SEA OF NERVES
by Donald Hutera
Carol Brown has got her nerve. Literally, as that’s the name of the work this brainy, London-based dancer-choreographer will present in Umbrella 2002. A performance installation with no fixed seating, it explores what its maker calls “the city in the body” via a duet staged on an undulating ramp. “It’s like a runway or road which gives a directional flow to the choreography,” she elaborates, “like the constancy of traffic.” The facility with which Brown trots out such phrases as “urban wave forms” and “riding the city - like skateboarders do” indicates how at home she is with what she’s created. She’d better be, given that she’s also in it. She doesn’t make it easy on herself. In Nerve, Brown says, “two people [her and Grant McLay] meet and animate each other, crash and burn out.
It’s more about states of being and becoming than something happening in a narrative sense. It considers the rub of the city on our corporeality, and how we’re
shaped by the built environments and spatial textures we inhabit. We’re
performing on a moulded asphalt platform under a welded mesh canopy. It feels gritty, because of the ferocity of the partnering and the
roughness of the floor scraping and abrading our skins.
But it doesn’t really hurt.”
Conceptually, and in the details of its production, Nerve fascinates. The piece grew out of Shelf Life, a four-hour performance installation Brown and Esther Rolinson devised for gallery environments. That experience encouraged Brown to seek further possibilities for performance in multi-dimensional settings because “they create different kinds of relationships between performers and spectators.”
A Jerwood Choreography Award enabled Brown to engage in period of research and development with architect Stewart Dodd, of Satellite Design. “I’ve been inspired by the work of contemporary architects such as Zaha Hadid [co-creator of Metapolis, the Charleroi Danses/Plan K production that is also in Umbrella 2002], Greg Lynne and Daniel Libeskind. They all ask questions in relation to cities, bodies and perspectival vision. In particular how we model, shape, carve and incorporate space - and how it informs our movement identity.”
A week of brainstorming with Dodd led to the dramaturgical notion of two strangers in a pliable city. “I was also interested in a duet with a male,” Brown continues, “which didn’t assume a he-she duality, but somehow creates a sense of tension beyond gender.” She’s very good at specifics. “The idea of moving an inert body across an asphalt ramp came out of the issue of the body as something that can be taken hold of and prodded, pushed and compressed by the urban fabric.”
The contribution of Brown’s regular collaborator, lighting designer Michael Mannion, is crucial. Rather than rely on the conventions of theatrical lighting, his work is built into Dodd’s structure. “Lighting cuts through in sharp, white slices from underneath the ramp and down through the mesh,” Brown says, “dissecting the movement.” She also admires Russell Scoones’ sound design, featuring aural samples of street life in Rome, Philadelphia and London.
Nerve is further supported by Brown’s own hallucinatory, cut-and-paste text, which post-dates the choreography. Fragments of two intersecting stories - one about a sleeping volcanologist, the other about a drugged-out homeless girl - were induced by the inert bodies (whether sleeping, drugged, drunk or derelict) Brown spotted on the street, in public transport systems or aboard long-haul flights. She also drew upon the French film Les Amants du Pont Neuf, a wayward, odd-couple grand romance featuring a heroine who is gradually losing her sight.
Nerve is accompanied by the video dance work The Idea of the Sea. Made in Philadelphia with Tobin Rothlein, it charts a lone woman’s nocturnal journey “from the belly of the city to the sea” and contrasts the noise and lights of Atlantic City’s casino culture with the relative quiet of the beach.
“The challenge for contemporary art,” Brown believes, “is to create new forms which don’t rely upon the assumptions of the past.” What’s next for her- “A kind of choreography of psycho-geographies.” Working with a photographer and videographer she’ll be “mapping inner and outer body space.” The Observatory premieres in December at Monaco’s Dance on Screen festival.
Brown may have nerve in reserve, but just what keeps her going-“Momentum. Caffeine. Yoga. Curiosity. Desire.”
WHO: CAROL BROWN DANCES
WHAT: NERVE/THE IDEA OF SEA
WHEN: MON 30 SEP - WED 2 OCT
WHERE: THE PLACE:
ROBIN HOWARD DANCE THEATRE
TICKETS: 020 7387 0031
This interview was posted by Stuart Sweeney on behalf of Donald Hutera and first appeared in Dance Umbrella News.
Donald Hutera writes regularly on dance and arts for The Times, Evening Standard, Time Out, Dance Europe, Dance Magazine (US) and Dance Now. He is co-author, with Allen Robertson, of The Dance Handbook.
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