Words by Sam Burkett
When I was applying for dance schools after finishing uni, I saw an audition solo that began with someone handing out raw sausages to the audience. After being offered a sausage, one person refused: “I’m a vegetarian”. The performer nodded understandingly, and gave the sausage to someone else. This interaction tickled me in such a deep way. How human and polite that audience member seemed as they refused to hold a raw sausage in a dance studio in Amsterdam, not because it was a literal raw sausage in a fucking dance studio, but because of their vegetarianism.
Truly, this must be the peak of humour, and I thought it must have been staged. I nearly screamed at how funny it was, but oddly no one else let out more than a restrained chuckle. The performer then took two sausages for themselves and proceeded to run in a circle, cackling and wiggling the sausages for three full minutes. After they bowed, I looked around, and nobody laughed at this either. It was at this moment that I questioned whether I understood dance.
Am I dumb? Maybe, but not because of this.
Contemporary dance does not have a reputation for being a hotspot for giggles, but it is odd to me how intensely serious so much of it is. Even when choreographers do use humour in their work, it seems that the most you can get out of an audience is a sharp exhale that could also be someone suppressing a hiccup, so I’m not even sure if that counts. Why is this? Is it that contemporary choreographers aren’t funny? Probably. Or do audiences take themselves too seriously? Yes.
I think these issues are really apparent when text is involved. A lot of choreographers will use text that could be funny, but they never go so far as writing an actual joke for example. We rely on this woo-woo absurdist humour that I call 17th century sad, French clown. You might laugh, but it’s likely due to confusion and a gentle clowning-induced sadness rather than the comedic value of the piece itself.
All this to say that I think contemporary dance is often inherently funny, but we don’t lean into it. We don’t let ourselves say that it is going to be funny. This could be because we are afraid of failure. Comedy is hard, and humour is subjective, and if you never state your intentions, people can’t question them. I want more dancers and choreographers to try to be funny; to acknowledge that when everyone’s penises bounce around during your exploration of toxic masculinity through the medium of nude Austrian folk dance, it is funny, and people should laugh (this is in reference to an actual piece I saw in Vienna in 2016; the world is a wild place).
I believe that it is important to put your choreography where your mouth is, so if you would like to see some funny dance in action, come see my new work, You’re Alright at Resolution 22 on May 27 2022. It’s my attempt at blending my love of dance, comedy, and physical theatre to take you on a journey through the good, the bad, and the cringe of realising new things about old friends. Come for the casual messiness, stay for the queer nonsense. While I really hope that you feel free to cackle away at the piece, if you don’t find it funny, it wasn’t supposed to be, and it’s actually really rude that you thought it was.
Sam Burkett Dance is a UK-based dance theatre company whose work runs the emotional gamut from happy to sad to hungry to gay. We create dance that is emotionally complicated, but delightfully consumable, and we believe that great dance is accessible, personal, and not boring.
Tickets for the upcoming show at Resolutions Festival 2022 can be booked here: