A feast of culture

Dot writes: our hits on this blog (which hold up surprisingly well thanks to that old Anatoly Boukreev post) were unusually low yesterday, and I can only suppose that it was because everyone was busy watching the Eurovision Song Contest. Anyway, even before that particular artistic extravaganza Hugh and I had already been accumulating cultural capital by attending a performance by Scottish Dance Theatre. It was part of the Dublin Dance Festival, which is on at the moment, but it was also a family show aimed at children and held at the Ark.

I admit that I booked this in the first place because I wanted to see it and only in the second place because it seemed like an opportunity to have a special outing just with Hugh (the show was for ages five and up). Hugh likes to dance sometimes, given a suitable song on YouTube and an admiring audience, but he has shown no special interest in watching dance. I, on the other hand, was a little girl who did ballet, and I still love to attend dance performances of all kinds on the rare occasions when I get the chance. I was a bit worried I would be dragging Hugh through the doors, especially when he decided on Friday night, on no evidence, that the Ark was boring and he didn’t want to go there. However, in the event it was a success; he behaved beautifully on the journey in, after a fit of shyness on the stairs consented to eat cake at the pyjama party before the show (though not to wear pyjamas – who can blame him?), and was delighted by most of the performance. Afterwards we filled in the feedback card and Hugh went for ‘enjoyed it very much’, the top rating. Nice of him, as there was one part when he announced loudly “This is lame. Can we leave?” But there were other parts that made him laugh, and he amused our (adult) row-neighbours in a section with Chinese music by saying “This is ninja music. They must be ninjas!” He likes ninjas.

The show was called ‘What on Earth!?’ and its basic conceit was that the five dancers were going to bed for the night and then had dreams (or one of them had dreams in which the others featured) about various plants and animals. The style of the music varied from section to section and so did the style of dance, to some extent – thus an Indian song was matched to quasi-Indian dancing. The opening was all about going to bed, with the five dancers all trying to get into the same double-bed and constantly rolling off it, fighting over it, jumping on it etc; this shifted into the dreams, which involved (in order, as far as I can remember) vampire bats (Hugh liked that bit); a tree that was threatened with being cut down; two insects or possibly lizards having a fight (the ninjas); waterbirds; a bird flying; struggles over the bed again. The dream-scenes were enhanced with animations projected onto the backdrop. At the end the curtain calls kept turning back into dancing, which annoyed Hugh who wanted to know whether it was one or the other. Then they let the children onto the performance area.

I thought it was wonderful: funny, lively, clever and beautifully performed. Hugh enjoyed it too, as has been noted, but I was interested in what appealed to him and what didn’t. He liked the slapstick moments but was less amused by general comical body-language; there was a sequence in which a tall, lanky male dancer with rubber gloves on his feet pretended to be some sort of wading bird, which I thought was beautifully observed and very funny but which left Hugh cold. There were quite a lot of little touches like that where I don’t think he had the life-experience to appreciate the joke. He found the first part of the tree sequence particularly puzzling because it wasn’t very clear what was happening – trees don’t dance, after all. Hugh wanted a clear narrative; he wanted denotation, and wasn’t interested in pure dance or even in general mood-painting. However, he responded to the energy and loved anything that looked like fighting.

Ken and I used to go to see Scottish Dance Theatre in Dundee when we were working at the University of St Andrews. I don’t think any of the dancers were the same that I remembered from back then, but it was a nice reminder of Scotland. At one point an image of a TV was projected onto the backdrop and we heard part of a nature programme supposedly being watched by one of the dancers as she struggled to go to sleep. The nature programme was narrated in a Scottish accent, which made me happy.

So, onto Eurovision. It wasn’t as good as Scottish Dance Theatre. However, some of the songs were pretty good, though as usual the voting didn’t correspond at all with my own tastes. My facebook friends were divided between the ones who offered a running commentary on the songs and the ones who only tuned in for the voting. Here are some proposals for improving Eurovision, or alternatively spoiling it completely, depending on what it is you enjoy about it:

1) All the contestants should sing in their own languages. For English speakers this would save us the pain of knowing what the words mean.
2) Nobody is allowed to change key halfway through in order to make a tiny musical idea stretch further.
3) Any performers who look as though they’ve strayed in from an adult revue should be issued with leggings and a big woolly jumper.
4) Songs should be screened and any that have appeared in the contest before, even under a different name/country, should be rejected. I’m sure I heard the Belarus entry last year.
5) The Scandinavian countries, the Balkans (not that they were in it this year) and parts of the former USSR should no longer be allowed to vote for each other.
6) Bonus points should be given for entertaining facial hair.

My favourite entry on balance was the Greek one. It would have done well out of (6).

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