Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday, 24 August 2008

A long time ago now, when I still wrote dance reviews, I remember reviewing an early show by Matthew Bourne. I was very naive about reviews in those days, and thought that my job consisted in being very clear about my own response to the piece, and at the same time describing it, and the audience response to it, so my readers could make up their own minds about whether or not to go.

This was before the arbitrary and absurd star rating system reviewers use nowadays. And also before reviewers began to see their task as trying to figure out what they think they ought to say to save face. As opposed to saying what they actually feel.

Anyway I remember I hated Bourne’s show and said so, no doubt as scathingly as I could. And the show was a huge hit and he went on to be the huge star he is today. (What hasn’t changed is my capacity to hold exactly the opposite view to almost everyone else).

Tonight we went to see his latest show, Dorian Grey. It didn’t move me enough to make me want to hate it: instead I just thought it silly and incompetent. For one thing, it was obviously fascinated by the world of celebrity and fashion that it affected to condemn. But more importantly, its dance language was so impoverished, and its blindingly obvious take on the story so superficial.

The night before, I’d seen Ruhe at the Hub. An utterly different world. About two hundred wooden chairs were scattered at random around the room, and as we entered a group of male singers were performing an utterly beautiful Schubert part song. As they sang, they stood on the chairs; when they were silent, they sat down among us.

And then a woman started telling us her story. She was Dutch, she had joined the National Socialist party, and she had ended up working in a special SS hospital north of Berlin. She had cried bitter tears when she heard Hitler had died. Her years in the hospital were the most satisfying in her entire life; and she couldn’t understand why she had to continue to suffer for them.

And then the singing began again. Lovely songs, Schubert largely wrote for groups of friends at private celebrations. Amazing, inventive, profoundly moving harmonies.

And then a man interrupted. A terrifying man. Powerful. Who interacted with the audience he mingled with in a very terrifying way. He, too, was Dutch. He had joined the SS, and really enjoyed it. Admired the bravery, the camaraderie, the toughness. The best years of his life.

And then more singing. Ending with a much darker but still so beautiful song from a young woman composer.

And at the end I think we understood: that evil is not something “out there”. Not something performed by the others, by the monsters. But by all of us. And that goodness and genius, too, were not just “out there” but among us and something we were and still are fully capable of.

There was real compassion here. And a sense of wonder.

The ex-soldier said: “Victors have heroes in their ranks, but the defeated have only war criminals”. I was thinking of the idiocies of Gordon brown the other day, talking to the troops in Afghanistan. This war we cannot win, and where the longer we stay the more we can only commit crimes. This war begun in utter ignorance of history. And Brown, oh so predictably, called ‘our’ soldiers “heroes”.

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