Of all the art forms, I believe dance to be the most ephemeral. Although plays equally depend on a stage to come alive, there's usually a manuscript that ensures lasting legacy, otherwise how would we know about Shakespeare and Molière? Paintings are created and displayed in museums or arts centres around the world. Photographs are framed and hung for the amusement of many an aficionado. But dance is evanescent. I'm not talking about pieces for television or cinema, or choreographies that are filmed at a particular venue and then shown on the box. I'm referring to the pure, unadulterated experience of watching dance in a theatre. Just any kind of dance: contemporary, African or African-derived, experimental, classic ballet. To me, the instant the curtain falls, all I'm left with is the memory of the soloist's technique, or the togetherness displayed by the supporting cast.
This fleeting aspect of dance's make-up should not, however, be taken as a sign of failure. A good choreographer's observational experience will influence his or her audience, sometimes leaving them marked by a particular piece. And that was the case with Jasmin Vardimon when I recently saw her insightful work 'Yesterday' at The Place in Euston, London. Jasmin used her latest choreography to look back on her company's ten-year career. Along the way she revisited characters from previous pieces, which resulted in a tour de force where amazing duets and dazzling solos combined with video and animation to regale the spectator a passionate, physical and intellligent story.
Although it was the first time I had seen the Jasmin Vardimon Company - and it won't be the last one, I hope - the retrospective element did not floor me. On the contrary, dance has a peculiar way of exercising collective memory; thus, some of the themes explored by 'Yesterday' were familiar: the woman who self-harms, the über-patriotic Englishman, the couple whose burning house symbolises the collapse of their domestic bliss. These are topics that are addressed in both a dramatic and humorous way.
Jasmin grew up in Israel and for many years trained as a gymnast. It was only by chance that she was spotted by a ballet teacher and from then on her love affair with dance started. Having being conscripted for two years' compulsory military service, she trained as a psychological interviewer. This task allowed her to develop a very observant nature which has served her well in developing her own work. As she herself has stated: '... the fascinatign reality of this job was that it exposed me to an incredible wealth of human stories and personal histories; harrowing, haunting, jubilant - a melting pot of real human experiences.'
That these experiences have informed her work well is beyond dispute. However, if we take into account the debate going on in the dance world in the UK nowadays about women's role in this art form, the future presents many hurdles for the likes of Jasmin Vardimon were they to get the recognition they rightly deserve. This situation reached its apogee recently when Dance Umbrella, Britain's flagship dance festival, hosted a debate entitled, rather ominously, 'Where Are All the Women?'. It was a sell-out.
It is a strange situation, though, because dance's profile in the UK has grown considerably in the last few years. And at the time of writing this review, one of the more popular programmes on telly on Saturday evening is BBC1's 'So You Think You Can Dance'. But look closely and the male names will start jumping at you like wild salmon leaping out of a river. Matthew Bourne (and his innovative all-male 'Swan Lake'), Russell Maliphant and his extensive, experimental collaborations, Mark Baldwin and his highly influential Ballet Rambert; these are some of the figures leading the way currently in the UK'S dance sphere. The main reason for their success is not just their quality, for they have it aplently, but also the type of work they produce: bombastic, bona fide box-office-hit and large-scale.
In contrast, female choreographers such as Jasmin Vardimon focus more on personal life stories, with a lower profile and a more emotionally-driven agenda. Is this a gender issue? Maybe, there are some indicators I can see: physicality (men are more willing to rip off their clothes to show off their six-packs), marketability (men are better at promoting themselves to choreographers), ratio (with more women than men taking up dance as a career it doesn't take a genius to figure out who will reap better results in the long-term) and opportunism (many of the trailblazers of the early 20th century were women, but it was men who took over and cashed in on the success of their female counterparts' experimental styles). There are many more indicators of which I can think, but these will suffice for now. Also, I am not passing any judgement on the ones I mentioned before.
The Jasmin Vardimon Company, however, goes some way to redress this imbalance. 'Yesterday' had a very proportionate amount of brawn and brain and you'll notice that when you watch the clip below. Its lack of central narrative was, in the words of the choreographer, the biggest challenge. And yet, as Jasmin stated:'... in turn, this allowed a freedom in itself. In 'Yesterday', the location is my memory'.
And mine. And yours.
To find out more about the Jasmin Vardimon Company's current UK tour, click here.
Next Post: 'Living in a Bilingual World', to be published on Thursday 11th February at 11:59pm (GMT)