants to hold its audience captive. So often dance seems to rely on the wow factor derived from the dancers’ ability to do things with their bodies the audience cannot. This generally ceases to sustain attention after a few minutes at most.
Thus can we really expect the public to attend dance shows spur of the moment and fall entranced? If I as a dancer and a dance writer regularly find myself bored and wondering what the point is, then I can hardly wonder at the alienating and indulgent qualities that keep audiences at bay rather than attending dance shows for sheer entertainment.
But when dance is good, boring is not even a consideration. While confined to the limits of time, space, and the human body, dance can at once transcend these limits to reveal the raw emotion, energy, and inherent humanity only available from a living, breathing, moving body. For the sake of the art form I hope more choreography begins aiming for this transcendence.