Gregory Nash is a diminutive dancer making big leaps in Giant.
Jo Roe gets the low-down.
“Dance suffers because it’s traditionally thought of as a woman’s activity. Therefore, like all professions highly-populated by women, it is considered to be second best. As an art form, it is considered as frivolous and nancy. 80 who’d want anything to do with it? It’s an offence to patriarchal masculinity.’
Buried beneath the Hunterian Museum, a make-shift stage — a cleared space in the middle of a cluttered concert-room — was being used for rehearsals by the Gregory Nash Group. Languid dancers huddled in a corner. wrapped in discussion. ‘They are having a union meeting,‘ whispered Gregory Nash as we tip-toed to another corner to talk.
It is obvious that Nash is passionate about dance by the astonishing speed at which he talks about it, barely concluding a sentence before he chases another. Less than a year ago, at the youthful age of 26, having earned a reputation for producing original, honest work, Nash found himself at the helm of an ambitious project. ‘The original project was called Atlantic Drift,‘ he says, ‘and Steven (Petronio) was going to make one halfofthe programme. Petronio‘s withdrawal is actually the best thing that could have happened to us in the long run, because it made me face up to the fact that I wanted to do a major piece. I needed that challenge and I wanted to challenge the dancers.‘
Atlantic Drift was left high and dry. Nash focused instead on his part of the project, Giant, which assumed gargantuan proportions. Involving video artist Lei Cox, composer Peter Salem and designer Kenny Miller, Giant was first conceived as a study of tyranny and oppression, incorporating film shot on location in Andalucia and a live score for cello and saxophone. Since then literal ideas have evolved into physical images, revolving around a 30 monitor video installation mounted on three towers.
‘They’re each ten feet high and they look enormous,‘ says Nash,
‘especially as we’re all small dancers. So I’m looking at the scale of the dancers against the towers and also at how different groupings of people within the space change the scale and intensity of the piece.’
Giant is one of two productions which will bridge New Moves and Feet First, dance festivals promoting new work in Glasgow and Edinburgh over the next few weeks. Such a dance explosion in Scotland would have been inconceivable three years ago, yet audiences, as well as funding, are often poor, way below European counterparts. The public retains an image ofdance as a kind of obscure ritual or a saccharine display of pointed feet and well-sprung leaps. Not surprisingly, Nash has strong opinions on the state of dance in Scotland.
‘One of the problems that I’ve seen in Scotland with dance and theatre work, is that it might be ambitious in its scale, but it doesn‘t necessarily investigate itselfto the full.’
Unabashed, Nash targets parochialism as an inhibiting force on creativity. ‘I notice that people don’t seem to get themselves out (of Scotland) to have other experiences,’ he contends. ‘Not necessarily to copy ideas, but to absorb some elements of other work. Because I’m not Scottish, I’m not interested in this kind of mono-culture, this national identity. I ﬁnd it really frustrating. I seem to see quite a lot ofit. I would have thought it would be something that had been worked out by now. We seem to be reverting to a kind of narrowness which only presents work from our own immediate experiences, instead of experiences from other cultures or societies.’
By using dancers from different
backgrounds and introducing them to his own hybrid style, inﬂuenced among other things by a spell with Trisha Brown in New York, Nash has learned the virtue ofdiversity. ‘A major challenge with Giant is that you can’t ask an eclectic group of dancers with their kind of experience and skills to reproduce what you do. You input it as an idea and you see how they take it on. I made the decision to stay outside of Giant so that people don’t say, oh well that’s what it’s meant to look like. The others do it beautifully, it’s them, not me.’
Traditional forms of dance have always claimed the largest percentage of government funding, with ballet maintaining a stranglehold. ‘Ballet doesn’t interest me. Partly because it’s got such a strong narrative line, yet they use what is basically an abstract movement form to describe what is a story. To me that’s a bit of a cheat. I’d rather ﬁnd a new language to communicate anything I’ve got to say than use a stock vocabulary.’
It has been argued that in an effort to be different, dance has become inaccessible. However Nash refutes this: ‘People like Lloyd Newson from DV8 talk about obscurity. But I don’t think that people are being deliberately obscure or pretentious. They’re expressing whatever it is they have to say in the way that they believe they should say it. My experience is that if you try and make your work accessible in the conventional sense, you actually reduce it to the lowest common denominator. For example, some work I’ve seen in Scotland, which claims to be accessible, just re-inforces a whole load of stereotypes; really sexist stereotypes. They make huge presumptions about the audience: that they are‘romantically inclined, like a good story, and are 100 per cent heterosexual. I prefer not to make those assumptions. If Giant alienates some people then that’s a risk I have to take. I don’t want to make work that’s guaranteed to be 100 per cent popular.’
So why has dance remained underexposed7‘1t‘s very deep-rooted. It suffers because it’s traditionally thought of as a woman’s activity. Therefore, like all professions highly populated by women, it is considered to be second best. As an art form it is considered as frivolous and nancy. So who’d want anything to do with it? It’s an offence to patriarchal masculinity. That’s reﬂected in the fact that it’s badly represented in education, as the arts are generally, in funding and in media coverage. An important aspect of the 20th century is the emergence ofvery prolific women choreographers like Rosemary Butcher, Siobhan Davies, Sue MacLennan, Lea Anderson and Yolande Snaithe. Instead of being the tools for the work, which ballerinas always have been, they are now the makers.‘
Giant is at the Tram way in Glasgow from 27—28 February, and the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh from 5—6 March.
The List 23 February — 8 March 1990 7