Janice Parker's intriguing choreography involves keeping her dancers in private rooms installed in the theatre. Paul Cockburn reviews a performance at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow on 21 June.
Dance, for the most part, is a public, often communal art form. At its most professional and official, it's seen on the stage or dance studio with clear distinction between performers and audience. At its most communal and uninhibited, it's found in our night clubs and at any wedding reception once the drinks are flowing.
Janice Parker's new work deliberately kicks against the all-too-overlooked assumptions inherent in these frameworks, successfully blurring not just where and when a performance begins but also the relationship between audience and performers. This is unsettling, yet also exciting, and that's before even the main part of the show begins.
Private Dancer is focused around a wooden construct sub-divided into five roofless rooms in which members of the audience are invited to enter, either by the dancer(s) in the room or the room's door-keeper. The audience member then sits down, the door is closed, and they experience an individual, one-to-one performance which other members of the audience can view only through a small cut shape in the door or by the dancer's distorted silhouette on the paper-thin walls. The choice of audience member is up to the dancer or door-keeper, and the exact form of the performance will be unique to those shared moments. After the end of the dance, the audience member is led out and the door closed again for a few moments until the process is then repeated.
Except ‘repeated’ isn't quite the right word. At the heart of Private Dancer as a concept is that, with different audience members and evolving choreography that's very much shaped by its multi-ability company, each audience member and each audience has a distinctly unique experience of the show. Even if you are lucky enough (like one young man was on the night I attended the show) to be chosen to enter more than one room, there is no way you can experience the whole performance because, of course, if you're in one room, then you're not in the other four at that point in time.
Subtly mirroring real life, there is a lot about Private Dancer that is going on just out of sight; it's happening behind doors, just around the corner or on the other side of the building. Having established this idea, however, Private Dancer then shifts the goalposts; for a few minutes, the audience is given an aerial view of what's happening in the rooms courtesy of a television camera pointing down from above. This Godlike perspective certainly attracts the audience's attention, significantly making them turn from the actual, physical ‘house’. This is suggestive of how our reliance on modern communications media doesn't necessarily increase our experience of the world. The view is still incomplete, constrained by distance and view point.
Inventive, amusing and thoughtful, Private Dancer is a beautiful, immersive work.
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Private Dancer is also supported by Made in Scotland, Creative Scotland, IETM, Dance Base, Dance House, The Work Room and is part of Glasgow Life's 2012 events.