Let’s Dance

Jane Saren

Jane Saren is a native of Edinburgh; she has lived elsewhere in the UK including some formative years in Liverpool, working for Social Services in a community development role. Her professional interests encompass public policy, particularly health & social care; good governance; communications; and transformative innovation. Jane established a public affairs company prior to Scottish devolution and is the author, with James McCormick, of ‘The Politics of Scottish Labour’s Heartlands’ in Hassan (ed) 2004.  She is currently employed part-time in a charity which works broadly to promote social inclusion. Jane is an Associate of the International Futures Forum and Trustee of a grant-giving charity. Within the current somewhat febrile climate of public discourse and political activity, Jane welcomes her involvement as a Global Cultural Fellow as a timely opportunity to explore the power of artistic expression to communicate emotion, challenge ideas of ‘otherness’, and foster a sense of human connection.

doi: 10.18278/aia.2.2.21

In 1995 I saw Pina Bausch’s production of Nelken at the Edinburgh Festival. I was captivated from the start when the curtain rose to a field of carnations: plastic flowers, upright as if sprouting from the stage.

How do I attempt to describe the performance? Nelken included music, screams, gunfire, Alsatian dogs barking, sign language, and spoken words. It was powerful and subtle, playful and brash, sensuous, and brutal. There were allusions to German history and culture, yet Pina Bausch’s artistic voice was universal and oblique, a transcending place. What staggered me was her work’s capacity to tap into some shared well of consciousness and experience, by-passing the critical brain; despite the force of its impact, she left space for each member of the audience to discover the personal resonances and co-produce the meaning of the performance.

Siri Hustvedt (2011) states of Bausch’s work:

“Although one can feel the ferocious rigour of her choreographic vision, one does not come away with a message or story that can be explicated. One cannot encapsulate in words what one has seen. Rather her work generates multiple and often ambiguous meanings which, for a viewer like me, is precisely what constitutes the extraordinary strength of her choreography.”

These qualities of ambiguity and shared midwifery seem to me wholly apposite in this age of noisy social media, political polarization, and readiness to characterize difference as threat. Another Edinburgh-based Global Cultural Fellow, Chris Creegan (2017), has blogged on the need for us in Scotland to “learn to disagree well” in our conduct of both public and personal political discussion. Hear, hear to that. Writing in the midst of a General Election campaign, I find myself somewhat jaded by the stridency of what was once my passion, the cut and thrust of adversarial politics and associated power play. Surely there is valuable learning about intercommunication, dialogue, and exchange to be gleaned from art?

Graham Leicester (2010), Director of International Futures Forum, develops this idea in making the case for an extended practice of international cultural relations as “both part of the change we need, and a means of achieving that change more widely”. He argues that in a global age, the many cultures of the world can no longer grow and thrive in isolation and, rather than clashing, should seek to “dance together”. In doing so, our ambition has to be greater than mutual understanding and embrace genuine engagement and exploration with “the other”.

It is acknowledged as a commonplace in public affairs and business that we live in an era of fast-paced change and a relentlessly disruptive world. Seventy years ago, the founders of the Edinburgh Festival have bequeathed us a great legacy which allows us to immerse ourselves in a broad diversity of artistic experience within a setting that encourages the airing of divergent views. I look forward to the festivals and the chance once again to be transported by performance.


Creegan, Chris. (2017) Indy Ref 2: Can We Learn to Disagree Well? http://www.chriscreegan.com/blog/2017/03/13/indyref-2-can-we-learn-to-disagree-well/ (Accessed 12 May 2017).

Hustvedt, Siri. (2011) Pina: Dancing for Dance. DVD essay for Pina, film directed by Wim Wenders. New York: The Criterion Collection.

Leicester, Graham. (2010) Cultural Relations: an Idea Whose Time Has Come. International Futures Forum. http://www.internationalfuturesforum.com/iffblog_old/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/cultural_relations_iffgl.pdf (Accessed 19 March 2017).