contemporary dance must die

A triple bill. Three times the fun. The 2nd Guangzhou Dance Festival is almost over, and Thursday night it was the three companies all showing off their wares. 北京现代舞团 Beijing, 广东现代舞团 Guangdong Modern Dance Companies, and 城市當代舞蹈團CCDC from Hong Kong one after the other.

Beijing had uncannily familiar music, until I realised it was Stravinski’s Rite of Spring, which induced riots in Paris 90 years ago when Diaghilev, Nijinski and other renegades of the time let loose an unholy assault on all things nice in dance. No such luck here. Guys in dark Mao suits, girls in dark red qipaos, and plenty of red flags. Well I think they were supposed to represent a river, but slap a yellow hammer and sickle and a few stars and hey-ho, it’s back to the cultural revoltion.

Straight away in the glorious wash of communal identity, the light picked out one person. Classic individual isolated from the group stuff. Then plenty of average choreography, all done exceedingly well but awesome dancers, and rehearsed until an inch of its death, but strident, polemical, dated, hollow as old bones and just plain yuck.

Then when the Rite really kicked off, you know the bit, big kettle drums, Psycho strings and horns, they were as insipid as prison rations. It’s the Rite of Spring guys. You know Bacchus? He’d come out of the ground with his nymphs, drink up a storm everyone would get riotously off their faces, plenty of sex and general debauchery, then to top it all off, some random beserk violence. Blood and shit everywhere, virgins sacrificed, a deluge of viscera and body fluids. There is nothing normal or considered about Bacchus, he is the deafening roar of untrammelled emotions and desires. Nothing like that from Beijing. No riots either. Sad.

Guangdong up next. An old one from Long Yunna, which I think has had a name and maybe music change, now called Alien. It always reminded me of China doing Bangarra. It’s not Yunna’s best work but it does show one thing clearly. She is the number one choreographer in China, Hong Kong, and everywhere else I’ve been including Taiwan. There is little of the dialectical heavy-handedness in her work that populates so many others here, and there is a maturity and sophistication in her work that is extremely subtle.

She is the only choreographer here I’ve seen who is looking outside China, it’s not self-referentially focussed within the borders of China, and is about as far as you can get from mindless preaching. By which I mean she understands what contemporary is. It’s not Mao, it’s what you experience every time you walk out the front door. Yet it remains distinctively something that comes from China, in the same way that Jan Fabre, say could only come from Flanders. But the crowds love being told things with a hammer, and there is little place for relativism within a mob.

Which brings us to CCDC. Yuck. Is this an Eisteddfod? What the fuck is this obscenity? It’s sure as shit not contemporary dance. If a student at college did that they’d get failed. Not simply for crap choreography, but for stupidness. Do we really need to see another ballet barre dance a la bloody Bejart? I mean if I wanna see someone slide all over a stainless steel pole, I’d prefer the kind on the wrong side of town. And badly done 1960s Hong Kong Showgirls singing canto-pop? I’d rather buy a Shaw Brothers DVD for 6 kuai and see it done by the real stars.

It just got worse and worse, and yup as usual I wanted it to end, or to die quickly or for the ground to open up and Satan swallow the whole thing. It’s the kind of thing you say – in a plummy colonial Raj voice, “It’s a travesty. A travesty against everything decent.” Especially the price. 150 kuai. Ow! It stingssss!!! I needed another pitcher of Long Island Ice Tea after that, but was on the wrong side of town.

I don’t understand how contemporary Chinese art can produce inflatable horses and two-headed sheep, and works made with corpses, yet the dance is wallowing in a quagmire of Martha Graham, 50 years out of date. On the bright side that makes it only 20 years behind most western contemporary dance.