May I Speak About Dance, as the title suggests, is a performance-lecture where the audience is invited to explore their responses to dance. The house lights stay up for the opening as Boaz Barkan explains to the audience that he wants to recreate a version of a contemporary dance piece by Jérôme Bel. Bel’s work, ‘Pichet Klunchun and Myself’, sees Bel observe and then interview a dancer about the dance they perform. The audience of Barkan’s show is invited to share thoughts on the movement of his invited dancer, before being talked through a reimagining of the contemporary dance piece ‘The Revolt of the Flesh’, the 1968 work by Hijikata Tatsumi. May I Speak About Dance is a strange combination of elements that sits more comfortably as a university seminar for students of dance, than a commercial piece for fringe theatre audiences.
When confronted with the weird and abstract movements of Jørgen Callesen, Barkan asks us to consider “what is dance?” Certainly the movements Callesen – who is onstage, totally still, from before the audience arrives – makes are strange contortions that do not match with traditional perceptions of what constitutes dance. But as Barkan explains the narrative he perceives to be present, we start to appreciate how these movements could be used to communicate a range of emotions that incite varying responses in the audience. It is in this way that we appreciate what Barkan is trying to achieve in this piece.
Barkan does ask a number of interesting questions which are applicable to a range of art forms: what can references to other pieces of art do for a piece? What is the significance of spectacle in art and is it possible to rid something of spectacle? Exploring it through the lens of obscure dance pieces is intriguing up to a point. As a lover of dance, I’m invested in learning about these choreographers and the works that they have produced. Clearly they have had an impact on Barkan, and therefore certainly have value and significance for him, and his passion shines through. However, Tatsumi’s piece that Barkan and Callesen are emulating – and crucially the significance and importance of the piece – seems lost in translation as we watch the pair perform a parody. The conversation about dance that this show prompts is interesting and engaging, but Barkan uses challenging and obscure references that limit an audience’s ability to invest and fully understand the point he’s trying to make.
May I Speak About Dance played The Old Market as part of the Brighton Fringe until 15 May. For more information see the Brighton Fringe website.