dance & aesthetics, mostly
Siobhan Davies and Matthias Sperling’s To Hand and Stephanie Schober’s Traffic both take a broadly experimental, ‘research-based’ approach to dance making, but the resulting works are very different. Davies and Sperling’s collaboration was shown in the Whitechapel Gallery, in the space housing Claire Barclay’s surreal and somewhat eerie sculptural installation Shadow Spans. On the day I was there, Sperling spent an hour crawling round the room balancing on upturned plastic measuring jugs, weaving in and out of Barclay’s sculptures while trying not to let his wiry frame touch the floor. He later returned and repeated the same activity for another hour. For about the first ten minutes it was fascinating to watch, prompting thoughts about space as a problem to be solved, and the body as a tool the mind uses in solving it. After that it became a bit like watching someone trying to do a sudoku puzzle. And that someone won’t let you help.
I was disappointed that there wasn’t more to see in To Hand, but I think this has more to do with the expectations raised by the Whitechapel’s marketing of Davies and Sperling’s use of the space as “live dance performances”, rather than a deficiency in the work itself. The word ‘performance’ perhaps implies some acknowledgement and consideration of the audience, some attempt to engage them and sustain their attention, while To Hand felt more like being invited into Davies and Sperling’s private research sessions ─ you were allowed to watch, but you weren’t the focus of what was going on. Maybe we need a new term for this kind of dance activity, like ’research demonstration’, or ‘live investigation’, or something ─ suggestions in the comments please!
Whereas Davies and Sperling seemed oblivious to the presence of people watching, Stephanie Schober’s Traffic makes a whole-hearted attempt to engage them. The piece is performed by two dancers, Lise Manavit and Keir Patrick, and musician/composer Camilla Barratt-Due, who does the crazy accordion-wielding Scandinavian stereotype disconcertingly well. Traffic continues Schober’s ongoing dialogue with music, investigating the dynamics between sound and silence, movement and stillness. Noises made by the body or one of Barratt-Due’s three accordions find their response in movement, and movements lead naturally and unhurriedly back to sound. Sometimes the sounds regulate and regiment the body, producing rigid knee-jerk movements; at other times the body floats, lifted by a auditory cushion. Music is the ground that both resists the dancers and holds them up.
Traffic could have been another dry presentation of research process, were it not for the huge sense of fun that pervades the piece, and the performers’ unrelenting determination to bring the audience with them. This desire to engage and even to charm leads Traffic to a whole different place. At one point Manavit and Patrick sit down next to each other and enact a movement conversation, accompanied by Barratt-Due’s imitation of a crowd of clangers made by rubbing her hands and feet on a polished board. The notion of conversation, of sharing: between dance and music, performer and performer, performer and audience. A backwards and forwards, to-ing and fro-ing. The desire to connect. And a little joy and old-fashioned flair.