The less seriously he takes himself, the more his audience appear willing to suspend disbelief. This – it seems to me – is the peculiar genius of artist, and sometime shaman, Marcus Coates.
His East London gallery is currently showing a four-year-old film in which he visits ‘ordinary’ people in their homes or workplaces and, prompted by a question they’ve prepared, dances for them.
No music comes between the artist and his private audience. Coates will remove his glasses, as if to put a check on his intellect. But this is his only concession to costume.
He takes the locations as he finds them. There are unwashed dishes in the kitchen and discarded beer cans in the bedroom. There is an everyday drabness about the office.
And no matter how comic you might find in the notion of answering questions through the medium of contemporary dance, Coates plays these performances quite straight.
The only comedy comes within the terms of the dance, as he flings himself on the floor, stampedes on the bed, convulses on the carpet, headstands against the kitchen counter.
His audience don’t laugh and neither do we laugh at them. It is to their unending credit that they take this project seriously and express their reactions and insights with great respect.
And so Coates and collaborator Henry Montes (a dancer who has presumably coached the artist) bring out the best in their audience and demonstrate how open minded people can be.
There is a sense that this experience has been at worst merely interesting and at best genuinely useful to the three participants, who face problems ranging from distractibility to indecision.
Coates reminds us that dance is a primal activity. But there is a quietness to the way he presents it here, which implies that putting on a wild improvisation is the most natural thing in the world.
(Whether your scene is a nightclub or a wedding disco, maybe take along one or two live issues to your next dancefloor. The first problem can no longer be, Do I look stupid right now?)
A Question of Movement was commissioned by Siobhan Davies Dance and can be seen at Kate MacGarry, London, until 24 October 2015.