Will appeal to mistake makers: everybody basically

If life, as Samuel Butler said, is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on, then who can blame anybody for making mistakes? In fact, everybody makes them so often that it seems defeatist to call them that: mistakes. Call them “lessons to be learned” instead, the benign Mark Twain suggested. By all means, one of his contemporaries advised, but forget them as soon as you can! Whoever said “errare humanum est” seems to have known what they were talking about.

It is often observed nowadays that we are living at a time when a perfect body, perfect friends, a perfect job and job title – a perfect life really – are seen as the only recipe for human happiness. After centuries of philosophical dispute over the problem, our culture has finally labelled it comprehensibly: perfection, pure and simple. Why settle for less? Why be happy, even for a second, when something is off or flawed or can be regretted and fretted over? Someone’s got to have standards … however insufferable our mess-ups suddenly seem when bathed in perfection’s unforgiving light.

The founder of Dadadans, choreographer Helle Bach, has long pondered these timeless paradoxes of human self-evaluation, self-consciousness and self-centeredness. The metaphysics of mistakes and triumphs has represented to her a phenomenon that only art could effectively command and elucidate. What roles do success and failure really play in the lives of people like you and me, you ask? Well, bring in the dancers, have them bring preparation to opportunity and, as the poet said, there’s a recipe for success.

Before any more talk of dancers, though, it should be mentioned that Helle Bach has found it meaningful that the person we can all thank for being able to listen to musical records and living in lighted flats, Thomas Edison, once remarked: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Ah, the scientist’s logic and precision! It should also be mentioned that her artistic interest is known to gravitate toward the stories our bodies tell and what they unwittingly reveal about ‘the human condition’.

Bach’s choreographic work is described as pointing – with originality and by eliciting laughter as well as tears – to the banal realities of life and to its poetic beauty. The work is inventive and unpredictable, full of humour and rhythm, and contains references to contemporary dance and the French cabaret tradition. Since 2005 she has reflected an idiosyncratic fascination with modern technology: particularly the sort dealing with virtual contact between people. The stage does something to a person, that’s clear; a kind of existential amplification, not unrelated to the presence of the audience, is effected. But what happens when a person is only virtually on stage? That’s for another preview and another production to explore. Back to those mistakes …

In Still Going WRONG, five top-notch international dancers are instinctively striving for that aforementioned sense of perfection: programmed to want it, destined to fall short of it. They appear before us a blushing and blundering crowd capable of nothing but gaffes, pratfalls, and other involuntary acts of self-humiliation. Yet somewhere between the disappointment and embarrassment they suffer, life’s unexpected, vital, and essentially human quality is found: a blessing in disguise. This ties in nicely with another quote that has been in the back of Dadadans’s collective mind: success builds character, failure reveals it. Therein, perhaps, lies a lesson worth experiencing, especially if human happiness has been misrepresented as an ideal and unattainable absolute; in short, as perfection.

Dadadans’s production, which will of course be overflowing with things going wrong, has been informed by real people’s real mistakes. Over the course of a full year, Dadadans has collected quotes, thoughts and tales from Danes for whom the memory of some personal mistake was presumably so awkward and haunting that sharing and confessing it seemed an appealing move. Go to Dadadans’ website, find the ‘WRONG blog’, and prepare for the show by reading some of these confessions. They range from the toe-curling to the innocent, but like Still Going WRONG, they are truer to real life than art often dares to be.

Still Going WRONG

Lille Carl, Dansescenen, 20 Pasteursvej, 1778 Cph V; starts Thu (14 June), ends 23 June, daily performances except Sun at 20:00; ticket 60-130kr; duration 70 minutes; www.dansehallerne.dk, www.dadadans.dk