by Annie Wells
February 13, 2004 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
image by Franz Kimmel
Britain’s original radical choreographer Rosemary Butcher marked her return to London with her latest “conceptual” dance work "WHITE", a captivating cross-arts response to “descriptions of survival in the Siberian Artic and reports of the final days of Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic Expedition”.
Prior to any action, light and sound set the scene. Charles Balfour’s icy beams and Cathy Lane’s hollow winds combined around the screen at the centre of the bare space to transport imaginations to a foreboding, frozen place. Three performers entered to begin the cyclic, clockwise, journeys that provided the work with its underlying structure and momentum. Martin Otter’s simultaneous live projection of the women’s magnified images looped back across the screen behind and served to intensify the impact of the severe physical and emotional experiences portrayed.
With bodies braced as they would be against such environmental extremes, each performer devised her own way to struggle through the hostile space. Varying states of determination, supplication, desperation and resignation found expression in the shapes that reverberated poignantly through the stage and screen bodies. The fact that no one ever broke from their personal pathways to interact physically or emotionally highlighted the individual nature of any battle for survival.
"White" by Rosemary Butcher, image by Franz Kimmel
As the work entered its climactic second phase, the mix of sound, light and shadow created an almost corporal sense of the ever-worsening conditions. Alone in the space a fourth performer set out around the track to illustrate the experiences of explorers such as Scott in the final stages of their fatal journeys into cold expanses. Running, trudging or crawling, her body and its projected images used any possible way to push forward. There were fleeting moments of hope when through sheer determination the internal impulses of the body were able to overcome those imposed externally. But as tensions and storms mounted she maintained less and less control over how, where and why her body shook. As this performer so chillingly showed, when relentlessly exposed to and racked by powerful forces of nature the human-will, however resilient, must ultimately give in, allowing the body to breakdown and finally freeze.
Butcher worked in the early 1970s with artists from New York’s pioneering Judson Dance Theatre Group, in particular Rainer, Paxton and Brown and was one of the first to introduce theories on making dance from ‘everyday’ movement, collaborating with artists from other disciplines, and taking ‘spectacle’ out of performance to the UK. a . Well demonstrated in this hypnotic and rousing amalgam of light and sound, live and video-recorded movement , Butcher’s ability to keep pace with the increasingly exigent demands of the present day dance scene while maintaining a clear link to the artistic and philosophical ideals of her heritage is clearly a factor in her decade spanning success.