Throwing sand and dancing to whale music: is this art?

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For the second year in a row I have tried – and failed – to see an event at Salisbury International Arts Festival.

Last time I was excited to be going to Stonehenge to see it lit up as a fire installation. Artists had been shipped from France to set fire to the stones, for a magical experience.

Sadly the British weather put paid to the French art and it was cancelled. This year I was excited about a 100-strong male Welsh choir performing in the cathedral’s cloisters, a piece based on the First World War. Except I turned up 24 hours late. I must learn to read the small print or at least think about the dates instead of assuming I have it fixed in my head.

Nevertheless, I took the family and the in-laws, who were on a trip from Canada, and exposed them to some culture. And culture it was, because none of us understood half of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of dance (this has been a recent addition to my cultural repertoire), but when it involves flinging sand – in multiple acts – I get a bit lost. There was a lot of dance. And a lot of sand.

One dance troupe was stuck on an island and to the sound of a stereo system playing whale-type music, spent half-an-hour gazing at the sky, doing cartwheels, a bit more gazing and some sand-flinging.

The audience watched, bemused. I hope. Maybe it was complete understanding and I was the odd one out? I bustled the in-laws out so they didn’t ask me to explain.

The next act did a lot of writhing behind a blind (effective for the first three minutes) before more writhing on top of a big wheel – again all to music. In fairness, the handling of a pint glass between them was impressive. The sand-flinging, not so much. But I felt suitably cultured by the experience.

The great aspect of festival performance though, is the other members of the audience. Like the woman who stood behind two awesome blokes dancing a street fight scene, and ate her banana. She hadn’t a clue her self-imposed integral role was a parody of a society that watches but doesn’t intervene.

There’s culture and there’s culture. I am, it turns out, a culture chav. But that’s OK, because I think most of the truthful are.

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