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Flash Review, 9-23: Bouncy Billy
In Forsythe's 'Castle,' Everyone's a Dancer
By Tara Zahra
Copyright 2003 Tara Zahra
VIENNA -- The "White
Bouncy Castle" is a 34-meter long, 11-meter tall and 2-ton roving
plastic trampoline castle which has earned a place in the Guiness
Book of World Records as the biggest art installation on record.
It's a carnival ride (best not combined with red wine and gummi
bears, I discovered), good exercise, and perhaps the most ostentatious
way to make an old point: dance is everywhere and everything, and
everyone can do it. Or at least everyone can jump up in down in
their socks to industrial music and have a good time. In the White
Bouncy Castle everyone is a dancer and there are no audience members
(until you get tired of bouncing and crawl off to the sidelines
to avoid getting crushed). It's a surreal and dream-like "marginal"
space, in which normal people (adults too!) can experiment with
movement, and in which normal movements themselves become distorted
and surreal (especially as the "dancers" discover how quickly they
are out of breath -- jumping is hard work).
The castle is the creation
of Ballett Frankfurt director William Forsythe, Frankfurt dancer
Dana Casperson, and American composer Joel Ryan. It made its Vienna
"premiere" at the Tanzquartier last Monday as part of a benefit
for Augustin, Vienna's homeless newspaper. The entire evening epitomized
good intentions gone awry. After several speeches praising the artistic
merit of the Bouncy Castle and the social value of Augustin, the
coordinators called upon the homeless sellers of the paper (who
had just been offered free soup and beer) to be the first "dancers"
to "perform" in the White Bouncy Castle. The gathered Viennese trend-setters,
dance aficionados, and benefactors thus stood around drinking wine
and observing as the homeless jumped and the Augustin choir sang.
Don't get me wrong:
the White Bouncy Castle is fun. It might even be beautiful, at least
beautiful kitsch. But is it dance? And to whom is it condescending?
My discomfort at seeing the largely unenthusiastic homeless sellers
of Augustin rounded up and urged to jump in the White Bouncy Castle
for the entertainment of charitable Viennese dance lovers mirrors
my discomfort with the entire premise of the installation. If the
idea is just to get dour grown-ups and their children moving and
playing, to earn some publicity and a hipper image for a very good
ballet company, well, fine. Who could not like the White Bouncy
Castle? I admit I enjoyed the jumping, though I simultaneously feared
for the life of one feckless three-year-old, who seemed constantly
in danger of being crushed by bouncing masses of teenage flesh.
But if the idea is to prove once again that dance isn't an elite
and inaccessible art, maybe it's time to give audience members just
a little more credit, to stop protesting so much. Do we have to
be convinced that we are all dancers, and that all movement is dance,
in order to learn to love it? Do people feel closer to dance or
to their own physicality after their debut "performance" in the
castle? Why is it so important to convince people that they are
"dancers" in the White Bouncy Castle, and not just paying for a
carnival ride? Why the drive to efface the training and work and
artistry and talent that makes a dance professional, that makes
a dance performance? 15 minutes on a trampoline and in the sky is
a lot of fun, and makes a memorable impression -- but I wonder if
15 minutes in the presence of Ballett Frankfurt dancers (none were
in attendance) might actually make more dance lovers.
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