Last week I was picturing the Big Dance as a kind of zombie invasion. But now, half way through the festival, I can see the horror angle was off. It’s more sci-fi.
On Monday evening, for example, I witnessed an interdimensional portal between two alternate universes, in Liverpool Street station. I’d heard of the Tango Commute project, where various couples would dance tango on bridges and stations during rush hour, and was eagerly dreaming of something utterly transporting, like the scene from The Fisher King where Grand Central Station filled with waltzers. But what actually happened had more of a low-budget Doctor Who feel.
The three couples (not a big cast, I grant you) were mostly ignored by the crowds. Because nothing stands between a city worker and the train home, not even aliens from the Planet Tango. It was as if each couple existed within their own protective bubble, a little warp in the fabric of Liverpool Street’s regular space-time continuum sensed by only a few susceptible souls. The texture of normality, it seems, is pretty impermeable. Eventually I commuted off home, but if I’d had a sonic screwdriver I’d happily have hacked the portal and gone to the other place.
Normal life is a powerful thing. In Holland Park on Saturday, three dancers from C12 Dance Theatre were weaving in and through a transparent pyramid that looked a like some kind of transmitter/receiver (it is a piece of public art, by Dan Graham). The dancers were clearly moving in a highly organised way; though why they were doing it was not clear. Still, it gathered a crowd of passers-by, and we watched and applauded, faintly bemused. I swear, if humanoid aliens were to appear before us and start signalling to the mother ship through some extraterrestrial waggle dance, that’s what we’d do: watch, applaud, be bemused.
The next day I saw some other life forms at the Big Dance stage in Trafalgar Square, who taught us some of their ways (they gave classes). There were the Jiving Lindy Hoppers and champion bodypoppers – friendly, communicative types, eager for us to partake in their customs.
And then there was English National Ballet School. The students demonstrated a class, during which the teacher would periodically bark arcane orders – “sissonne assemblé pas de bourrée” – like an evil emperor commanding his troops. “Come on!” he’d thunder at the audience, with a note of triumph, “I don’t see many people joining in!” Those sitting on the steps (like me) were dismissed as a “lazy lot”. What planet was he from?
I thought it would be ok to just watch, applaud, etc. But whereas the jive and the bodypopping classes showed the audience they could achieve more than they thought, and rewarded them for it, the ballet flaunted its superiority and punished failure. I began to fear for the souls of those children on Planet Ballet. It was beautiful, but also scary. Like art-house horror.