Permutations: sound, light, dance

Jonathan Marshall: Dance Card 2004

Kristine Nilsen Oma, Dance Card

Kristine Nilsen Oma, Dance Card

The Dance Card mixed bill premiered in 2003, featuring musicians and lighting designers improvising with a changing selection of dancers over a 3 week period. Solos from the first 2 weeks returned for the final week to be re-scored and re-lit. The diversity of styles and relationships sketched through music, illumination and physique meant that one’s reaction to a particular designer or dancer was beside the point: the program was about audiences and artists evaluating each formulation of elements. This year, however, Monique Aucher lit all 3 weeks while Tamil Rogeon was composer for both weeks 1 and 2. This made Dance Card 2004 less invigorating, but it still contained many moments of quicksilver magic.

Aucher’s design consisted of a selection of warm colours: bare, yellowing globes and pinkish-red lights contrasted with blues and greens. These washes were complemented by central highlights and bright white axial corridors. The mixing was beautiful, echoing John Ford’s highly diffuse, colour-based design for Dance Card 2003. However, Aucher’s use of these options was less assured, employing flashes and chases that were not only distracting but often highlighted areas where nothing was happening. I had similar quibbles with Rogeon’s coordination of virtuosic violin highlights, lingering extended playing, dance music-like chordal beats and glitchie or static-like atmospheres. Although seductively insubstantial, the wafting music was often hard to hold onto, or too musically didactic to support the improvisation. Nevertheless, Rogeon’s use of a deliberately circumscribed musical palette established a pleasing sonic cohesion to each night, even if the nature of the solos didn’t altogether merit such consistency.

David Franzke re-scored the solos in week 3 and mastered best the challenges of the program. While some of his sci-fi, low-key soundscapes derived from materials similar to Rogeon’s, Franzke skilfully suggested particular readings. Rogeon’s scoring relied primarily on a paralleling or guiding of tempo, rhythm and texture in performance, carrying elements across the solos. Franzke’s contributions functioned according to an essentially dramaturgical logic, while enhancing the interpretative dissonance and uniqueness of each dance piece by allowing only hints or slight layers to be reworked sequence to sequence.

This difference was exemplified in Kristine Nilsen Oma’s performance. Unlike the other dancers, Nilsen Oma’s movement was predetermined right down to the text she recited and the point at which this was offered to the audience. The movement was essentially Graham-based, consisting of forceful, jerky variations on melodramatic Expressionist tropes, such as an emotional pushing through the chest with the back and head arching behind, or a weaving of arms into and out of the body to represent emotional pain and release. In week 2, Rogeon followed tradition by providing her with emotionally laden strings, enhancing the performance’s neo-Romantic ambience and power. In the last week however, Franzke replaced this with a series of musical cut-ups, including recorded text, music and radio fragments coming in over each other in an electric pastiche. Rather than the cliched model of the angst-ridden artist offering us her suffering, Franzke’s provocative style recontextualised Nilsen Oma’s body as one racked by the infection of multiple languages, sound bytes and cultural references. Instead of the classic, modernist dancing body, Franzke repositioned Nilsen Oma within a postmodernist framework. Even so, he was sensitive enough to drop his contribution to nothing to allow Nilsen Oma’s voice to come out for the scripted finale. Franzke’s work thus combined modesty with highly active musical interactions.

Those dancers working from formal or emotional concerns had largely devised in advance their basic poses and choreographic palette. It was the sequencing of these elements and their nuanced execution which was developed live in performance. It was therefore amongst the jesters that the principles of improvisation were most fully embraced; every element was generated in the moment with typically uneven results. Dianne Reid and Shaun McLeod were superb, employing a soft, elegant take on improvised comedic text and performative pathos. It was their seesawing between unaffected, dancerly turns of beautiful fluidity and more pedestrian movements and banal scenarios which made their nightly performances so affecting.

On the other hand, Michaela Pegum and Siobhan Murphy presented essentially formalistic, semi-choreographed studies given a seductive lilt through touches of emotional execution. With a highly mannered use of self-caresses and a kilt, Nick Sommerville danced a great solo echoing some of Phillip Adams’ concerns in balancing moments of muscularity and energetic bounce with an interesting play of gender.

Pegum’s was the most technical and austere solo, sharply danced in a plain, white costume and energised through particularly measured, often geometric shifts of movement and exchanges of momentum. Her right forearm carved out lines on the floor as her body crouched above, before the obtuse angle of the left leg was echoed and its shape erased by lifting the entire body up and out in a diagonal line, via a transition which was led and articulated through the point of the elbow. Responding to the rising beat of Rogeon’s music or Franzke’s open, charged static, Pegum increased the extent of these movements, while allowing the transitions between them and the falls of the body to linger longer and longer, imparting a palpable sense of sexuality and ecstasy into her open-mouthed performance.

In contrast, Murphy danced from a more impressive, physically subtle space, beginning with irregular crossings of legs and feet, before these absent-minded jumps in concentration and velocity progressed into hands and arms, finally causing the body itself to whirl or half-fold irregularly upon itself. Between these frequent yet essentially discontinuous spikes of activity, the dancer’s eyes flickered and mouth trembled, as hands moved across, in, and above each other, in small, retreating jabs, as though trying to feel out a gesture or a cognitive phrase which would make sense of these impulses. This constant searching for and locating places in movement and expression resembled a fractal version of the thinking body dramatised within the more precise choreography of Rosalind Crisp.

Alongside these promising explorations from relative newcomers sat Deanne Butterworth’s wonderful, effortlessly massive performance. Frequently featured in projects from Dance Works and Shelley Lasica, Butterworth is a master of seductive lyricism. For all the elegant beauty of the choreographic palette she has enjoyed, there is nevertheless a danger that she might simply echo that highly attractive, sparse lyricism in her own work. By dressing herself in what appeared to be a gorilla suit without a head, Butterworth undercut expectations. Floppy ripples of black fur drew attention to the dance’s focus on unforced manipulations of weight through the hips. The fur also highlighted the lethargic beauty of Butterworth’s softly moving form, as she gently released into the ground and then lightly returned to stand using only a few well-chosen, yet unassuming movements. It was the gentle undulation of hairy cloth and inertia that gave this work its ambiguous drama.

Dance Card may have already run its course as an innovative way of dramatising the exchanges generated in theatrically-framed dance, but the plethora of fantastic relationships contained in its 2 year run has been well worthwhile.

Dance Card 2004, curator Helen Herbertson, various performers and sound artists, Dancehouse, Feb 11-28

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 42

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2004