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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 2, 2012 @ 6:34 pm

    Take a chance on … dance

    Laurence Mackin

    Is there any harder sell to a general audience than modern dance?

    More than any other art form, modern dance has its work cut out tempting in a random viewer who doesn’t know what to expect. You have more chance of getting a reluctant punter down the steps of a jazz venue, through a gallery’s doors, or into the stalls of a theatre than you have of making them sit still and soak up some modern dance.

    Which is odd, because a lot of it is accessible, and combines elements of dance with technology, lighting and music to make a much less intimidating package than, say, classical Greek theatre – and there is nothing in the arts world more turgid than bad Greek theatre.

    If you were lucky enough, in the past year or so, you may have found yourself at Coisceim’s Touch Me (you can read an interview with Ken Edge, the man behind the music in that piece, here). This was as good a state of the nation address as I’ve seen across any of the artforms.

    Paperdolls, which flared into life for just a handful of shows in the Fringe last year, was raucous, ambitious and highly entertaining – and the paper maze the audience had to wind its way through on the way into the Complex space was enormously impressive.

    Similarly, Junk Ensemble’s Bird with Boy got rave reviews with many claiming it to be the highlight of the Fringe.

    It’s not all good, obviously. I’ve had a running argument with several people about Rian, from last year’s Dublin Theatre Festival. I found it obnoxious, indulgent and, worse still, dull – that hasn’t stopped a host of critics lauding the show, and the company behind it, Fabulous Beast, got a nomination in this year’s Irish Times Theatre Awards on the back of it.

    Part of the reluctance to take a chance on dance is that many of these productions can be tricky to judge based on the pre-show hype. I’ve read the press release for many shows and expected spectacular things, only to go along and wonder what all the fuss was about (mind you, dance is no more guilty of this than any other art form).

    Online videos means we can now get a solid taster of what is in store, but in the case of dance it is never the same as being in the room and seeing with your own eyes the movement, the production values and the athleticism involved in a good show. Mind you, the video for Klaus Obermaier’s Apparition is particularly persuasive in this regard, and it could well be the most entertaining show in the Dublin Dance Festival, which kicks off next week.

    Then there is the tendency to programme very short runs for dance shows; the Dublin Dance Festival is a case in point (for a chance to win free tickets to the opening shows of the festival, click here). Nearly all the shows are on for two nights only, and this sort of Russian roulette programming is a high-risk strategy, for the festival and for the audience.

    Blink and you’ll miss the show. Wait for the critical reaction, and if it’s good, chances are the production will sell out before you can get your foot in the door. So it’s put your money where your mouth is, take a risk, and hopefully you will be one of the lucky few to see something truly extraordinary happen in front of your eyes. And isn’t that the kind of experience we are all looking for, whether we are hardcore dance fans, frequent theatre-goers, avid jazz cats, or the kind of person who goes to a show or concert but once in a blue moon? And if it doesn’t live up to expectations, at least it’s not bad Greek theatre.

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