A few weeks ago, one of my dance dates told me that she expects dance to either make her laugh or cry, that anything else is useless to her. While I don’t think I’m anywhere near as extreme as she is, I understand what she means; I do expect dance (or any art form for that matter) to do something to me, anything.
Two events brought me back to thinking on this matter recently. Two weeks ago, one of my teachers showed a film in class that gathered an overwhelming amount of negative comments from students. And, last week, I attended Zab Maboungou’s solo Décompte at l’Agora de la danse.
The show begins with a static Maboungou, who then moves from position to position, holding each one for a few seconds. All this takes place in silence. Her movement is angular and resists any desire for flow. Circularity is later introduced when she is joined by live music offered by a cellist and a percussionist.
My issue with Décompte is not that I hated it. It’s not that it angered or appalled me. It’s that it didn’t do anything at all to me. Which brings me back to what happened in my film class: I think what upset students so much is ironically that the film left most of us completely indifferent.
I feel the same way about Maboungou’s piece. I wanted it so badly to do something to me, anything at all. Yet all it managed to do is leave me indifferent. We often talk about what artists give, but too rarely do we speak of audiences. A good audience, much like a good artist, should generously offer itself to a work of art. We open ourselves up in its presence, hoping to have the privilege of an artistic encounter.
Just like a good artist as well, this means that we too put ourselves in a position of vulnerability, hoping that our sensitivity will enable us to be touched. So when a work fails to affect us, we feel cheated, frustrated, like the offering of our vulnerability was not rewarded.
I also have to admit one of my personal biases. When an artist is credited for artistic direction, choreography, musical conception, and interpretation (as Maboungou is), I get a little queasy. It all seems a bit too much for one person to handle. Where is the exterior eye? Dancing a piece is clearly not the same as watching someone dance it. While Maboungou does seem to find great satisfaction in performing Décompte, it fails to offer the audience the same.
There is something to be admired about Décompte: Maboungou’s refusal to dance on the music, her movement becoming most vivacious in moments of silence. Ultimately though, it’s just not enough. It is simply too frustrating when a work of art only seems to exist.
PREVIEW: From October 18 to the 21st, Manon Oligny and Anne-Marie Boisvert present two works as part of the Crossings series at Tangente. For tickets, call 514.525.1500. From October 18 to November 3.