Watching contemporary dance often reminds me of wandering round a sculpture gallery, in the sense that there’s always a part of me wondering what the person next to me is seeing. You take your cues wherever you can find them – in the costuming, the staging, any programme notes – but ultimately what’s going on in front of you is a hook, and you hang your own interpretations, your own trains of thought, off it. This probably makes me out to be a terrible amateur. But there’s something intensely personal, I find, about shows like Velvet Petal, in just the same way as there’s something personal about abstract art, ambient music, Rorschach tests. I wonder, I always wonder, what the person next to me was seeing.
This leaves me, watching Velvet Petal, with a bit of a conundrum. The whole thing is clearly very carefully engineered – involving the sort of choreography and movement that takes acres more skill than is apparent to the casual observer. Torben Lars Sylvest’s soundscape moves from nightclub to ambient and is one of the most interesting things about the show; Emma Jones’s lighting design is precise and achingly cool. It all seems very deliberate, very well-chosen… I know what I get from it. But I can’t tell you what you will, or what we’ll share.
And that either works for you, or it doesn’t.
That’s doing Velvet Petal a disservice, I’m sure. There are fascinating moments of movement inspired by photography catching movement. But then there’s a running theme in the sporadic voiceover of making the moment your own, of the perfect second that encapsulates “now”. If this is a show about the millennial’s search for meaning, I still don’t know what choreographer Fleur Darkin thinks. And I’m still not sure I know what velvet petals have to do with anything.
I’ll level with you – I have trouble with art beyond a certain level of abstraction, because I like to feel a connection with its creator when I look at it. If the audience is doing all the work for themselves, and that connection with the creator (or performer) isn’t there, some people ask: is it really art? It is. Sure. It is. But without that connection, that way in, it’s easy to feel adrift. I’m afraid I’m adrift.