Dearest reader. Let me be honest.
Writing this blog for the Project Arts Centre, describing in uniformly rapturous tones the various events, shows, parties, films and other cultural encounters, I may not be giving you the full picture. If it all sounds a bit too glossy, a bit lacking in bite or texture, I admit it. Let me confess.
Not everything that happens here is a success. If you actually come to many of these events, you already know this. Sometimes even the glitches turn into triumphs, like the infamous Power Cut of 2010, when the lights went out half-way through Year Of Magical Wanking and Neil Watkins literally had to take his show on the road, delivering the second half of his virtuoso performance in the street in the snow. Sometimes, however, the glitches stay glitches, like last weekend when the film Como Agua Para Chocolate cut out halfway through due to a faulty disc and could not be resurrected by any means, including the ancient magical rite of Turn it Off and On.
In the spirit of if-you-can’t-say-anything-nice, I don’t like to harp on the negatives. But I’m telling you all this because I think it’s important to remember that the arts are sustained by people. Ordinary people. Ordinary people write, produce, perform, organise and attend these things. Which of course means there are ordinary problems, like technical hiccups or budget deficits or that guy in the audience that won’t stop doing that weird snorting thing. If you’re not involved directly or don’t go to many events because you have, y’know, a job and a life and a family and a cat and a DVD boxset and a chronic Facebook addiction, the world of theatre and dance and visual art and whatever else can seem a world apart.
You imagine that it functions perfectly well without you, that it doesn’t need you and you don’t need it. You might think of it as self-contained and self-perpetuating, full of arty people that go to each other’s shows and tell each other how fabulous they are, and have a comprehensive knowledge of each other’s field and understand everything. I shall tell you a secret. They don’t.
Most things that happen in a theatre or a gallery or an “art space”, at least here in Ireland, are thrown together by nervous, sincere people who also have cats and families and Facebook and probably not much money and who don’t know if anyone’s going to like it or even if anyone’s going to show up. They want you there. They really do. And sometimes people come and it’s a success and people take photos of the launch party and put them on blogs like this one. And from the photos it looks like everyone is elegant and knowing – but that’s only because the photos where someone has drunk-face or pit-stains didn’t make the cut. And the promotional spiel for the show might sound complicated and kind of pretentious and the kind of thing you’d probably hate but that’s just how blurbs always sound, for some reason. Even Snakes On A Plane probably sounded complicated and pretentious when the script was first being passed around producers.
The reality of the arts is that almost everything is a bit shabby, a bit ramshackle, and very non-threatening if you peek behind the veil. Things are done on a shoestring budget, half of everything is done by volunteers or interns, nobody fully understands anything they’ve just seen or even just done and you are invited. You are very welcome. Attendance at a lot of things I’ve been to lately has been a bit underwhelming and I’m sure a lot of that is to do with the fact that everyone’s skint and but part of it might still be the misconception that the arts are for Other People, that it’s alienating and elitist.
By way of example, let me now offer a brief review of an event that was not, by any stretch, slick or super-sophisticated or obtuse.
On Saturday afternoon, August 13, as part of the Dublin Latin American Festival 2011 (see previous post) organised by LANCI, I saw the Folkloric Dance performance at Project Arts Centre. Anyone who read the post and attended the show with the expectation of seeing some capoeira, I can only offer my regrets; I got my facts wrong. I could probably arrange to apologise to each of you in person, given that there were only about 20 of us there. The MC for the evening was Tania Ordaz, who was also one of the acts, delivering vocal performances in between dance numbers, which made for some breathless trotting back and forth and a rapid costume change into a stunning but probably unco-operative tight pink gown. There was a camera-man who chose to rumble offstage in the middle of one of Tania’s songs, disappearing to the left only to re-emerge noisily on the right seconds later.
There was a tango danced by a couple whose arresting stage presence seemed to derive – and I’m speculating here – not from either real or confected sexual tension, as is traditional with this dance, but a palpable mutual dislike. The woman seemed to stare fixedly at the shoulder seam on her partner’s suit jacket. The gentleman (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Noodle from Elmo’s World, if that helps younger readers paint a mental picture) planted his splayed hand immovably on the small of her back as if applying pressure to a stab-wound. Maybe I imagined it. Maybe the rather bleak black stage and stark lighting made me imagine them as the last two people on earth, and thoroughly sick of each other. Either way, I couldn’t take my eyes off them.
The Ecuadorian dance troupe Raices de Tungurahua needed a little time to get into their rather lavish costumes but when they did take the stage, their performance was perhaps more enthusiastic than polished. I enjoyed it enormously, with a kind of childish delight in the colour and movement rather than any analytical appreciation of technique or nuance. They smiled, stamped, shrieked, cheered, swayed and snaked in lines across the floor, their costumes vivid in the dark black box of the theatre, making them glow like iridescent beetles. By the time I left the theatre, I was grinning like a fool.