The subject was ‘Spitfire’. Four male dancers in string vests and long johns, each taking it in turns to run around the stage pretending to be a second world war fighter. Sometimes together, sometimes apart. Sound strange? Well, kind of, but certainly captivating. Technically excellent and effortless. Not the usual interpretation of the Battle of Britain, but certainly a bold one.
When it comes to dance, our language is limited. Faces can convey expressions with pantomime exaggeration, whilst movements can be fluid and broad, but, other than the music, our language is purely visual. Contrast this with the types of communication that we typically have every day: the text of emails, voices on phone calls, some printed words through the post. Much of our communication is centred on the written word, much of the rest on the spoken one, although even in the day to day we shrug our shoulders or look purposeful.
Often the visual expressiveness of our bodies is a backdrop, secondary and complimentary to our voices. In dance, the only language we have is the expression of our movement. And whilst it’s true that we use imagery widely in communication, it’s often static, pictures and photos, caught in the moment, whilst the movement of dance is constantly fluid, expressed every moment in the moment.
I found myself watching the dancers, thinking about how the movement is choreographed, how it’s documented and captured. There must be a whole written language of dance, sigils and glyphs that pin the movement to the page, as notes and staffs capture music. I could google it of course, but i like the mystery. I like not knowing. One of the dancers even listed a dance research role on their cv: the notion of a group of dancers in a village hall experimenting with movement, trying to capture emotion and spirit appealed to me. How often do we practice and research our written or spoken words like this?
There is a whole world here which is hidden to me: a world of professional dancers who sculpt their bodies and research technique so that i can have a seamless experience reading what they say in the movement of their limbs.
This visual language, whilst distant from our everyday, is interesting: challenging us to think about how to communicate, how we use language, imagery and words. I don’t suppose we will be dancing anytime soon, but it’s worth thinking about how we limit ourselves sometimes to just doing what we’ve always done. I wonder what we can learn from the discipline and choreography of dance?