Learning the moves

Like much of modern dance, some of the dance moves resemble mime: walking like a zombie, dropping dead, protesting. Others are more abstract: repeating minimal movements or making hand gestures. The hardest to grasp is the one that opens most groups: a countdown during which, as each number is called, the dancer improvises a dance step. The old joke goes that once you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made. Turns out the same can be said for imitating spontaneity. We tend to move rhythmically (left, right, left, right) so every time you make one movement, the habit is to follow with the next logical step. Trying to constantly be original and move in a flowing manner is much easier said than done. The best piece of direction we’re given is to concentrate on keeping the count right rather than think about the dance moves. The second best is to stop looking at your feet and maintain eye contact with colleagues and the audience.

Cultures occasionally clash. The French phrase ‘n’importe rien’ we’re told describes a gesture so vulgar you would be embarrassed if seen using it. Somehow the English translation of ‘whatever’ does not convey the same meaning. The movement illustrating protest is not intended as the polite / ironic British ‘down with this sort of thing’ but the dramatic Parisian rip up the cobblestones, scream and shout abuse type of demonstration.

The most significant culture clash is, of course, about sex. The director is clear the movement ‘Love / Amour’ is to depict sex. French participants we’re told are wildly enthusiastic for this interpretation. British participants, conscious their children or parents might be watching the dance, would prefer affection or sensuality—even parody. There is never an Intimacy Co-ordinator around when you need one. I’m more concerned about how to make it last for a full minute.

It is fascinating to study the direction given by Charmatz. A movement on tip-toes has a slow-motion casual tone and is undertaken while whistling. Charmatz is clear the dancers should whistle an actual tune rather than just a noise while performing the movement. Prior to taking part in Sea Change, one might have dismissed this as over-the-top, but now it clarifies the nonchalant tone the dance requires.

The dance is physically challenging to the extent you ache in the morning. By the second rehearsal, we have reached the stage of testing out running around the arena to the spots where we will dance. Charmatz acknowledges it is a mess but does not seem discouraged and more importantly does not discourage the dancers.

Curiously, I find performing out of my group and in the line liberating. As a member of the group, am aware everyone knows the type of dance moves I’m attempting. No criticism is ever expressed, only encouragement, but an awareness of my limited dancing skills makes me self-conscious. Performing in the line feels anonymous—it is doubtful the audience passing by will know I’m trying to simulate copulation. Hopefully they will assume it is just a very active type of Pilates.