I have been given the task by Danjel Andersson at MDT to write the most subjective critique possible of the performance “Flakkande røynd” choreographed and danced by Rannei Grenne and Solveig Styve Holte, with music composed and performed by Heida Karine Johannesdottir and Anja Lauvdal and costume and scenography by Ida Falck Øien and Haralrd Lunde Helgesen (the design collective HaiKw/). I saw the performance at Weld, Norttulsgatan 7 Stockhom, 7 april 2019. It was a Sunday. I hate Sundays. I hate speaking about private things. Danjel Andersson knows this. He writes that I do can set my own “limitations and limits to what is personal and what is private”. I call the bluff. There is no difference between the personal and the private. I dismiss that as a bourgeois prudishness that bedevils some sort of radicals. One can be clothed, or naked, c’est tout. How much, tout, is, depends a little on how the light falls.
Weld is a place I have been to a lot. It was here I saw the first dance performance I critiqued. Here I have seen amazing art. And art that I will not remember. When I come to think of it: none of it has been bad, which is quite an achievement. Most art is bad. I see Fredrik outside the door. I say hello, long time ago. And Anna tells me that Anders and I look like twins from different mothers. Ulrika gives me a hug and tells me we should meet for dinner soon. Ellen, I saw you across the room but as I couldn’t stay for the book release after the performance, I did not make it so say hello. It is reassuring to be in a place where the audience is so familiar. But part of the familiarity also annoys me more than usual on this occasion. The audience in “Flakkande røynd” is invited to sit either on pieces of birch trunks or on the floor on Jean Arp-like cut-out pieces of wall-to-wall carpet. I sit on a trunk as I went jogging in the morning and my body is a little stiff. The rest of the audience sit on the floor on the carpets. The dancers in the audience start stretching as they are wont to do, anywhere. Bend down their torsos impossibly as though they were swiss army knives. I have always found this to be a bit too intimate. I am the only one in the audience in a suit jacket.
The musicians sit on the stage (that is a bit everywhere – just as the performance is scattered) before the dancers come out. When the dancers enter it is evident that all four women are dressed in similar clothes looking like French science fiction characters from the 1970s on their way to the gym. But I am much more preoccupied by another detail. They all appear to have showered just before entering the room. All of them seemingly have wet hair, combed back. I think of how nice it is to shower before going to bed, though it always gives me a bad conscience as I also shower in the morning. The four on stage must surely shower also after their performance. It strikes me that the world is ending. Maybe it is democracy. No one would have thought twice about Genghis Khan showering twice in a day. And Genghis Khan did not industrialize the world either. My mind wanders as the performance is waiting to start. I like this moment. Anything can happen. Democracy. Asian hordes. It is part of what makes live stage art always promising.
I have read parts of the press material. That interrupts a little my newly found relaxation. Rannei Grenne and Solveig Styve Holte talk about how they were inspired by Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Robert Rauchenberg. When I look out over the scene at Weld I am curious in a sad way about this desire to re-live something like a performance at Black Mountain College. There is something antiquarian in this framing that strikes me as remorselessly conservative. I wish they had not told me. It would have been better not to know. They could have kept their deference to the canon of modernism as a dirty secret.
The dance starts. And I start to understand why I come back to dance. I cannot keep away, it seems. At the same time, I don’t understand it. Maybe that is why. My aim when writing dance criticism is to describe with some precision an emblematic move from the score. The dramatic arc interests me less. Music and props are mainly support for the body in my approach. It is a practice of somatic crystallization. I don’t know if it works. But it is what I can do. There is nothing overtly subjective about this practice, even though the result is undoubtedly idiosyncratic. I might even be said to aim for a detached critical position (though not “objective”). I don’t know what to do with this now, not because it is not subjective, but because I have made it subjective by explaining it in concrete terms.
The dance continues. There is a lot of dance. Grenne and Styve Holte move in a space that is vaguely X-shaped. It strikes me as a quite common way of dancing that shows off a life of… dancing. I like this. There is joy in the capacity and the training. Naked joy. Not dramatic joy. Not sentimental joy, but hard-hitting skill-based playing. “Flakkande røynd” means “fluttering” or “itinerant” “reality”. The score seems to consist of moving one part of the body while the rest is still. This might seem a simple thing. We are here shown that there are few things more difficult. I try to remember how it is when I write. My body seems still as my hands move across the keyboard. But this is of course an illusion. My body is moving all the time, in a thousand directions, to keep the equilibrium. I am in constant movement in order to shift one part of my body without the rest interfering. This is all unconsciously choreographed by muscles diligently trained. Grenne and Styve Holte show me how all of this works by not doing it. The result of moving one part of the body and keeping other parts still is a lot of variations on falling over. The performance also has a kind of pas-de-deux moment when one body is completely rigid and then adjusted by the other. It goes a little bit too fast but is otherwise a mystic enlargement of the self.
At one point the dancers change shoes and then at another point they change again back to the first shoes. These seconds of unlacing and lacing shoelaces are the most beautiful of the entire performance. The dancers show there how their bodies work unconsciously to keep balance by being in constant movement. They do not fall over. Another remarkable passage comes when the dancers are bouncing, and, catching each other’s gaze; a childishly warm smile flashes over both faces. They are having fun. A myriad of muscles is involved in that smile that just happened. The difficult thing in dance is not to become familiar with the ways of moving a body, but to learn how to not use it in a familiar way. And then a smile comes, from nowhere. A familiar smile of a lover, a friend, a sister.
The second step in an objective critique is to have an argument. Often it has to be invented as having one is better than not having one. I take the excuse of the task and say that I am now less annoyed than I was before. That is all. I don’t think “Flakkande røynd” was a masterpiece. Maybe it does not even need to be explained. But it contained something within it, a seed. Masterpieces are in any case boring and also a reason why art can be so fundamentally anti-democratic. Seeds are to be preferred.