Reflections on HOST 2019: a rare opportunity to come together to share, explore and challenge

EncoreEast

HOST 2019 was one of DanceEast’s 10 special events marking 10 years since the opening of the Jerwood DanceHouse. It was a day bravely dedicated to celebrating the artistry of the older community dancer that aimed to challenge and to explore what we mean by ‘artistry’.

Betsy Gregory in her ‘Provocation’ suggested that artistry is an alchemy; a magical quality found in dance performance through detail, passion and humility, and a deep connectivity between technique, the body and choreography. This ‘alchemy’ is evidenced through the igniting of the senses and offers something wonderful and unique to the spectator, a view that received broad agreement and much elaboration.  

The performances at the end of the day certainly gave us something to reflect upon in the light of our thinking about artistry in relation to the older dancer. Can the theoretical ambitions for challenging stereotypes translate into practice? We experienced a very mixed programme, including some uncomfortable moments when what may have been intended as delightful clichés became in the context of the day the stereotypes we so wanted to challenge.

Several of the works demonstrated the hallmarks we have come to associate with performance groups of older dancers – large groups of people on stage all the time, lots of walking and varied levels of attention to the vital details that give the work meaning. The one duet work was a welcome contrast which showed a deeper, more satisfying relationship between the performers.   All the works were ambitious, many stretched the dancers as performers and some attempted to create a new language. There were memorable lyrical moments of engagement and communication, exciting bursts of energy and dynamism.

Artistry in the context of the older dancer is tricky terrain. In an artform often associated with young, bendy, stretchy bodies, it involves treading on eggshells (and egos). But it is often by grasping the nettle, painful as that is, that progress can be made. HOST 2019 felt like a rare opportunity to come together to share, explore and challenge. This felt like a genuine next step to lead us forward, to continue to reflect and talk but also to use our bodies to question and quest…and dance.

Host 2019 took place on 26th of February at Jerwood DanceHouse in Ipswich. Author: Anna Mortimer

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