As Melvyn Bragg, or more accurately, his guests have relatively recently revealed, the exact number and nature of the muses varied over the course of the Classical era. However, given any list of the occupants of Mount Helicon, it seems hard to argue with the thesis that I have been least touched by the influence of Terpsichore. Then again, I have never shared any of my Love Poetry with you (or anyone else for that matter) – so I could always be lying. I’ll leave that thought with you while I gently pluck at my cithara and await the arrival of Erato.
As has been noted in this very organ before, I am not a natural dancer. My attempts at dance are about as unnatural, affected and artifical as could be imagined. However, 2016 has seen me adding increasing volumes of dance into my cultural mix: though only as a voyeur (so far). My younger self would be horrified as he found dance entirely without merit – well, except for the unintentional laughter it often brought him (and can still bring me). Current me has, in many ways, reversed into his current interest in dance. My gateway drug, as it were, has been circus: an art form which continues to obsess me. This last week did see me first fully successful essay of the back level, suspended from gymnastic rings. I will admit I can only hold it for a couple of seconds – I can’t actually breathe at the same time and holding the position does burn through the contents of my lungs at an alarming rate – but it was pretty good for an old codger.
Quite often the acrobatics in circus include elements of what I take to be contemporary dance. Both of the excellent shows by Barely Methodical Troupe – Bromance and Kin – have certainly included dance which clearly carries the narrative, even to a clod like me. Emboldened by seeing dance and enjoying it, even if mostly in terms of the physical feats involved (and trying to work out if and when I might be able to replicate them), I have been branching out into more overtly dance-based events.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Salisbury International Arts Festival in the summer sunshine and all three events I attended contained dance. Blocks was a circus/dance combination staged around a set of gigantic Jenga blocks and so was playing to my existing interests. You and I Know, by Candoco Dance Company, I literally stumbled across by accident when seeking cake (I never found cake and am still struggling with the trauma: Salisbury was a major disappointment in this regard on a Sunday afternoon). This was pure dance, though using two disabled performers – one in a wheelchair and the other with only 1.5 arms – and was incredible. These appetizers were both free, but for my third encounter with dance I actually parted with real money – and moved indoors. May Contain Food by Protein was dance-based but also involved operatic singing and a small amount of nourishment for the audience. It was nominally set in a high-class restaurant with the audience as the diners and dancers and singers as the staff. It was quite the strangest piece of culture I’ve ever seen, but very interesting and entertaining (and the food – eccentrically described and consumed – was appreciated). It seemed to please both young and old in the audience, so some forms of weird could be the way to go when it comes to increasing cultural engagement.
As well as what we (OK, I) might call popular dance, I have also tried something a tad more classical. Between Christmas and New Year, I accompanied my brother-in-law to provide moral support for his first ever visit to the ballet. This was to see Sleeping Beauty at Sadler’s Wells which I think was a fairly modern production: well, it invoved two conveyer belts and some puppetry and very little in the way of tutus. I enjoyed it greatly and it was also a big hit with the accompanying ballet virgin: his fears proving groundless. Inspired by this success, when I was in Cambridge recently I went to see Life by the BalletBoyz. This was amazing, and at times very funny, and not a tutu in sight (just a lot of rabbits) : though the Arts Theatre is a dreadful venue in which to watch dance as the sightlines are way too poor (something that has never been a problem with theatre which still works fine, but is almost fatal to dance). If the circus won’t take me, I think maybe I’ll run away to join the ballet: it can’t all be cruel Russian matrons and bleeding feet (as the children’s TV of my youth suggested). Realistically, this probably isn’t a great back-up plan for my retirement from the desk job: whilst the physical feats of ballet seem less extreme than at the circus, you do seem to be required to make them look entirely effortless and, worse for me, graceful. The nearest I’ve come to grace in my life is thanking the Lord for the food I’m about to consume at a formal dinner, though I suspect a good word for the kitchen or waiting staff would probably have been more productive.
Still, I do fancy taking up some form of dance to take advantage of my improving flexibility. Probably something not too dependent on rhythm or grace. Do you think 50 is too late to take up break-dancing?