THE WHITE GARDEN OF MOVEMENT: 'JARDIN BLANC' BY YOLANDE SNAITH
Robin Howard Dance Theatre, The Place, London, 25th October 2004
Dance and gardens, dancing gardens, gardens as dances. According to the study of dance historian Jennifer Nevile, during the Italian Renaissance the creation of gardens and the writing of dance treaties bore several similarities in terms of space control and shaping. In seventeenth and eighteenth century France this correspondence seems to have further developed with even more intricated patterns. "Jardin Blanc" by Yolande Snaith Theatredance, especially commissioned by Dance Umbrella, does not follow this tradition, at least not entirely. Snaith and some of her numerous collaborators, have researched the idea of 'gardens of movement', as she puts in the programme, for two years. They have visited all sort of gardens, from English country gardens to cactus gardens in the California desert. The result is an articulated work, that confirms Snaith's virtuoso capacity for visual works where all the aspects of the performance actively interact with each other.
There is a flowy synergie between all these components. To name a few, Jean-Jaques Palix's music which is never too intruding, the visual part, a combination of the work of visual artist Sharon Martston, theatre designer Miranda Melville and lighting designer Chaine Yavroyan, is refined and poetic. The spoken texts by Adele Edling-Shank is particularly warm and swinging, especially thanks to the device of what has been termed as the 'talking light', that is a kind of Japanese lamp from which the voice comes in some lyrical moments of the piece. And of course, Snaith's choreography, beautifully mingled with the moving props, at times characterised by sustained group phrases, at times by solo pieces or pas de deux, rich in delicacy and tenderness.
Among the moving props, what caught my attention was the white columnlike scultpure placed on the left of the stage, it represented a sort of magnet during different phases of the performance when some of the surreal 'gardeners of movement' explored it, touched and caressed it, hid behind it….the opening scene presented a transparent curtain which diagonally cut the stage, behind it one of the dancers appeared to initiate us into the dreamlike world of "Jardin Blanc". The dancers were dressed in white and only after a closer look did I notice the fine plant drawings which were almost appearing and disappearing from the folds of the fabric as the dancers swang and turned in their movement phrases.
Of particular visual impact was the abrupt unfolding of a flame red curtain that cuts the stage in an opposite diagonale with respect to the initial transparent curtain. This event opened a tango flavoured episode with a sensual duet and the figure of a third dancer jelously looking at the two lovers. This touch of red was explained by Sanith herself in the enriching talk which followed the performance. It was inspired by mediterranean gardens and the way the sun sometimes hits the terracotta so typical of those areas. This warmth is embodied in the colour of passion par excellence, that is red. Following different questions from the audience and from Betsy Gregory, Associate Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella, who was chairing the talk, we find out that the idea of 'a garden of movement' is also very much associated with the idea of home and England. Yolande Snaith is now living and working in the United States and she has suffered from a cultural dislocation which has affected the genesis and development of "Jardinn Blanc". Nevertheless the piece benefits from the cultural diverse background of the dancers none of whom is English.
Dance and gardens, dancing gardens, gardens as dances. A recurring image remains stamped in my mind, that of the bubbled white and long skirt worn by one of the two male dancers, he ritualistically walks in it, he crawls in it, he repeatedly turns in it at the far back of the stage and circling the talking light in the front part of the stage…hypnotic sets of whirpools echoing the key words pronounced at the beginning and at the end of the performance: "Have I seen this garden or have I dreamt it?"