While watching Perljocaj’s Le Parque last night I remembered that there were a few things I had wanted to say here about his Siddharta. I’ll say them now because they do seem worth saying; certainly more worth saying than the dull stuff printed about it in the mainstream press.
(Er. It isn’t much of a hurdle).
The things are these:
1. It is traditional in dance drama to differentiate between character types: heroes dance strutting proud dances, heroines mincing virtuous ones; wizards dance weird and monkeys — silly; and so forth. But Siddhartha doesn’t have such type-roles. Everyone dances the same kind of dance, the same vocabulary. Which is weird.
(I doubt that it was Perljocaj’s intention, but a Buddhist interpretation of this uniformity of style seems readily to press itself upon one’s mind: though it may seem that there are many different characters in the ballet, there really aren’t. After all, everyone here is merely a figment of Siddharta’s imagination. Including himself).
2. Siddhartha‘s choreography is in some way unmistakenly Perljocaj, but not the way in which all Philip Glass is the same: the body language of Siddharta is quite different from Le Parque. There is a different algorithm to describe each; but they bear a family resemblance, as if they were both transformations of the same fundamental equation. Think of the way in which Chopin is unmistakeably Chopin and Mahler — Mahler. Style, wrote a philosopher, is a probability function: given figure A, what chance that figure B will follow? There is a Perlojocaj style and it manifests itself in a broad variety of sub-types. (I can’t believe this: the man has about 30 different choreographies under his belt already).
3. The three dimensional complexity of this choreography boggles the mind. If, in a pas-de-deux, dancer A does this, then this, then this, while dancer B does this and this and this, how is it possible that they still end up in this position relative to each other? For instance, there is a scene in which Siddharta and Ananda dance a complicated thing with a jacket, of which neither ever lets go, while they gyrate, twist, lift each other, step through the opening created by the other’s arms and the jacket, slink between each other’s legs, etc., etc. And yet, somehow, they end the dance standing in the original position.
A kind of rope trick.
A dancer himself, Perljocaj finds these puzzles fascinating; and, one guesses, relatively easy to do; and therefore he needs something really complex to challenge himself. To us, chickens, things that merely challenge him are — stupefying. I found myself repeatedly too puzzled to pay attention to the narrative aspect of the dance. It felt the way one sometimes feels while watching a movie with subtitles: one is so busy reading that one misses the action on the screen.
4. There is indeed a lot of sex in Siddharta, but, to my Indianized eyes, it seems neither gross nor titillating. Several commentators have complained about it but — surely for lack of exposure to Indian cultural tradition. European high art, having so long been Judeo-mono-thingie, is prudish; one should not take this to follow that all high art must be so.
(It’s instructive to leave home sometimes).
5. All commentators have uniformly panned Siddharta for its “disappointing lack of spiritual depth”. The cause of this, I think, is their own overestimation of the spiritual value of Buddhism. Buddhism isn’t especially great. Siddharta’s story is no different from that of Abraham or Jesus. It seems fresh to us because it comes from abroad; but in the East it is as stale as Moses is in the West. There isn’t anything especially great about any religion, folks. Neither ours, nor theirs.
And, while it seems to me that Buddhism may carry valuable life lessons (the principal of them having already been discussed under point 1 above: “there isn’t anyone here”); and it may indeed be better suited to a mind trained in experimental science (Buddhism does not require faith in miracles); these are all fascinating points for after-dinner debate: one should not expect them to be made in a ballet choreography. It simply may not be possible; and even if it were — such points would not make the choreography great. What makes choreography great is… a gesture — a pointing finger, say, a leg lifted just so. And a gesture is… like a rose.
What is the meaning of a rose? And should it have one?
I have been re-watching Siddharta, which has been a very satisfying experience; and following its reviews in the press and blogosphere, which — has not. Surely, a better review can be written? Surely, something more intelligent can be said about the work?
(The only one I liked was this: a French politician reviewing it on his blog. He’s got nothing to say about it, but, hey, when do politicians have anything intelligent to say? Should they not stick to saying nothing about ballet, then?)
I tried saying something intelligent about it here last night, but this morning, upon rereading it, decided to take it down for a rewrite and — more importantly — a rethink. Some questions need to be addressed: why does one write a review in the first place? And — are there limits to what can be said? (There is a reason why dance teachers… gesture). And some of the things I was going to say in my article — upon consideration, I am no longer sure that I want to say quite that.
Perhaps this is the main problem with the reviews (and all reviews in general): writing is easy (you just press one key after another), but denken ist schwer.