when art goes bad

Last night was not quite the beginning of the week of dance at the 2nd Guangzhou Dance Festival, but was one of those great nights when everyone you know and love is in the same place, and the sweatwave of the day has passed leaving a sultry evening. The small theatre at the Guangdong Modern Dance Company was loaded with dancers I’ve worked with and taught from the last three years, and then all these other people who always leave me thinking, “This city could so easily rock the arts”.

The programme was simple. A bunch of dancers, two laptop musicians, one from Hong Kong the other Norway, lights, and the word that can often leave dance sticking like a rotten bone in the throat of a vulture – improvisation. Mostly improvisation pisses me off, watching people do the same stuff over and over, and it’s not really improvisation, just moving in a blah kind of way, the dance equivalent of a beige linen corporate suit.

But the Dance Co, well, they can move and some like Sky, are just awesome to watch improvising. He’s one of the few people who gets it. This guy could rock out in Forsythe or Greco or any other hard-arse dance company in Europe. Well, all of them could, that’s the kind of company it is.

The music though… The Hong Kong guy was ok, but often seemed surprised and scared – like of a mouse, eek! and jumps on his chair – that he was surrounded by dancers. Besides occasionally confusing volume with content, he was alright. But then there was this chick from Norway.

Now, lets talk about Norwegian music. Yeah, that’s right Death Metal, church burnings, inter-band murders. Pure export-quality class. So now in Guangzhou sitting on stage on her own, with a laptop and a bunch of effects and a microphone, we’re going on a fucking journey with her. It was Wagnerian in scope, three long movements, plenty of the laptop favourites: long delays, compressors, reverbs… twenty or thirty different types of white noise, lots of noises not of the sine wave type like saw tooth, and way too much speaker abuse.

Her angle was she made sound with her voice. It was shit. I like noise, I mean Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse deeply move me, just like Ride of the Valkyries, and I like laptop music too, and people like Laurie Anderson are exemplars of synthesised voice performance. But this stuff was just like bad improvisation, and I was stuck there.

I have this thought during bad dance often, which is why I don’t see much dance coz most of it leaves me in despair. I’m watching it and I think, “I want to kill myself”. I think, jeez, if this is art, why am I bothering. Good art can bring about an epiphany, it can express another world, and there has been so much written about the transformative effects of brilliant art. But bad art, it can transform too. It’s like an abyss, it’s the vampire that sucks up everything worth living for. It’s why the Doctors know what will happen when Alex is reprogrammed to the sound of Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange. Bad art must die.

There was a third part, both laptop knob-twiddlers and the dancers. I really wanted to stay for the dancers, coz I can watch them all day. But I’d lost a quart of blood in there to the Norwegian and instead split for the noodle shop up the road, followed by a few Long Island Ice Teas at Sleepywood. They serve them in pitchers, like beer.