The Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House hosted Matthew Hawkins’ Silent Rhythms 13 and 14 June. As the performance drew near, dancers appeared along the peripheral edges of the performance space. Donned in warm-up clothes, feet are primed, a few brushes, and hip sockets are tweaked, with concentration and purpose. Matthew Hawkins is standing behind the piano stage left, with Yalckun Abdurehim, Soraya Han, Kirsty Simmonds, and Tan Temel standing off stage right. There are no legs or backdrop in this performance space and the floor is wooden resembling more a dance studio than the lino surfaces of most stage spaces. It also appears carpeted runners have been used to define the performance space. The runners making a grey demarcation along the edges of the space indicating the crossover and stage right and left off stage spaces.
Hawkins’ aesthetic is clean and pristine. Presenting his interpretation of classicism, Hawkins sets relationships in space coordinated with sequences of single and several connected tableau and movement phrases that hint metaphorically to passages of Hawkins’ written text printed in the program. Hawkins “copious notes” reveal their own touch of poignancy through the dance that transforms these words into movement syntax. In this manner, Silent Rhythm as embodied knowledge becomes the affirmation of written text. What is seen in the performance space in its own way is a beauty all its own from the carefully placed arms and legs that stretch into sculptured poses to chiselled lyrical gestures defining the space and setting relationships that pull the eye to see etched moments. Silence is laced with live piano and the recorded music of César Franck Piano Trio no. 4, opus 2. Definition in space and clarity in gesture performed in the dance is surrounded by the lighting of Charles Balfour providing the viewer easy access into Hawkins’ landscape, Hawkins’ aesthetic. This is not cutting edge gimmicky stuff. This is neat and precise. Even the unitards, all in ones, scooped neck with no sleeves, designed by the designer PEARL are precise and reserved even when the dancers’ sweat faded the sketches of skeletal bits to reveal the muscular bits below.
Associated with classicism confirms a longevity with a canon of knowledge that is established, accessible and shared between several dance communities. The form of Silent Rhythm is a blend of ballet and contemporary dance techniques that are fodder for a visionary like Hawkins whose own embodied knowledge has a particular bodily architecture and dynamic. Hawkins takes the gems of his dancer’s embodied knowledge and weaves a work of crafted subtleties. “This whole affair is a crucial clasp” Hawkins writes and alludes to the content of the work. The combinations of movement intersect the space and coordinated in a manner to border and thus accentuate chosen moments. Each one of the dancers has a number of gems, individual presence and proficiency in movement and then there was dancer Kirsty Simmonds who also played the piano at several points during the performance. The dancers’ various exits were not an end to their pervious contributions to the event but once arriving on the grey runners they became voyeurs of the work. Moving sculpture in a gallery is imagined and at moments I had a desire to get up and move to another place in the space to view, as Hawkins and his dancers did, another perspective of the work. Hawkins’ dance should really take place in the round. As Hawkins stood downstage, close to the audience just left of centre I sensed a confidence and reverence as the dance progressed before our eyes, before his eyes, all of us watching taking in the excellence of the dancers who were fulfilling his direction.
Hawkins is the kind of choreographer who doesn’t innovate as much as he renders or is it reminds you what harmonious, lyrical, poetic combinations can reveal. As Hawkins himself writes “you point” to a space where dance is about graduations in dynamic, well timed demarcations in space, spatial relations and bodily designs that define their own inner significance, chiselling their own benchmark in the performance space. Similarly, Hawkins chisels his own benchmark in the canon of dance making and dance performance.
THEA NERISSA BARNES