'Diary' ('Journal intimé)
by David Mead
May 8, 2008 -- Patrick Centre, Birmingham, UK
“Diary” (or “Journal intimé” as it was originally known in Québec) was originally commissioned with adolescent or teenage audiences in mind. As choreographer Hélène Blackburn explained after the show however, that wasn’t exactly at the forefront of her mind when making the piece. As she quite rightly said, it can be difficult to trace a dividing line. And although you can see why it might work especially well with teenagers, it equally works pretty well on other levels too.
The near hour-long work is essentially made up of a series of snapshots linked by the subject of love. And just to make sure we get the message, the dancers regularly stop to explain what is happening. Whether this is because Blackburn feels there is a need to explain things to her originally intended young audience isn’t clear, but some of it is quite amusing in any case. The dancers even occasionally burst into song, unfortunately quite badly. Not such a good idea!
‘Diary” consists of a series of short sections ranging from around 30 seconds to 2 minutes. I suspect that’s an adaptation to the presumed attention span of the youngsters the work is aimed at. But why not try and engage them with something more substantial? It can be done and there is so much scope here with which to do it. While the strength of the theme and the movement style manages to keep the work coherent as a whole, the structure of the piece absolutely prevents anything from really getting a chance to develop. That movement features much of Blackburn’s trademark physicality, complete with some high quality partnering, although I have to say that I could have done with a little less clapping and slapping of thighs.
A huge, huge plus for regular dance-goers was the live music. Most of the work is accompanied by selections for solo piano by Bach, beautifully played live on stage by Laurier Rajotte. Further layering comes from video imagery as live camera work of the dancers is projected onto the backcloth, and the thousand or so tea candles that flicker away in the background.
After the show, Blackburn explained how teenage audiences react very differently to the work compared to us adults. Apparently, they giggle, laugh and whisper to each other as the dancers kiss. All a bit different to the Birmingham audience, from what I could see without any teenagers at all, that sat in near-silence. That’s not to say the work didn’t connect or make an impression. From the audience remarks after the show, it did, at least for some. It just could have been rather deeper.
While the totality of “Diary” is an all-round theatrical event, it has to be said that it’s far from intense. Not so much about love as relationships. Love should be special but the effect of speech, especially when added to the pedestrian jeans and vests worn by the men (the women are in something closer to rehearsal dress), gave the work much more a sense of the everyday. But then again maybe that’s just what love is – everyday and special at the same time, and different for all of us.