Liikkeellä marraskuussa / Moving In November: The dance must be beautiful?

The students of International Performance Research (MA) write about their experiences during Moving in November festival for This time Nina Khodorivska about Frédérick Gravel’s Usually Beauty Fails.

“Usually Beauty Fails is a declaration of ambiguous love for popular culture and the high culture of dance”, says the webpage of Moving in November about Frédérick Gravel’s show.

And immediately the question emerges: what is ambiguous in this dichotomy of popular dance and high dance? Popular dance is consumable, expressive and simple. Established high culture dance is not simple to dance, but simple ideologically and aesthetically, also expressive and consumable. Where is ambiguity then? This was the thought with which I entered the big hall without decorations, but with a lot of light and music-making devices, where in couple of minutes the show started.

“Usually beauty fails”. It is difficult to argue with a statement without defining what we are arguing about. What is beauty? There are two atmospheres that are competing through the show. One is lyrical and created by the ballet/tango/ballroom trained bodies, moving sometimes against the canon of ballet/tango/ballroom (breaking lines of spine, legs and arms in different directions). This movement is in harmony with songs about love.

The other atmosphere is cold and aggressive, and it is full of a-rhythmical music and robotic-style movement, once – with complete undressing of dancers, which in the context of contrast with other atmosphere had a connotation of cold saleable sex in contrast to poetic warm love. Personally I have no method how to distinguish which of these atmospheres should be associated with beauty and why, and also why those millions of other definitions of beauty, among which my own, are not even articulated as existing during the show of Gravel.

Frédérick Gravel: Usually Beauty Fails, kuva:

During the number of episodes where atmosphere #1 replaces atmosphere #2 and vice versa I realise that the show definitely fits the description on the site – it’s style definitely contains features of both popular dance and music and highly established dance and music. There are rhythmic and a-rhythmic pieces of music, there is dancing with straight spine and with broken spine, legs and arms lines (but not with extremely relaxed or trembling bodies, convulsing bodies or symbolic bodies). So if you are the kind of person that wants to seem highly established, but popular at the same time, or if you would like to consume some identities sometimes – this show will definitely contribute to your status.

The scene that is warm for me I’d like to call “The Moonlight Serenade”. Three musicians standing in moonlight (light circle created with one lamp hanging from the ceiling), one with guitar, the other one with harmonica, the third one just singing with gentle voice the song about love. Six dancers are in the shade around the lightened circle. They are moving from pose to pose, sitting and lying on the floor, standing up only for the few final poses. The picture is calm, the sound leads you to sweet dreams.

The other triggering scene was pas de deux. One male and one female dancer are taking their pants and underpants off in the circle of light. They are putting slowly their hands to the genitals and erogenous zones of each other, sometimes occupying positions for sexual intercourse – but this happens without any passion. This is investigation. They are curious, not voluptuous.

In the end of the show I felt myself uncomfortable, because I was for one hour and a half made to watch dance that I could have danced myself, and a lot of visitors could have danced too, if they had some level of body intelligence. Of course, a lot of them most likely didn’t have. Because most of people do not have dance in their school program. It is considered to be less important than mathematics. School program is very much head-centred, as if people didn’t have bodies.

That is another way of how people can be (and are?) repressed: through impossibility to use some body techniques (we even usually don’t have space for this, our city space is very disciplining in terms of impossibility to dance in it, if you don’t have a pass to a studio or your own studio). Because of the lack of narratives and symbols in the dance of that show, sometimes situation looked for me like this: we, around 200 people, were sitting in the audience and watching trained bodies, that were not communicating to us, but were demonstrating their abilities, as if they had some special origin, unachievable for us.

Nina Khodorivska
Culinary journalist, mime and dance artist and teacher from Ukraine, pretending to be clever intellectual, on the way from cynical jester to warm-hearted activist. Currently the student of the MA program in International Performance Research. 


Frédérick Gravel: Usually Beauty Fails
Concept and direction: Frédérick Gravel
Dancers: Francis Ducharme, Frédérick Gravel, Kim de Jong, Brianna Lombardo, Frédéric Tavernini, Jamie Wright
Composition: Stéphane Boucher, Philippe Braut
Musicians: Stéphane Boucher, Philippe Braut, Frédérick Gravel, Hugo Gravel
Repetitor: Ivana Milicevic
Lights: Alexandre Pilon-Guay
Technical director: Alexandre Pilon Guay
Sound: Louis Carpentier
Executive Producer: Marie-Andrée Gougeon, Daniel Léveillé danse
Co-production: Danse Danse in collaboration with 5ième salle de la Place des Arts (Montréal) ; Rencontres chorégraphiques internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis (France) ; Moving in November (Helsinki)
Tukijat: Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec
Avant-premiere: 30.10.2012, Cultural Centre Stoa, Helsinki

Lue myös Emma Vainion arvio samasta teoksesta.