Every Body Dances – the statement etched on the windows at Yorkshire Dance is provocative: is it really true? Is it a challenge? Is it supposed to make us think about what ‘Dance’ is really? And for that matter, what constitutes a Body? The corporeal, human, intact, entire body? The institutional, corporate body? The fractured, damaged, provisional body? Surely, the reality is that not everybody does or can dance, because access to this artform as a participant anyway is largely restricted to certain kinds of bodies, and to those who have certain kinds of backgrounds. Such an observation, and the corollary of calls to address the status quo have force, but it is an uphill struggle to make meaningful changes to the profile of those who easily and regularly constitute ‘dancing bodies’.
I spent four days immersed in Juncture which by virtue of its bold uncompromising vision offered a practical, productive framework for exploring diversity, engagement, participation, innovation – and history.
The female body was emphatically at the centre of a month of activity including workshops, debate and performance. Curated by Charlotte Vincent, the programme interrogated the notion of who, or what, this dancing body might be. The ‘Every Body Dances’ strapline was established during a previous epoch at Yorkshire Dance – Juncture as a project is the product of three years of new developments and a fresh artistic policy; nevertheless, the issues raised are still relevant – and it could be said, still unresolved.
The politics of art in terms of its entrenched power relations are encapsulated in the notion that ‘everybody dances’ – in terms of Juncture’s compelling theme, especially the ageing, arthritic, post menopausal and thus, clearly female, body is exhorted to attempt it – perhaps this is the body celebrated by Lucien Freud, its ample fleshiness captured dozing on a sofa, or Egon Schiele’s confrontational vision of the female body, twisted and stretched, even while at rest.
Or does it mean that any body engaged in any motion is actually dancing? During Juncture, dynamic, three dimensional, and vocal, bodies reflected on a wide range of issues which, for me, revisited the enquiry suggested by the simple words on the glazing of the studio. The propositions of the artists involved in Juncture are connected by their impact on contemporary practice, and the ways in which their work offers new insights into how work is made, and with whom.
Importantly the programme evokes artists of the past who were engaged with similar concerns – Sometimes this is overt, as Liz Aggiss ‘recovers’ (female) dancing bodies from libraries, finding inspiration in work of earlier, pioneering artists, and Charlotte Vincent and Claire MacDonald uncover as much as is possible from an ephemeral work made thirty years ago, working with their separate and several memories. Lateral connections in the work presented and workshopped include Pina Bausch, traditional folk dance and the host of antecedents whose oeuvre has shaped the dance world of today – not forgetting the strong relationship contemporary dance practice has with performance more widely.
The combination of workshops, performances, symposia, the launch of a new platform for supporting established practitioners, networking and the overall air of celebration engendered by Juncture, established a temporary artistic community, in residence over the month – and as such highlighted the role which Yorkshire Dance can increasingly play in the region and nationally in encouraging common cause between a range of practices, institutions and audiences, through a fusion of the aesthetic and the social.
While Arts Council England has an all encompassing mission of ‘Great Art for Everyone’ and a shrinking budget to achieve it, the National Portfolio Organisations are more than ever key to ensuring the twin rhetorics of inclusivity and high standards in art making are approached with imagination and rigour. Yorkshire Dance within this portfolio has, through Juncture, made a compelling offer to artists, critics, and audiences to be participants in shaping an approach to the mission.
Four weeks after Juncture, the temporary community, whose membership was constituted internationally as well as regionally and nationally, is somewhat dispersed. Nevertheless, new connections have been made, conversations are ongoing, and learning has been taken into daily work. Juncture nourished the dancing body in all its possible forms, and the appetite for more is huge.