Day Eight

There is a line in I’m Alright Jack (the early 60s satire of the unions) where the Peter Sellars character gets misty eyed about what he imagines to be the Soviet way of life with its “ballet in the evenings”. The joke is about ideological blinkers that allow someone like him to romanticise the pursuits of the haut-bourgeois. It is cynical and dismissive of ballet, attitudes which I had shared until I actually went along and saw it for myself at the Merchant City Festival. The Scottish Ballet were performing some edgy, modern suites and I found myself captivated by the mastery of the body, the possibilities of the flesh, the harmony and the grace. Then we saw Matthew Bourne’s update of Swan Lake, which was so dramatic that my horripilations were commented upon by the people behind. Last night, we saw Angel Correll’and the New York City Ballet perform a cocktail of Balanchine/Gerschwin, a classical piece set to Mozart, a contemporary suite choreographed by Christopher Wheedon with music by Arvo Part, and The Corsair.

All four were beautiful in their own way, but the best by far was the Wheedon/Part dance. The other pieces (partcularly the last one) were too virtuoso to be enjoyed, just as it is difficult to enjoy rock guitar when played by talented fretwankers like Vai or Satriani. Everything in the Part piece was necessary and it was clear that stillness can be just as affecting as movement. The music was integrated with the dance, not just being part of the background. Best of all, though, was the fact that the music left no room for the excessive amount of clapping that blighted the other pieces.

Clapping – what is the psychology behind it? On the surface, it regiusters approval for a performance. Socially, it is much more complex. The Big Other tells you when to clap, for how long and how hardApplause has a lot to do with expectation. I remember seeing mediocre indie band called Smaller (who gained notoreity after their singer was immortalised as the Digsy in Oasis’s Digsy’s Dinner) at the Princess Charlotte and lethargically clapping after each number. Then they played their single – God, I Hate This Town – astonishingly, they were brilliant. So shocked was the audience that we forgot to clap, leaving Digsy to say: “You can fookin cheer that one.”.. Clapping is part of a crowd mentality that is somehow connected to vanity. By clapping excessively, the audience becomes more prominent, almost collaborators in the piece. Also, the more I clap, the more I show how cultured I am to the people around me, how appreciative I am. Either way, it was rather tiresome to have the dance interrupted every two minutes by these human seals.

For the pleasure of dance is the pleasure of flow, of losing yourself in the movement. 40 minutes can feel like 10 when the dancing is really good. Apparently, when people watch sport on television their neural activity shows similar patterns to those who are actually playing the game. The same thing surely happens with dance. The bottom may be glued to the seat, but the mind is light and nimble.