Skip to main content

Dance Marathon - bluemouth inc Cut A Rug

At various times over the last three years, in Canada, Australia,
America and Ireland, a very special dance has been set in motion.
Entire rooms full of revellers have launched into spontaneous displays
of the alphabet-shaped choreography that accompanies evergreen 1970s
disco smash, Y.M.C.A. This song, made famous by The Village People, a
group of young men extravagantly dressed up as various macho
archetypes, may be a staple of late-night clubland cheese-fests across
the globe anyway, but this is different. The extrovert activity
described above exploded out of Dance Marathon, a four-hour
participatory endurance test cum endorphin enhancing Dionysian rite cum
life-changing piece of social engineering devised by the Toronto and
New York-based experiential theatre explorers, bluemouth inc.

As Dance Marathon shimmies into Edinburgh for a limited run as part of
the Traverse Theatre's programme, the show has has proved so apparently
transformative for its audience that playwright David Greig, no slouch
himself in the creative stakes, was moved to describe it as “a new
paradigm in performance.” Greig went on to highlight the piece's final
moments as “one of the most beautiful and moving things I have ever
seen in a theatrical performance.” High praise indeed for a show in
which the audience effectively do much of the work, but what is it that
makes Dance Marathon so special?

“It's the taking part,” according to New York-based Stephen O'Connell,
one of the bluemouth collective's core team. “People are disappointed
now if you ask them to sit in a dark room and be passive. But there's
something there about the dance itself, and how it affects our bodies.
In our twenties we're going to clubs and dancing, and we're in our
bodies a lot, but something happens when we get to a certain age. Now,
for me, outside of doing it professionally, the only chance I get to
dance is at weddings. Dancing can transcend us, but we can get
disconnected from it, but when you get back in touch with it, amazing
things happen.”

O'Connell points to Dance Marathon's YMCA moment for proof.

“That moment is so silly and so ridiculous,” he says, “yet everybody
does it without thinking, and there's something exciting about that
euphoric sense of communal transcendence. It's really quite profound to

Dance Marathon, then, is an epic example of the trend for a more
immersive kind of theatre that puts the audience close enough to the
action to become a part of it. Both Ontroerend Goed's Audience and
Adrian Howells' May I Have The Pleasure..? are one to one examples of
this, and bluemouth cite Punchdrunk's labyrinthine exercises in
interactive theatre as well as Forced Entertainment's own endurance
tests as influences.

Beyond such avant-garde peers, Dance Marathon's roots go back to the
real life competitive endurance tests of the 1920s and 1930s American
recession era. These events could often go on for days or even weeks,
as documented in Sidney Pollack's 1969 film, They Shoot Horses, Don't
They, based on dance marathon bouncer Horace McCoy's 1935 novel of the
same name, they provided a roof and food for down-at-heel entertainers
as much as others on the skids. Where those original dance marathons
also provided titillatory spectacle for audiences in need of kicks,
bluemouth's take on things is much more democratic, inclusive and
feelgood in nature.

“The beauty of a dance marathon is that it's really inclusive,”
explains singer and performer Ciara Adams, another bluemouth core
member based in Toronto. “You won't ever be singled out as an
individual, and we don't want to make anyone fell uncomfortable. It's
more about the entire group in that we're trying to make an instant
community. We won't ever know everyone's experience, but everyone has a
story and seems changed in some way.”

Originally founded in Montreal, since bluemouth inc decamped to Toronto
in 2000, the five-core collective have produced multi-discipline
site-specific locations that have included a network of hotel rooms and
a Canadian wood. The relationship between performer and audience has
been crucial to the company's ongoing line of enquiry. Dance Marathon,
however, was a major leap into the unknown.

“We'd done a show in which the audience took part in a softball game,”
O'Connell explains, “and having the audience become participants was a
significant shift in our thinking. At first we thought we might do a
twenty-four hour show, and that developed into early workshops for
Dance Marathon, which we invited twenty friends to come in while we
performed around them. They told us afterwards that it was a missed
opportunity, and we realised that this show wasn't going to be about
us, but about the audience's own experience.”

For each show, bluemouth intersperse the audience with twenty local
dancers, with assorted turns being performed throughout to a live band
overseen by an MC. With total strangers meeting for the first time on
the floor, as with a real dance marathon, there will be eliminations,
and, eventually, a winner. If any of this sounds at all daunting, think
again. Because, as bluemouth have consistently discovered, as long as
the invitation to join in is set up right, the audience will fling
themselves feet first.

“The learning curve for all of us has been so steep over bluemouth's
ten-year history in terms of how receptive people are and how
intelligent people are and how things have to work out,” says Adams.
“If the MC speaks too long, people are going to get bored, so we have
to say less and do more, and learn how to shift the energy onto the
next thing in a way that people don't even notice it.

As O'Connell and Adams have seen first-hand, Dance Marathon speaks
volumes about an audience's desire to join in the creative process, and
the current trend for experiential works great and small seems to bear
out the company's instincts. While good old-fashioned black box theatre
with fourth walls well and truly intact isn't going to go away in a
hurry, are dance Marathon, Audience and May I Have The Pleasure..? the
future, or just a creative blip that runs alongside the social
disenfranchisement recession culture brings with it?

“I'm really curious to see if it's a trend,” says O'Connell. “I
certainly see a lot more immersive work now, and I'm curious to see if
the sort of paradigm shift that David Greig talks about actually
happens. For us it's always been about making work that's exciting, and
creating some kind of sense of intimacy among the spectacle, and seeing
how far we can go with that.”

Adams goes further.

“With Dance Marathon we've really had to challenge ourselves in terms
of ego,” she says, “and that's not always been easy. But in terms of
the sort of thing that's going on in Dance Marathon, I don't think we
know yet how far it can go. I think this sort of work will evolve, and
I think it will be important, but it's not as if every piece of art is
going to be immersive. Having said that, immersive and experiential
work is starting to reach the mainstream, so who knows where that will
take things.”

Dance Marathon, Traverse Theatre@ Lyceum Rehearsal Room, August 3rd-14th

The Herald, August 2nd 2011



Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug