White Oak Dance Project at Sadler’s Wells
The White Oak Dance programme was comprised of works by American Choreographers Lucinda Childs, Yvonne Rainer and Erick Hawkins (1909-1994). The Yvonne Rainer and Erick Hawkins pieces shown were both reworks from 1960s, whilst the two pieces by Lucinda Childs, who worked alongside Yvonne Rainer at the experimental Judson Church in the 1960s, were choreographed recently.
The Yvonne Rainer work was interesting because of the notable lack of revivals of the work of the Judson group, particularly in the UK. Despite looking dated in many ways, Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A Pressured No.3 (1966) was still both interesting and relevant in it’s choreographic thought and structure. The piece, performed by the whole company, took place on a bare stage and began in silence with a duet. Wearing ‘pedestrian’ clothes (and sneakers, of course) the dancers coolly, almost scientifically, execute a seemingly unconnected and random stream of quirky, disjointed movements including skips, hand rotations, nods and stretches. The piece plays with reverse, cannon and counterpoint and culminates in eight of the dancers repeating an identical motif to the Chambers Brothers’ ‘The Midnight Hour’. Each dancer performs the phrase with what appears random timing, producing interesting moments of unison and cannon. When each dancer has finished he/she simply walks of stage, finishing the work as coolly as it began. The theatrical frame of the formal stage arguably made a significant impact of the on the work, which in its day was performed in a more informal studio or room, changing both the impact of Rainer’s use of pedestrian movements, and probably the performance quality of the work, from its original concept.
Lucinda Childs’ work both opened and closed the programme. Largo (2001) was a solo performed by, Mikhail Baryshnikov (Misha to his dedicated followers). The work was set to Arcangelo Corelli’s soothing ‘Concerto Grosso Op.6’, with the movement dynamics following those in the music almost exactly. The piece consisted of a long, balletic phrase, making strong use of diagonal lines, performed once with a beautifully executed sustained quality, and repeated with the movement gaining a more varied dynamic range as the music acquired light and shade. A humble study, reminiscent of the Judson era in its sincerity yet with a highly technical, ballet based movement vocabulary.
The slightly grander Chacony (2002) also demonstrated a close correlation between music and movement, adding light as a third component to this reflective relationship. The Benjamin Britten score was the driving force of the work, spurring a torrent of triplets, sweeping leg gestures, turns and quick changes of direction, to create an aural and visual symphony. At points the driving, rhythmic music is punctuated by moments of sobriety, reflected with dimmed lights and walking and rocking movements. Chacony is rhythmic and beautiful, and although the combination of music, movement and light is obvious, this seems appropriate somehow. The dancers technique is stunning, and their responsiveness to the score and to each other as they flock across the stage is exceptional, though sadly so much so that their personalities seem to almost be defunct. The work takes an unexpected twist at the end when, in a huge contrast, Baryshnikov appears on stage to dance a highly dramatised solo. Baryshnikov seems to try hard, through the evenings performance, and the ongoing company PR, to avoid a diva-like status and the accusation of the company being a showcase for his talent. This solo certainly doesn’t help this cause.
In Erick Hawkins Early Floating (1961) we get another glimpse into the history of American modern dance. The work draws clear influences from Martha Graham, who Hawkins danced with for several years. Yet interestingly Hawkins dynamics have a different edge to Graham’s. Many movements are bound, yet not impactive as in Graham technique, and these movements are contrasted with more expansive lines, demonstrating not ecstatic release but rather a dreamy floating quality. The dancers beautiful execution of the work emphasises this dynamic sensitivity. The piece is also performed beneath a hanging sculpture, perhaps another influence from Graham. The one female and three male performers wear small hot-pant unitards, emphasising their limbs, which reach through the space with clarity and precision. The number and frequency of entrances and fast shifting spatial patterns make the piece difficult to focus on. However this does help to emphasise the rare, sensual moments of contact and slow movement in close proximity, which emerge out of a seemingly calculated and impersonal gaze and use of space.
This is not contemporary dance at its most exciting, but certainly White Oak commands respect for its stunning collection of performers, who work fantastically as an ensemble, and for its unique programming choices.