Busy Bodies

What you see is what you get, as they say – and in these busy times, we are all probably very quick to make snap judgements. But as we consciously and unconsciously intervene in each other’s lives, fleeting and fragile cameos of perception are created before moving on. How do we then decode and interpret each other? How do our preconceptions affect how we interact with others? Is what we see and experience merely a subjective reflection of ourselves and far from an objective reality? These are just some of the questions Busy Bodies, a thought-provoking dance performance choreographed by Helle Bach, aims to explore.

On paper it sounds like the audience is in for a meddlesome modern dance interpretation of Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason and why not indeed – the intertwined roles of concepts and intuition  make for fascinating subject matter. For Bach, though, the seeds of the idea for Busy Bodies were sown some three years ago when she became fascinated by the sheer ambiguity of the relationship between the artist and the model, most particularly to what extent is the resultant portrait more a picture of the artist themselves rather than a true portrayal of the model.

“It is almost impossible to see each other for who we really are,” she told Danish Dance magazine Terpsichore. “We have our own agendas, and we always see each other through our own reflections. But we do have the desire to see and listen to each other’s stories. We are actually extremely curious about each other – but we need to be aware of the extent to which we see each other through our own glasses.”

Busy Bodies, as the name suggests, involves interactions between people. The English meaning of the phrase usually has a negative connotation of unwanted interference, but the performances also focuses on how we all inevitably become involved, both willingly and unwillingly, in each other’s lives. To do this, Bach, together with a troupe of hand-picked dancers, has created six distinct characters over the course of the year. The performance seeks to delve into the interplay between them, for better and for worse, when they are put together on the stage.

Among the characters a man struggling with his primal masculine urges to be a real man, a red-headed woman clattering around in flippers, a character glued to the sofa and mesmerised by a laptop, and another inspired by the ravenous lenses of the paparazzi photographer.

But these first impressions are far from fixed, and as the soloists intrude into each other’s spheres of existence, what the audience think they see and understand will be challenged throughout the performance. In this way, Bach gently and humorously reminds us that we are all, without exception, ‘Busy Bodies’, and that the way we interact with others is shaped by our own experiences and backgrounds.

Bach, is quite a busy body herself, not only in the way she involves herself deeply and personally with the dancers, but also from a practical perspective. In an interview on the website run by Bora Bora, co-producers of the performance, she explained the arduous process behind getting the performance up and running: from selling a good idea to a theatre with an opening date some way in the future, to applying for grants from funds and local councils. Despite several rejections for funding, she refused to give up the ghost, and at long last the funding came in and the auditions and workshops for dancers could begin in earnest.

As a choreographer, Bach prefers to work with familiar faces and always has at least two dancers she has worked with before to “infect” the other dancers with her ideas and methods. The soloists this time include dancers from Canada, Iceland and Denmark. Five weeks of intensive rehearsals will have taken place before the opening night, and Bach has had a finger in everything from setting contracts to kick-starting the PR machine. It’s a labour of love for the indefatigable Bach, who always tries to have a continuous flow of projects, but still finds funding a major obstacle:

“These are difficult times for dance,” she explained to Terpsichore. “We are finding it hard to be taken seriously. Dance seems to be highly inaccessible, perhaps because people have forgotten how to be aware of their own bodies.”

Bach’s own choreographic roots lie not only in the realms of abstract modern dance tradition, but also in the French cabaret tradition. After the Thursday show, Bach will take part in the 30-minute artist talk where the process, performance and concept will be the basis of some lively discussion.

The visual and sensuous images and poetic universe of Bach’s Busy Bodies has already been presented to the people of Aarhus. Audiences in Copenhagen, at the pulsating palace of modern dance, Dansehallerne, will have plenty of food for thought as they, through their own particular tinted glasses, observe the enveloping encounters between the sextet of soloists.


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