Dance: Phil Sanger & Mandeep Raikhy/PREM dance collective/ HitchhikeDance Collective [Resolution! 29 Jan]

A triptych of duets forms this evening’s entertainment, led by male duo Phil Sanger and Mandeep Raikhy in The Ghost Ship. The two Shobana Jeyasingh company members are both technically exquisite; the sensitive and human performance is not however limited to mere virtuosity. With snaking torsos, extreme extensions and frenzied itching gestures, the duo present the whole gamut of emotions experienced in an obsessive relationship. A lonely Sanger crouches before a projected image of an absent Raikhy; the two angrily push each other through agitated contact sequences; and at one point Sanger’s body appears to be physically indistinguishable from Raikhy’s as one sits atop the other. Towards the end the duet loses a little impetus, but there is very fine work here from both performers.

Continuing the Shobana Jeyasingh connection was company dancer Yamuna Devi, performing with Sarita Piotrowski in Nila Dyu. As the floorbound dancers open wing-like arms, an extended sequence of birds flying shows on the screen behind them; the animalistic movements increase in urgency as the two alternately support and struggle with one another. The atmosphere here is more obviously South Asian, fluid release and contact work combined with natyam steps and a mesmerising live performance from Miguel Marin on bamboo flute. Attractive but sometimes rather bland, Nila Dyu would benefit from tighter pacing and a greater dynamic range.

HitchhikeDance Collective bring us the final duet of the night, opening with red-lit Lola Maury and Myrto Gkouzelou in their underwear, striking a series of provocative poses against a pair of wooden railings. The image does not remain titillating for long – those railings soon suggest imprisonment, prostitution and child abuse. In a tender duet, the girls dress one another, then strut upstage in a carefully-observed simulation of streetwalking. The railings enclose the girls as they rock back and forth, violence, desperation and co-dependency mingling in an increasingly disturbing work. While not easy to watch, Gentlemen’s Venues is accomplished, courageous and raw.

General Musings: Do ya, do ya like it?

Tom Roden of New Art Club was recently quoted in the Metro newspaper, talking about dance and dancemaking ahead of their recent London shows. He says, “Good dancing is not caring if anyone likes it, including yourself.” It’s the sort of flippant-yet-profound observation that the boys are known for, and it made me think.

As teachers, we spend a lot of time encouraging our students to exercise quality control – explore possibilities first, then select and refine and rehearse until you have a good dance. I sometimes need to remind some of my charges not to leave absolutely all of their composition work until the last minute, to allow for the editing process as well as drafting and to ensure all performers are confident with the material created. But the act of “not caring” what an audience or anyone else thinks can be profoundly liberating for an artist – and not caring oneself can be the hardest, yet most liberating step of all.

Moving beyond our personal comfort zone and breaking out of old, safe habits really requires a leap of faith in oneself and the ability to turn off the inner voice that says, “What if that’s rubbish?” Pushing on with a new approach, even if it feels uncomfortable, can lead to fresh new ideas and processes and help us to develop as artists, rather than staying with the same old way of making work. From time to time, I think it’s really important to shake ourselves up and step outside boundaries that we might have unconsciously imposed on ourselves, by worrying about whether something is “good”.

“Good” for an audience is, in any case, a problematic, culturally-bound concept. For an discussion of how audiences develop responses to art, Pierre Bourdieu’s The Rules of Art is detailed and provocative – I agree with Bourdieu’s general thesis that pleasing a crowd with popular material has never led to innovation, and that art requires an avant garde to plough new furrows without popular acclaim. On a simpler and more personal level, I’ve often found myself surprised by what a given audience will like or dislike, and trying second-guess what will please anybody seems often to please nobody.

If I were to sound one note of caution, I think there’s a difference between the voice that questions if something is good and the inner voice that asks, “Does this work?” I think it’s still good practice when creating to check with oneself that a new work is coherent, readable, inhabitable by the performers and authentic on its own terms. A work can be disturbing, dissonant, discordant or downright unpleasant and still “work”; it might not be easy to watch or pretty or wholesome but it can still be effective as a work. It’s liberating not to worry if a piece is good, but it can still be of a piece with itself.

A final word of warning – when Lou Reed decided not to care what anyone thought, he made Metal Machine Music. Perhaps there’s a point to quality control after all?