Dance as neoliberal burnout

In which our critic deconstructs the various issues in an underwhelming piece of “deconstructed dance” that left her with “the strong desire to flee.”

Photo by Frédéric Chais.

It’s never a good sign when the two unmoving plastic beach chairs carried on stage turn out to be the stars of the dance show.

The lights come up on a kind of slip-‘n’-slide blue mat extending from the audience to the back of the stage. A physically engaging dancer in an orange athletic swimsuit performs a cheesily insincere solo in which she demonstrates, oddly, her deeply underwhelming arabesque. Why this immediate silly nod to ballet in a piece so enormously far-removed from that world? Sure, we get that sense of voyeuristic pleasure in watching someone practice alone in their backyard, but that feeling, transposed to the stage, sets the uncomfortable relationship to irony that will characterize the rest of the show.

Geneviève Jean-Bindley, the choreographer and artistic director of Ne me dis pas que tu m’aimes, seems to have set out to explore the emotional allure of the non-expert by choreographing a dance set to karaoke performances of the ridiculous relationship ballads of Navet Confit. All of the dancers, at some point or another in the one-hour piece, will take up the microphone and sing infuriatingly quietly into it.

It’s a dicey move, dipping into the honesty of neighbourhood karaoke, places where blue-collar crooners can take on a cinematic glamour totally void of irony. The performers in Ne me dis pas que tu m’aimes, by refusing to commit to pathos, repeatedly felt like they were parodying karaoke rather than exploring just what it is that makes karaoke performances so magnetic.

Throughout I was also struck by the dancers having the bodily amateurishness of actors vigorously training for dancing roles, though dare I say without the acting chops to go with. We were repeatedly subjected to bouts of mysterious, dewy-eyed weepiness from the performers that left me with the strong desire to flee, that sort of needing-to-pee sensation that accompanies attending a middle school’s operetta.

There is a grinding-with-fan episode that very briefly brought to mind David Byrne’s magical dance-with-lamp in Stop Making Sense. It was clunky, but it had a certain homey eroticism that was a real turn on. There is a twin sensual hairdryer moment that also hit the spot, but which went on too long.

What really riled me, however, was the twofold artistic and political tepidness of Jean-Bindley’s entire piece. The dancers repeatedly pretend to be dogs the way a five-year-old pretends to be a dog, kneeling, and with hands-as-paws, but this physical metaphor is never pushed in any direction. No revolting crotch scratching, no exploration, in terms of eroticism or subjugation, of why these five women are going around pretending to be dogs. Nope, just pure numbing repetition of the initial theme.

If this “deconstructed dance” is, as it claims, exploring the psychology of material dependence and over-consumption, how does it manage to be so dull when those issues are so pressing? How does it manage to be so retro and kitsch, aesthetically, when those issues are also so contemporary? If this is just another very cynical joke about life under neoliberalism, I can think of other ways to make myself feel limp and burnt-out. ■

Ne me dis pas que tu m’aimes, presented as a double bill with the four-minute short film Release Technique, continues at Tangente February 15-17 at 7:30 PM, February 17 at 4PM 1435, Edifice Wilder Espace danse (1435 Bleury) #101