Danse Macabre


Crystal Pite

2,140 words

I think it was the overly pious tone of her voice that first made my stomach churn: the sickly sentimentality of the pretentious do-gooder, quickly followed by the first sight of Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s pallid face, saying things like, “This creation is my way of coping with the world at the moment,” which immediately sent me rushing to the toilet as if I had food poisoning.

Pite continued, “And I can’t not talk about it. I am busy with the humanitarian crisis we are facing and the plight of refugees and the feeling that this is really the story of our time.” The Olivier Award-winning Pite explained that, following her successful reworking of Tempest Replica in 2013 with the Saddler’s Wells Company and the 2014 premier of Polaris with the London Contemporary Dance School, which featured sixty-four performers from her own Vancouver-based Kidd Pivot ensemble, she had been commissioned by the Royal Opera House in England to create Flight Pattern. One critic described it as “a poignant response to one of the biggest crises facing current society.”

The inevitable subject for this large-scale work, which combines elements of classical ballet with a powerful sense of drama that incorporates thirty-six dancers moving in unison, is – unsurprisingly – a sympathetic portrayal of a community of refugees, set to Henryk Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. This is a piece irrevocably associated in everyone’s mind with cattle-cars heading for Poland in what has come to be known as the Holocaust, and is no doubt intended to act as a psychological link between those apparently uncontestable historical events and the tragic scale of the refugee dilemma we face today. The work’s marketing materials claim that Pite seeks “to explore themes of motherhood and the separation of families.” And Pite, according to The New York Times, is certainly sufficiently gifted to fulfill this objective, being “one of the most talented and intriguing choreographers working today.” Her star-billing adds, “She gives these themes new meaning in a work that moves from the big picture of displaced communities to focus on the emotions of individuals: the large ensemble cast moves as one body, packed together in tight rows, until one distraught couple are marked out from the crowd through a poignant pas de deux.”

But of course what is really being served up to the predominantly middle and upper class audiences who watch ballet is the mawkish schmaltz of self-indulgent virtue-signaling on an unparalleled scale of morbidity. Performed on a clichéd pastiche of a stage set that was created by Pite’s own partner, Jay Gower Taylor, it is simply brimming with the now tedious and repetitive moribund imagery intended to deconstruct the Western classical canon, such as the seemingly endless and irretrievably gloomy Bertolt Brecht-style interpretations of Wagner’s Ring. The work features hackneyed dance steps that might have been plagiarized from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, such as the scene where schoolchildren shuffle in a staccato fashion towards the open mouth of a giant cast-iron meat grinder. The whole performance realizes the precepts of what the French called in the Late Middle Ages a danse macabre, a “dance of death” – or a memento mori – consisting of rhythmically gyrating bodies pirouetting gracefully towards the grave.


Flight Pattern

What this propagandist polemic set to music entirely fails to acknowledge is that, by opening its borders, Europe is sleepwalking into an apocalyptic nightmare similar to that which it faced in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: an existential threat of seismic proportions. Then, it was recurrent famines; the Hundred Years’ War; and the Black Death, as represented in short, verse dialogues called Totentanz between the figure of Death and its prey.

And in our own era, it is a very different type of vociferous flesh-consuming bacillus that is attacking our immune systems and deliberately confusing our natural instincts. However, unlike the fleas carried by meandering rats on trading ships from the East, and along the Silk Road from Samarkand on the Steppe, these purveyors of a slow white genocide, hiding behind the mask of liberal tolerance and the twin ideologies of equality and political correctness, walk on two legs and infect our electoral processes by controlling the funding streams for political candidates and institutions, higher education, the mainstream media, social network platforms, and the creative arts.

So, one can well imagine my utter and unbridled contempt for a shallow-minded, political opportunist and cultural collaborator like Pite, who had the following exchange with the positively frothing Leftist presenter Kirsty Wark when interviewed on Britain’s unscrupulously biased BBC Newsnight program [3]:

Pite: I wanted to evoke a stage in the journey of these people that is more about a limbo state, having left an impossible situation and to have not yet entered the next phase of life. To be in-between. So the past is clinging to you. And there are flashbacks and memories and regrets, and yet the future is completely unformed and uncertain. I was imagining what it is like to come up against a border or a holding area or a waiting room, a checkpoint, a camp, and to be held and not be able to move forward or to go back.

Wark: I wonder if you think art as the power to effect change?

Pite: It’s a question I ask myself daily. I don’t expect it to, but what I want is that we come together in the theater in order to open up those channels to the humane. As to whether the work effects actual change, I don’t know. I think it’s about keeping channels open to the humane and being able to have a conversation.

Wark: But is it you, as a human being, feeling inadequate, as we all do, to effect change?

Pite: Absolutely, I feel overwhelmed and powerless, I feel frustrated and angry. I wonder if this is the best use of my time. I wonder if there is something better I can offer the situation. I struggle with those thoughts a lot. And yet I know that [deep, tearful sigh] if I have to talk about something that is so important to me, that it better be through dance . . .

Wark: Because that’s your first language! [mutual laughter]

Pite: It’s the best way I have of speaking clearly and truthfully about something.

But is that what Pite is really doing? Does her production of Flight Pattern capture all the tragic nuances of the Great Replacement, a term that far better fits the situation she so strenuously seeks to explore through dance?

Why are there white dancers in the ensemble? Are they meant to represent the Boer farmers fleeing South Africa? Or are they merely a symbol, suggesting that what is happening is a universal situation impacting all races and nations equally, when that is demonstrably not the case? Why is the advertising campaign for the piece focusing on a white woman and her child? Could it possibly be that the whole charade is an attempt to pull at the heartstrings of middle-class women and gain their support and acquiescence for the whole refugee menagerie? Why is the dance troupe itself not reflective of the disproportionate number of fighting-age men of the sub-Saharan south and Southeast Asia, who have deserted their own womenfolk in order to make their way to Europe, mostly for economic advantage? Why does it not include members of NGOs and IsraAid handing out Soros-supplied credit cards and piloting ferries between Tripoli and Lesbos?

Perhaps the “big picture” Pite claims as her objective would benefit from the inclusion of true and accurate representations of the sloth-like humanoids of the southern diaspora, their low-IQ cranial cavities echoing with the moral righteousness of an avenging creed, muttering endlessly about their entitlement; the open inter-ethnic gang warfare between rival tribes of Somalis and Eritreans in the cockroach-infested camps at Calais; the rash of female genital mutilation cases stretching all the way from Norway to Italy; the return of TB and other once-defeated diseases to the heart of Europe; and the chants of Islamic brides arriving in Munich ,calling for European women to become barren and their own wombs to be fertile so that their offspring can subjugate our lands.

But of course, Pite, dancing like the proverbial cat on the hot tin roof, claims the moral high ground, avoiding such difficult issues. She prefers to deflect and prevaricate in her artsy way and from the security of her feminist safe space:

I think there is something really interesting about conflict. I use it as a tool. It is a way to create tension, both in the subject matter of what I’m working on, but also within a body. I like to have a body in a state of conflict with itself. I think there’s an energizing tension with that. Trying to have two opposing tasks happening at the same time in a body does do incredible things to a person and elicits a state of yearning, striving, hope, and fear. I mean, all these things are evoked through these physical states.

But what can ballet offer us? Throughout a carefully selected and edited montage of images showing black women crying over starving children, Wark describes “an audience used to seeing such desperate scenes on our televisions. Pite provides a universal vision, inspired by a classic piece of music, Górecki’s Symphony Number Three,” the journalist’s hoarse Scottish accent implores, emphasizing the call for all of us to help as the music soars to a crescendo of melodramatic melancholy. Pite replied:

I think one of the things that inspired me about Górecki’s music was the way you – the music in the First Movement particularly – you feel, you zoom out and get a wide-shot when you’re listening. You have a wide-shot and the sense of the many. A sense of multitudes, like the immensity of the story, the immensity of the emotion. It feels unmanageable in a way. And then it distils in the center of the piece and there is this lament song by a lone soprano and at that moment what you really feel is like your connecting to one person, one story. One story of loss between a mother and child and at that point I feel like the story becomes manageable and to myself and to I imagine people listening to that music, a kind of compassion and empathy is solicited. Suddenly you are able to connect to this massive story through something very personal and small.

Well, if that truly is Pite’s intention, I wonder if she would care to consider incorporating a fast-paced allegro accompanied by images of young German women trying to flee molestation by migrants in Cologne during a New Year’s Eve celebration, beautifully backlit by the image of young Muslim men setting off fireworks in an attempt to burn down the Kölner Dom and smash Richter’s stained glass in the southern transept? Or perhaps a row of corpses, like those on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on Bastille Day, the Christmas market on the Breitscheidplatz in Berlin, or the bombing of the Manchester Arena, accompanied by a blood-curdling allonge? And why stop there? There is plenty of scope for an assemble, reenacting attacks such as those at Brussels Airport and the Maalbeek metro station, where the dancers can demonstrate how high they can jump, bringing their feet together in the air, shattered limbs performing moves like the dessus and dessous?

Then there is of course the potential for an avant, as groups like the Muslim Council of Britain, France’s Conseil Representatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF), and Germany’s Die Linke step forward to insist that “Hate will not Defeat Us!” and “Anti-Semitism and racism are the greatest threats to democracy in the world today!” This could be followed very quickly by Theresa May signing the UN’s Global Migration Compact, in direct contradiction to one of the main reasons why Brexit happened, Jean-Claude Junker reading assiduously from his open-borders script, Angela Merkel’s invitation to Third World jackals to come and prey on German women, and Emmanuel Macron’ s insistence on a future Eurafrica.

The stage could also easily accommodate a graceful ballancoire, the swing of the infidel from gallows erected by head-cutting ISIS members in Egypt, Sudan, and Nigeria who follow the same ideology that encourages throwing acid in the face of recalcitrant women and running sex-slave businesses. Maybe Pite, with Sadiq Khan’s help, can choreograph a West Side Story– style gang fight between would-be teenage Jamaican Yardies in East London. The transgender community of ballerinos could insist on their transhuman rights, leading to the inevitable Battement developpe, as the mainstream political parties move from side to side – à la Swan Lake – in their endless chase for votes.

And let us see how that goes down with the financiers, Arts Councils, mainstream media outlets, and critics to which Pite panders like the pathetic mediocrity she really is.