“An astonishing void: official history ignores football. Contemporary history texts fail to mention it, even in passing, in countries where it has been and continues to be a primordial symbol of collective identity.”
– David Goldblatt, “The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Football”
The general lack of attention to football (aka. soccer) — or any other sport for that matter — in history and contemporary art is puzzling on the one hand and quite understandable on the other.
Certainly we hear enough about football in the daily papers so why spend another minute on them, right? And aren’t the “higher” arts and letters reserved for tackling more serious subjects?
Yet, doesn’t the sheer popularity and global impact of football merit our attention to it in a way that only the arts can provide? And can we not find plenty of artistic merit — that is, plenty of love, hate, desire, shame, humour, beauty, ugliness — plenty of humanity on the football pitch?
Norway’s Jo Strømgren Kompani has tapped into this abundance in A Dance Tribute to the Art of Football, on next Wednesday to Saturday at Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage. All the concentration, camaraderie, showmanship, competition, and emotion, from the live spectacle to the local pick-up game, are on display here: the involuntary grunts and exclamations that a great play can coax out of the body, the futile moment of resistance that comes before taking a whiff of a sweat-soiled jersey, and the touching, clutching, and grabbing — in all its violence and compassion — that the game sanctions.
If sport isn’t a window into what makes us human, then it is certainly a window into what keeps us human. When the pretences of our precious arts and letters weigh too heavily on our primordial selves, it’s sport that pulls us back from the brink. This alone makes it worth a healthy dose of our attention in the arenas of the “high” arts. And while Strømgren’s A Dance Tribute to the Art of Football gives us a break from the sometimes stuffy arts it also releases us from the often distracting, ad-riddled, hyper-commodified world of football. Taking football off the pitch and the flatscreen and onto the stage allows us to contemplate our connections to this thing that is beamed into our homes, played in our parks, and celebrated in our streets; a thing that makes us move our bodies in all kinds of strange and interesting ways.