by Annie Wells
October 3, 2007 - Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, London
Dance Umbrella 2007
Solid and coherent, “Two Quartets” worthily marked the current position of British dance stalwart Siobhan Davies’ four-decade spanning career. Simple and spare, quality triumphed over quantity in this work of two parts. Set astride an interval, it was superficially easy to consume. But for those wanting more than just a visual tid-bit; there was plenty both within and between the disparate halves to sustain a more cerebral analysis.
In two teams of four, eight mainly long-associated Davies dancers – Andrea Buckley, Laurent Cavanna, Theo Clinkard, Henry Montes, Pari Naderi, Sasha Roubicek, Deborah Saxon, Sarah Warsop – gave performances that bolstered the strong composition of each quartet. Unerringly intense, their contributions remained simultaneously true to their individuality and community as artists. Weaving into the collective product in the same seamless way, the voices of composer Mateo Fargion, visual artist Sam Collins and fashion designer Jonathan Saunders added further depth and texture.
With the link between the two quartets by no means explicit, aesthetic evaluations would be based more productively on contrasts than comparisons. Their deliberate juxtaposition therefore gives the spectator a reason to step beyond the immediate sensual satisfaction offered, to explore a more intrinsic territory.
Though set back in the conventional proscenium-framed space, the first quartet was reminiscent of Davies’ other non-figurative explorations of shape, time and rhythm (“Plants and Ghosts”, 2002; “Birdsong”, 2004). The second was more representational. In the first, the individual dancer was valued in the objective terms of his or her function as a cog in the kaleidoscope of abstract groupings. In the second, choreography, staging and design revealed the dancers in a more singular, subjective capacity. As their own corporeal response to story and emotion, the movement allowed four distinctly human characters to develop.
Included in the programme, Theo Clinkard’s rehearsal diary gave an engaging insight into the impetus and process of the creation of “Two Quartets”. He talks of the “fundamental simplicity” Davies prioritizes as the “key” point of access to her work. Practising this principle, she hooked the spectator into her first quartet with patterns that eventually – however complex – always emerged from and returned to the elementary foundation of a line, circle or square. The oppositions that swung through these patterns like pendulums of dynamic and texture were visually referenced by the flow of black to white in Saunders’ costumes. Fast related to slow, back to front, intense to light in a correspondingly primary but equally hypnotic manner.
Mateo Fargion’s soundtrack of formerly unstructured vocal observations was a further aspect to the first quartet that shouldn’t go without comment. The apparently random nature of words and phrases such as “kettle boiling”, “duet”, “Ravel”, “Brahms” and “nuclear physicist” gathered significance with the momentum of the dance. From choreographer to spectator they could have reflected the triggering thought patterns of anyone with involvement, active or passive, in the unfolding motion. The underlying challenge was to let go of the human urge to find logical sense and instead accept the quartet for what it was – a simply fantastic occurrence of shape in time and the space.
In conventional terms, the second quartet’s electronically produced keyboard and string accompaniment seemed more musical in rhythm and feel. Echoing those in the first, verbal elements were now distorted and difficult to decipher. In contrast to a former expanse and flow, space and movement were now fragmented by Sam Collins’ four oblong screens. Their clever transformation from opaque to transparent alternately hid then revealed the dancers. This design device had the effect of a zoom which framed the dancers one-by-one and sent the focus to the minutiae of their individual motion.
Simple sequences of found movement, such as the catch and throw of a ball, were at the interface of more complex configurations. It was within these re-ordered patterns that the dancers’ four characters grew. They filled the space with their neurotic humanity and a second twenty minutes of captivating dance.