“What is it with this ballet thing?” Martin Creed asks, about 10 minutes into Work No. 1020, which he directed, choreographed and composed, and in which he is at that moment performing. A dancer stands in the balletic first position. “Why would you stand like that?”

He is in the middle of explaining the premise of Work No. 1020 to the audience, in an affable, waffling style. The premise is this: the dancers are limited to the five basic ballet positions, each assigned a particular musical note. The positions are manipulated so that various patterns emerge, like chords or scales made visible.

The evening is a blend of movement performed by 5 dancers, music played by 6 musicians (including Creed), cheerful monologues by Creed and the occasional film projection. The spirit of the piece is cheeky and unabashedly experimental.

Creed finds a wide range of interesting starting points, and he plays each one out methodically. The dancers move obligingly around the stage in many formations, created simply by moving between these positions. Some of the patterns are very clever and it’s fun to watch them develop, having been given a key to the code playing out in front of us.

The premise did begin to feel worn-out, stuck in an elementary stage of execution. Each scale ascends and descends completely. Each pattern by the dancers is developed and then fully reversed. Even the film of his penis shows it going from flaccid to fully erect and then back again. It takes the fun out of it, if you know that every clever pattern you see unfurling will be fully and predictably re-furled.

The theme of limitation extends beyond the correspondance of ballet positions to musical notes. Creed juxtaposes the rigid rules and culture of ballet with a slew of taboo images and words. Peppered throughout the evening are a song whose only lyrics are “f*** off”, a close-up video of a woman’s breast, the aforementioned penis video and the final video of a petite woman defecating. If ballet is all about the rules and what is proper to present onstage, then the rest of it is all about what we are not meant to see. Creed presses against these socially-imposed limitations, cheerily skipping between the carefully constructed ballet phrases, the wild rock music and the film projections.

The irony of placing restrictions on the artistic process is it often leads to expansion. Boundaries are explored, a new vocabulary emerges, the results transcend the constraints. Creed seemed to stay neatly within his self-imposed borders. He colours fully within his lines, but he never thinks to leap from the page. The patterns are interesting for awhile but I found myself wanting to see them thwarted or further manipulated. While the juxtaposition of “proper” vs. “improper” elements is fun, they are never truly connected by anything greater than the sense that they’re just not meant to go together. I came away thinking that this was an evening best seen as a series of snapshots in an artist’s process, rather than a cohesive artistic statement.

© Ben Dowden
© Ben Dowden