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Siobhan Davies Dance Company - 'Bird Song'

by Elizabeth Schwyzer

October 31, 2004 -- Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London

Halfway through "Bird Song", the Australian Pied Butcher bird warbles its beguiling cry, and long-limbed Henry Montes responds. As the bird’s cry slips beneath his skin, his movements describe not mimicry but possession. He shudders with an intimate awakening as sexual as springtime, and just as sweet and fresh. His body sings. It’s from this central song that the dance radiates outward, passing through seasons and moods at turns harsh, melancholy, and gently curious.

Davies chose to set "Bird Song" in the round, a physical structure that reflects the radiating structure of the choreography itself. The dancers extend towards the encircling audience and retreat in relation to one centre. Light and sound come from above, enclosing the audience in a shared space with the performers. Adrian Plaut’s lighting is evocative, haunting, and beautifully integrated. Under the stark, grey light of a full moon, the dance takes on a frightening intensity, the dancers compelled through a bleak, barren landscape. David Ward’s visuals—shimmering pixels and flashing arcs of light—seem to dance and sing to the wide-ranging musical score, arranged by Andy Pink.

From the onset, the dancers operate with finely-tuned flock mentality. As one undulating body they stop and go, freeze and rewind, cower and twitch.  Whether they move in one large group or many smaller ones, movement vocabulary is established, picked up, and translated. Two dancers lie on their backs and slide their arms along the floor like children making snow angels. In another corner, four dancers begin to swing their arms from the shoulder socket, creating lines, through space that diverge, convene, and describe the space between them.

In this austere landscape, music, movement, lighting and visual effects are not so much complementary elements as indivisible parts of a whole. The dancers lunge, skip and dart like water droplets dancing on a hot frying pan; the crackle of static punctuates the space. Pulsing pixels appear on the blank floor and the dancers freeze as if caught in headlights.

The rich layering of "Bird Song" and its multi-directional space create effects so complex that at times it’s impossible to track each theme. Solos become treasured moments of intent focus. Deborah Saxon explores space with other-worldly, puppet-like lankiness. Her arms and head establish a hold on space and hang still as she winds her way around her own limbs, changing direction with luxurious precision.

Other treasures come in unexpected places—a flash of mind-bogglingly fast, understated footwork explodes and dies down, Sarah Warsop’s metronomic legs swing through space, Tammy Arjona hops and twitches like a tiny sparrow. The thing is, it’s all so exquisitely matter-of-fact, so satisfyingly un-psychological; you have to be really watching.

"Birdsong" may be abstract, but it’s certainly not inhuman. The dancers share definite relationships, such as the delicate tenderness between Saxon and Montes towards the dance’s closing. When a third dancer interrupts their tender duet and cuts diagonally across the space to a broken classical score, it’s a jarring interruption, making us suddenly recognize our thirst for fluidity.

Edited by Jeff

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