Dancers can watch dance in an almost participatory way; they physically empathise as they observe, virtually feeling the movement more fully than the rest of us. Thanks to mirror neurons, which can activate the same parts of the brain whether we are doing an action or merely observing it, the more experienced we are at performing a movement, the more our brains engage while watching it. In a limited way, we become the football player, the character in the video game, the dancer.
At the The Cambridge Junction last week, I got a glimmer of what that experience might be like for dancers thanks to Idiot-Syncracy, Igor and Moreno's distillation of Sardinian and Basque folk dancing and chant into a strikingly simple, modern form.
We all know how to jump; and for most of the performance the London based dance duo did just that: they simply jumped up, down and around. I found myself jumping along with them in my mind, cast back to boxing or basketball practice, to playground games, to bounding around as a small child.
By itself, this might seem minimal to the point of silliness, but Igor and Moreno manage to engage most of their audience throughout using a range of smart, simple tactics.
Before starting, the two young men in mundane sportswear stand still and deliberately make eye contact with every member of the audience. Eventually, they begin chanting a rather beautiful Sardinian folk song that -- like the staging and the “dance" itself -- is distilled to its essence, varied slightly and repeated. Slowly, gradually they add movement: the trembling of a hand, the beginning of a step, challenging us to anticipate and discover the next move. Then the jumping starts.
We are asked to focus and we do: on gestures, rhythms, the sound of feet, infinite small variations on the jump as they weave in and out of the large white sheets that background the show's natural, minimalist aesthetic. They fall in and out of synchrony. They change clothes while jumping; Moreno casually discards his track suit, Igor carefully folds his away in a small gesture of character and individuality. They dance mostly for us, occasionally for each other.
The performance is largely done without background music, the songs are a cappella. The jumping itself seems chant-like, almost ritualistic in its repetition and variation. I start hearing - perhaps imagining - rhythmic patterns in their steps. Where the focused mind can't find a pattern it creates one.
At one point they do add a loud low hum over the speakers -- a seemingly Brownian noise that evokes an industrial threat to their playfulness -- and they seem to lose their way. There's a political point being made here in the clash of folk tradition and mechanism, but I would have preferred they kept to silence and footfalls.
As things threaten to flag, they bring out the alcohol, hopping between the seats and sharing with everyone, gathering us in again with another gesture borrowed and simplified from folk traditions. It’s naive fun, and it works.
They sing some more, in Basque this time, vary their moves, dancing more traditionally now. I occasionally get the feeling that they don't trust the audience's ability to enjoy the simplicity of it all. The show has a hazy narrative flow, a succession of fleeting gestures of joy, sadness, humour, frustration, longing, triumph. I'm glad when they just go back to jumping. The occasional nervous laughter in the audience hints that they may be right to make a few nods to mainstream dance, but I think it's unnecessary.
I wonder what the dancers in the audience think of all this. Is it too simple for them? There certainly isn't any of the usual breath-catching virtuosity for them to admire -- even thrill to -- as their mirror neurons fire away.
But maybe we clumsy mortals have had a chance really to focus on bodies in motion, to empathise and engage in ways that we rarely do with more complex dance. Igor and Moreno say that they felt like Idiots when they thought up a show about just jumping. They needn't have, the whole thing is remarkably clever and captivating.