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 large oblong screen at the centre of the undressed space to transport imaginations to a foreboding, frozen place. Three performers then entered this illusory reality 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 powerful 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 physically or emotionally interact seemed deliberately to highlight the ultimately individual nature of any battle for survival.
As the work entered its climatic 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 clockwise track to deliver a microcosmic interpretation of what explorers such as Scott might have experienced in the final stages of their fatal journeys into deadly 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 mental determination the internal impulses of the body were able to overcome those being externally imposed. 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 the more powerful forces of nature the human-will, however resistant or resilient, must ultimately give in, allow the body to breakdown and finally freeze.
Although by no means essential, a limited knowledge of Butcher’s connection to the early development of Post-modern dance - she 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 - did give this at once hypnotic and rousing amalgam of light and sound, live and video-recorded movement a satisfying additional depth. Well demonstrated here, 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.