by Donald Hutera
Catherine James jerks spasmodically on the balls of her feet. The twitching, indecisive bundle that is Henry Montes suddenly goes languorous, as if suspended in sleep. Eventually up on his feet, he stumbles about as if taking his first-ever steps. A floor-bound couple is restless. A handful of people slip in and out of line, eddying round each other in packs of three and four. Paul Old is hunched-up, arms folded protectively in front of his body. Deborah Saxon draws near as if seeking the warmth he so badly needs. People attempt to fit beside each other, a telling physical suggestion of how hard it can be to coincide temperamentally with other human beings.
These are some isolated moments caught during rehearsal of Siobhan Davies’ newest work, Plants and Ghosts. (The piece premieres in a hangar at an old US airbase north of Oxford at the end of September before coming to Umbrella.) The dancing in it is alert and nuanced, multi-level and multi-directional, justifying this revered British choreographer’s observation that “a good dancer is a brilliant essence of humanness.” In this instance, Davies’ humans have geometric extensions. At one point a couple of the performers carry on thin, bendy white rods, which wrap tautly round their user’s arms or are even placed between their teeth. Later two thicker, rubber-tipped metal poles are brought out and utilised within the choreography. A further and final section of the work feature a few dancers on low stilts.
“I tried to be rigorously abandoned,” Davies says of her approach. She began by eliciting short, simple but closely examined movement from each dancer based on functions of the body (like blood or breath). “The idea was to really look at it and try and build from that, not from your training history or habit.” These early bits were about singling out movement that could progress in almost cellular fashion, and grow. The dancers were then directed, Davies says, to bring a sense quality to the human entity or organism each had made. The structural jigsaw assembled from this creative research includes improvisation and authentic sign language.
Among the ideas Davies was drawing on was a Nietzschean notion that “people have to be rooted. However, their imaginations are able to move anywhere.” In dance terms, she admits, “this can be a pleasure and a problem.” While aiming for a work possessing order, composition and flow, she never underestimates the value of instinct and accident. “You might say to yourself, ‘I’m going to do a piece about evolution.’ ####!” A dance’s true meaning, she says while wiggling her fingers, is in the details.
Aurally Davies’ dance relies on a score from composer/sound sculptor Max Eastley, and a brief piece of accumulative text (about a woman who accidentally bites her own tongue while at a restaurant) by playwright Caryl Churchill. Eastley’s contribution is rich and resonant, an odd blend of familiar sounds: swiping static, submerged reverberations, whistles and whines, a rattling motor, thunder, spacey insects, tinkling alarms, ticking clocks, escaping gas. Davies calls her relations with Eastley “a great partnership, but quite raw at the same time. Where I fall down on the word collaboration is, I always think someone’s going to suffer. It can be a sink-word for artists. You have to be properly tender with each other.”
She understands from the inside dance’s dichotomous nature. “It’s a balance between seeing the obvious - what we understand - and what dance does, which is completely other.” For the dancer, Davies says, this means “finding out what your body and intellect can bring to bear and build that up, but not to produce what you already know. That’s why people work in this company. There’s a beauty in letting go of all the training and habit. At the same time, they have to get up in front of people in a few months and look fantastic.” With the modest, marvellous Davies in charge, that goal is well within reach.
WHO: SIOBHAN DAVIES DANCE COMPANY
WHAT: PLANTS AND GHOSTS
WHEN: WED 9 - SUN 13 & TUE 15 - FRI 18 OCT
WHERE: VICTORIA MIRO GALLERY
ON SALE: FROM 17 JUN £12 (CONC £9)
TICKETS: 020 7863 8000 (SADLER’S WELLS BOX OFFICE)
<small>[ 09-09-2002, 01:39: Message edited by: Donald Hutera ]</small>
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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