Motives for movement

Eleanor Brickhill records Rosalind Crisp’s Omeo Dance Project

Some dance writers make it a point of honour to avoid personal involvement or knowledge of the dancers or choreographic process prior to seeing a performance, hoping that the work might somehow be less tainted by their own biases, and they will be clear of ‘irrelevant’ distractions, more objective, a state counted as desirable and attainable. Indeed, it would be silly to pretend that having seen a dancer’s work over many years, liking their attitude, understanding the process with an intimate kinaesthetic awareness, a viewer wouldn’t enter a performance with certain expectations, a particular focus and set of assumptions, all of which carry a high intellectual charge.

With this in mind, my understanding of Ros’ work is a long one, having, in this particular project—part of her MA honours thesis at UWS—been invited to document over five weeks the three dancers’ internal thought processes, even to intervene by suggesting what they seemed to me to be doing, and requiring them therefore to respond by explaining in words that very intuitional improvisational modus operandi.

So, with the feeling that any ‘performance’ is just a momentary crystallisation in an ongoing process, I watched this particular manifestation. And in fact, the lights, designed with Iain Court’s delicate touch, and the palpable expectations of the audience induced a feeling of closure, pinning down some of the ideas, and making invisible some of the more vagrant possibilities in the work, threads of ideas I had seen before, too errant to become part of this ‘performance’ pattern.

What I have often seen which distinguishes Ros’s work is that its subject matter tends to be open and layered, inviting contemplation. Each performer can be seen not as a technician parading various accomplishments, but as an individual with a uniquely developed personal language and physical demeanour. The motives for movement are different for each of the performers. Even though my ‘outside eye’ might have relied on its ‘dancerly’ experience, in the absence of a studied choreography, I was drawn more often to what seemed like ordinary, if heightened, behaviour, thoughts and feelings and their physical expression, the ‘non-dancing’ character of each, the parts that can get submerged beneath specific styles.

Julie Humphreys, in her dance Telling Stories to the Sky, has a most distinctive improvisational persona. Perhaps it is not her intention, but her dancing seems to draw from a slightly eccentric emotionality, a whimsical, funny, secret shyness, a state of mind that anyone might remember having been in: not feeling sure, being vulnerable, self-conscious, and aware of your own foolishness, in a place where there is no hiding, and no alternative except to be yourself. It is not about epically beautiful feelings or lines, or ‘aesthetics’, and indeed she is not hidden behind any ‘dancerly’ performer’s shell. What you see is Julie Humphreys being really funny, breathing and laughing, sitting with awkwardly folded legs, running, gesturing, looking sideways, communing with something as if she’s watched, being herself, and reminding us about the soft, secret, silly side of being human, in this particular rather difficult and distracting environment, this public exposure called performance.

Gabby Adamik’s solo, Tidal, seems more straightforward in its dynamics. She works not so much with a muscular strength as with a central physical core to her body, undergoing seizures by waves and currents, pulling her to extremes, and back to calm, being thrown around, but clothed in a more indeterminate flesh which plays little part in these internal ebbing tides. Gabby’s is a short, contained and well-formed idea, a strong and supple solo, with a rich, clear texture, a rising-ebbing symmetry.

Ros Crisp’s duet with Gabby, Audible Air, has a similarly uncluttered structure: the dancers commence, widely spaced and obliquely angled, on either side of the stage, moving around and past each other, to change places. There are meetings in this dance, responses, awareness of each other’s presence, self-containment, listening. It has a cooler, less intensely personal quality. You might see only one dancer at a time, widely separated as they are, depending on which side of the space you sit. I was aware of their changing spatial relationships, creating a deep and acutely angled field. The image of a blurred distant figure behind one which was very near and crisply focused, made a strange photographic image, emotionally more removed than the other pieces.

Ros’s solo rendition of Audible Air, opening the program, also works with a quiet physical listening, not so much concerned with perceiving external sound, but with a slow internal cyclic resonance, waiting for the seep and swell of sensation and attendant imagination through the body cavities, through the breath, along axons, charging synapses, waiting, filling and emptying again from her body’s contours.

On one level there is a clear dancerly beauty in her energy and gesture. Her expression has a practised and refined emotional sensibility about it—unlike Julie’s more unravelled quality—which rests easily on a long and established physical practice. If speed, control, flow and precision are not primarily what she is concerned with, those qualities come to work inevitably and extraordinarily, providing a compelling focus for those who might find unsettling any departures from orthodoxy.

In the program notes, she has quoted Claudel:
Violaine (who is blind): I hear…
Mara: What do you hear?
Violaine: Things existing in me.

Omeo Dance Project, Four improvisations directed by Rosalind Crisp: Audible Air, Solo—Rosalind Crisp; Duet—Rosalind Crisp and Gabrielle Adamik; Telling stories to the sky, Julie Humphreys; Tidal, Gabrielle Adamik. Omeo Studios, Newtown, February

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 40

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 1998