I am posting this by popular request: because so many people recently wanted to know where to see it, because I showed it to my boyfriend two nights ago (someone who knew not a single thing about dance films) without editorial comment and he said, when it ended, ‘I think this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, of any kind, because I re-watched it recently and had a moment of remembering how art can make one feel entirely quiet on the inside, because I sometimes think that I could do nothing but watch dance films my entire life, because dance film is perhaps my favourite art form, in the whole world.
Dance film has a power to draw me like no other form. I have a self-assembled archive. I watch dance films the way I read novels; out of pleasure, slowly, revisiting favourite passages, skipping to bits I particularly like.
I knew and loved dance film much before I knew how to properly look at a painting, much before I stopped giggling in front of conceptual installations, much before I could get to the end of a poem. It made sense to me straight away, just like dance did.
Whenever someone asks for an explanation – what is it?, why do you like it?, what’s so good about it?, I show them this excerpt from Blush, by Wim Vandekeybus & Ultima Vez, a meticulously filmed 2005 film based on a 2002 choreography for stage.
The film is not a document of the stage piece, but a thought-through work in its own right: hence dance film, not dance on film. As I have revisited it, I have recognised more and bigger flaws in the choreography: its decorativeness to the narrative, on which it heavily relies; its boyishness; its conceptual immaturity; its overlength. But while I now appreciate it better in pieces than as a whole, its hold over me has remained as strong as it was when I first saw it, in 2008. Its luscious, sexy, subterranean and sub-rational and sub-emotional force, the way it washes over you like an idiot current, I find as inexplicable and as unnecessary to explain as ever.
This is my favourite excerpt. I think it represents a funeral (the story is loosely based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice; she has, I think, just died). But whatever piece of the plot this covers is so totally of second-order importance to its beauty, the way a music video stands in relation to a record, that I often watch just this bit, and I often show just this bit, like now. I don’t even need to know whether my interpretation of it is right. I have never had to explain the context to anyone I showed it to. What it seems to do, to me at least, is put together an indisputable case for everything that is important and meaningful about death, community, ritual, ceremony, sex and the fact of us living out of bodies, not minds.
And when I watch it, I feel lucky to be alive in the time when it was made. I feel that my life is better because I’ve had the good luck to see it. I feel proud to be human. I feel that the immense nonsense of the universe is made more bearable, or rather, that we have made it more bearable, we as a species. I feel that the mystery of life is less frightening, because, for the five minutes of watching this clip, I am able to make a home in it. I feel that what we do, as a species, is a little bit heroic, however mad. I feel that it’s a good day.
This is about as much as art can give anyone.
I will, until the end of my life, dispute the idea that some of us are taste aristocrats, and for others there is no hope. I believe that art can be explained – or rather, one can be taught to look at art. I’ve learned to make sense of many kinds of art through dance film: experimental film, opera, experimental music, sound art and poetry only started making real sense to me after I realised that they were kind of like dance by other means.
Because one needs to learn to look, I wouldn’t want to get bogged down in the question of whether accessibility is a sign of superior or inferior quality.I would not force a dance newbie to sit through Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Hoppla!, for example, because some art is more difficult to enjoy than other. But I have shown Blush to many, many people, young, old, educated and not, and it always gives me great pleasure to see them get it. I love the way nobody ever asks me for an explanation: that’s a good sign that they haven’t sailed straight past their experience (like ships in the night). I love the way people embrace their own response, and are satisfied with it, comfortable in it, I love the way it suffices for them, the way they don’t feel they need someone else’s too.
So much of the pleasure of art is in the sharing.