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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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