dance & aesthetics, mostly
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So here’s the scenario. You’re moving through a deep, dense forest, thrashing your way through the undergrowth, leaves and branches pressing in on all sides. You hear noises all around you, ferns rustling, twigs snapping; you turn to look, but in the dim light you see only green. After what seems like a lifetime of pushing, limbs exhausted and scratched, the trees suddenly thin out, a pool of blue appears overhead, your eyes are dazzled by a flood of white. You step into a clearing.
We can imagine this forest as a metaphor for contemporary life: a vast, teeming jungle of information, bursting with linguistic, sensory, statistical, relational, and every other kind of data. We can imagine the clearing as an open space within this swarm, a pause in the onslaught. The confusion and uncertainty fade; things become clear, simple, and transparent. We are able finally to make sense of what we see, because what we see is what we see.
Charles Linehan’s The Clearing is a dance for four performers, with an original score by Richard Skelton. There is no narrative, nor does it seem appropriate to describe the movements as demonstrations of skill (though the talent of the dancers is obvious). There are no discernible patterns, no expressions of ideas, no hints of character or allusions to external situations. The dance is simply what it is. Or is it?
In the post-show discussion with the choreographer, Siobhan Davies referred to his work as “unspeakable” — as if it possessed some quality no word could stand in for, something that lay outside of verbal language. But is it not the case that all words are to some degree unspeakable? That they all fail to completely signify the certain specific things that we want them to signify? That they never seem to let us say what we mean.
From this point of view, the clearing would seem to be a longed-for impossible dream rather than a metaphysical possibility. And yet, watching The Clearing and its companion piece The Fault Index somehow did bring me into a state of mind where I forgot about the institutional context of the theatre, the conventions of lighting, sound, and staging, the traces of the dancers’ training, the influences of various currents of dance history, the techniques of signification and representation. I just saw what I saw — clear, simple movements.
The works made me stop thinking, pushing a kind of reset button in my brain. Or perhaps, more precisely, they made me think of nothing — the question, “thought of what?” became unanswerable. Being someone who likes to know what he thinks, I was and remain deeply unsettled by this. Isn’t not thinking equivalent to a shirking of responsibility, a surrender to mindless consumption? Isn’t the refusal to say something a turning away from the world? Yet the self-sufficiency of each swing of the arm and stretch of the leg persists. The dance gives itself fully, while giving nothing. A disruption, an interlude, like a clearing in a thick forest. This potential to unsettle and disrupt is one of the reasons why I need art like Linehan’s in my life.
Charles Linehan Company: The Fault Index / The Clearing
Thursday 19th May, The Place, London
Dance and visual art fans need not worry though – this blog will continue to be active and will still be covering the same wide range of subjects. Expect a response to Charles Linehan’s new double bill soon!
“You had leaned over the still pool of some Greek woodland and seen in the water’s silent silver the marvel of your own face. And it had all been what art should be–unconscious, ideal, and remote.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, quoted in the programme notes for Cie. Daniel Abreu’s Equilibrio
The stage is full of trees. They stand tall, ancient and immobile, or maybe swaying a little. But are they trees, or are they people? Or perhaps microphone stands? A woman slowly prowls on all fours, hunting. A woman rushes in, looks around, hunting. And what is that sublime music?
This is George Balanchine’s Serenade (1935). Or maybe it is Cie. Daniel Abreu’s Equilibrio (2010). This is the beginning, or the end. A journey through nature, or a becoming nature, an already-being nature. A cerebral animal. A migratory bird. Something human, or perhaps not.
Serenade states its case plainly, but there is something about Equilibrio that seems to fall into muteness, like the mute stare of a dog, a silence that conceals the world. A world that is always just a little bit further on, through the trees, a rustling of leaves, a perfect balance, a perfect equilibrium. Read more of this post
Adorno once claimed that “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric”1, an accusation that has managed to upset quite a few writers and literary experts over the years. It’s difficult to say whether Adorno was being ‘serious’ or not; at any rate, perhaps his intended target was not poetry itself but the callousness and indifference of a poetry industry that, in the face of the evidence of overwhelming suffering, simply carried on as if nothing had changed. Suffice it to say that Adorno’s challenge did not signal the End of Poetry in the West. It did, however, prompt a fair amount of soul-searching among those brave enough to claim the job description of ‘poet’, forcing them to think long and hard about what, after Auschwitz, their poems could possibly mean. Read more of this post