Vocal Clarity - Interview with Siobhan Davies
By Donald Hutera
Image: "Oil and Water", choreography Siobhan Davies
What impresses Siobhan Davies the most? ‘I love it when somebody has the balls to be absolutely clear about what they want to do,’ she replies. The highly-esteemed British choreographer’s own dances are celebrated for their clarity, but it’s a quality that has nothing to do with conventional storytelling or a literal interpretation of physical actions.
Take her latest work, Bird Song. Devised in collaboration with the eight members of Davies’s eponymous company, the hourlong piece received its world premiere in April as part of the third edition of Dance Northern Ireland’s Earthquake Festival of International Dance.
‘The dancers are not being birds,’ Davies remarked during a pre-show speech. Rather, the impetus behind their efforts is an investigation into how sound shapes movement. The resultant performance is laced with felicitous discoveries and quiet marvels, heightening and blending our senses in a way that enables us to watch closely what we hear and listen intently to what we see.
‘I was looking for a
piece of music that would really enter into me,’ says Davies explaining
her creative motivation. After loads of research and rummaging in music
shops, she came upon a recording of the song of the Australian Pied Butcher,
whose alluring call is heard mid-way. The dance fans out in either direction
from this concentrated centre point. The unusual structural choice is
paralleled by unconventional seating, with the audience a few rows deep
on all sides of a square performing space. Such proximity, Davies rightly
feels, fosters a greater intimacy between the dancers and us.
Certain sections are improvised. The filigree of fidgety rhythms eventually subsides, inducing an alert calm that is the heart of Bird Song. It’s the solos that got me. The wonderful Gill Clarke lands two, both beautifully cast in a combination of David Ward’s floor-filling video projections and Adrian Plaut’s masterful lighting. In one, set to a soundtrack of clicks, Clarke keeps reaching up in a manner that is at once nervous, insouciant and joyous. In his solo long, tall Henry Montes (a National Dance Critics’ Circle Award winner) is pure poetry in motion, alternating between arching back with raised arms, twitching his middle and sudden stillness.
Clarke and Montes also pair up, melding their superbly attuned bodies together. Their kind of dancing seems to make time stand still. This is what Davies’s work, at its best, is made for. In our noisy, hyperactive world, her meticulous subtlety is a cause for genuine excitement.
WORDS OF WISDOM: SIOBHAN DAVIES INTERVIEWED FOR THE ROUGH GUIDE TO CHOREOGRAPHY
‘I don’t know that they necessarily always get the choreography, but I think people like to watch dancers and they get information from that. Because there’s a language about how people move which, if they’re genuinely accurate about what they’re doing, starts to give information.’
ON THE JOB OF THE CHOREOGRAPHER
‘I am the editor, the director. I support the dancers as I can, and choose what I think is true to the task rather than general movement. My job is to coach it out and to throw away. Our tendency as artists is to do too much: “When in doubt do a bit more.”Whereas, in truth, when in doubt probably do a bit less.’
ON THE AUDIENCE
‘Each audience has a very particular take on the work. If you try and think of them as individuals, then you are going to do particular work. If you start to think of them as a mass, then I think you start to make sort of mass work.’
‘The truth is nobody feels what you felt. They are not going to feel that weight rushing around in your body. But they will get something else. So one of your jobs is to try and make the feeling as clear as possible.’
‘But the truth is, if
I bring an audience who hasn’t seen dance before, and I hope I am
being completely honest and straightforward about my rather odd work,
quite often they go, “Sure, I got that. What’s the problem?”
This article first appeared in the Spring 2004 edition of "Dance Umbrella News"
Donald Hutera writes regularly
on dance, theatre and the arts for
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