A series of reviews in response to Dance4′s biennial festival of dance.
Eleanor and Flora Music | Nora | iC4C | 11.03.17
The audience sit along one side of the room in two long rows, watching Eleanor and Flora go through a choreography of exquisite and bewildering detail. Nora work in the frame of the studio, with its matt black floor and thick white walls. The curtains have been pulled back, and the open windows look out over Sneinton, anonymous in the dark. The piece feels ‘abstract’, not trying to show us anything in the world other than itself, but I invite myself to consider – if this is a representation of something, what could it be? Maybe they’re two slightly nerdy cheerleaders, who’ve put way more time and effort than necessary into preparing this routine. The audience (their peers?) are happy to watch, even though they’ve evidently forgotten or ignored most of the conventions of how cheerleading should feel or what it should look like. This gives rise to further questions – if not cheer, what might this dance be attempting to give rise to? What kind of sport will start when they finish? What team, or group, might we all belong to?
Eleanor and Flora Music is a choreographic translation of Morton’s Feldman’s For John Cage.Rather than setting a dance to this music, the piece uses the original score as choreographic notation. Invited by Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion to undertake this particular process (which they began with Both Sitting Duet in 2002), what Nora end up with is fascinating both in its similarities and differences to the original work.
What’s common to both is the unique tonality made possible when working from a musical score. The sequence of movements don’t really flow, but unfold as a series of distinct notes/gestures; an independence, a one-at-a-time-ness, with which to compose playful patterns of repetition and divergence. But in contrast to Both Sitting Duet, Nora make the subtly complex decision to perform the piece standing. Jonathan and Matteo’s work, in their choice to dance while seated is often restricted to hands, wrists and arms; becoming a precise poetry of control, precision and manipulation. Nora’s use of the whole body shifts this dramaturgy to one with a much broader relationship to clunkiness and awkwardness – not just in how their own bodies meet the score’s specific demands, but in how they deal with the bodies of the music stand they’re reading from, and of each other.
This isn’t a problem for the work, but a source of its richness. It arises most clearly in strange moments of proximity and confusion: Eleanor and Flora, standing extremely close to one another, faces screwed up in concentration, working out a particularly complex rhythm as they move within and manipulate the space between themselves. Although there’s a clear friendship that infuses their work, it comes across more as the practical intimacies of commuters or co-workers. A certain task-like quality, where the transgression of interpersonal distance has become banal in everyday routine and necessity.
Something else comes from this too; the physical presence of the score in the space, and the discreteness of the movements it proposes, maintain a kind of distance between the performers and what their bodies are doing. Eleanor and Flora’s reactions to what’s going on become a kind of epiphenomenal layer to the whole thing; their counting of time, their concentration, their staring out into space in momentary boredom, or (most often) their slight amusement at the absurdity of the situation. They’re working with a non-expressive kind of dancing, without feeling the need to eradicate their continual and minor expressivity throughout the work.
Without becoming an empathetic relation, this distance produces a sense that we’re all, dancers and audience alike, orbiting the strange proposal this performance makes. Nora feel delighted and open in their uncertainty: what might it mean for them to be performing this, and asking us to watch? What thinking could it make possible? The whole thing situates itself within an aesthetic register: the studio separated from the outside world, and the dancing playful and speculative. But Eleanor and Flora Music pushes at the edges of this, asking what it might mean for this abstraction to be so overtly produced, maintained and corrupted by the dancing body.