On an Open Choreography Performance Evening at SDD

Open Choreography Performance Evening, Saturday 28th April, Siobhan Davies Studios
Janine Harrington, SOME TIMES | The Uncollective, Augmented Superpile | Marina Collard, Something’s Going On
Originally written for DRAFF magazine (link here), reproduced below:

Like sand tumbling down a dune; like a glacier breaking off; like a virus proliferating through a body; like a choreography falling apart. Janine Harrington’s excerpt from SOME TIMES presents five dancers undertaking a slow, synchronous rotation on their hands and knees. Weight shifts, backs curve, bones grind in head-down concentration; they turn, with consideration, without respite, without protest; and then startlingly, and at no particular moment, cascade out into a Brownian drift.

A series of single words falters out: “Glacier. Bacteria. Age. Circle. Sorry. Whale.” We skip through different kinds of time: personal time, human time, the time of the natural world, the time of civilisations, the time of the body, the time of nobody. “Love. Getting trashed.” It’s unclear whether this text is pre-scripted or generated through some constraints; the performers carry themselves with a sense of studied adherence to some precise yet obscure set of rules. We’re sitting around the edges of the room; I have the desire to walk and resettle into a new perspective. My imagination flicks through the kinds of spaces in which Harrington might intend to present this work: public institutions, civic institutions. The Parthenon. Platforms of discourse and democracy. Places which mark time; places grand enough to full into ruin.

Weight shifts. Hands are withdrawn and repositioned with a sort of smoothness that goes beyond function – it sort of looks like the group are sifting through something: a hopeless search after suffering some terrible devastation. Coupled with how this sprawling text is intoned – maybe intentional, or maybe unavoidable when head-deep in this sort of somatic micro-attention – there’s a Beckettian existentialist quality to the work. The dancers persist with this painful, tiring process: collectively, individually, with sensitivity, without indulgence. Bones, knees, floor, turning, turning, turning. Learning to live with a very new sense of time: the Anthropocene, the end of humanity, a hope that there might be some kind of life that’ll outlive us all.

Downstairs for Augmented Superpile by The Uncollective, two figures experiment with ways of being together and apart in a dance studio littered with gigantic pale droplets of expanded foam. Squatted over a bit of protective plastic sheeting, Eve shakes/jerks/fucks a canister into a soft sticky and growing mound. Michael presents and carefully repositions the dried sculptural forms. Eve dances: powerfully lunging, plunging and humping her way across the space. Michael repositions himself, awkwardly draping and rearranging his body along the floor. Eve watches.

This piece is announced as durational: the performers shift between various possibilities and ideas in their own time, and we are told we can come and go as we please. I step out, and on my return see them interlocked on the floor, humping bumping turning twisting. I wish I’d seen how this had come about; but perhaps a certain FOMO is inextricably part of the way that The Uncollective are working here. Avoiding the fixity of a singular or finished performance, Augmented Superpile is more like some kind of temporary and nomadic open studio – inviting us to be witness to a process of testing, thinking and hanging out.

So what are they experimenting with? There’s an evident intensification of gender and sexuality: Eve’s tank top has been cut to reveal her breasts, Michael’s trousers reveal his bare buttocks; and subtle subversions of who gets to move with a space-filling dynamism and who restricts themselves to delicate pose. However, there’s a pervasive tone of coolness (the lights, the clothes, the way in which they carry themselves, the slurred soundscape); a performance of rebelliousness that begins to feel like an unquestioned normativity of its own. I relish the moment in which a canister of foam sprays uncontrollably outwards across the floor, shocking a speechless Eve into a brief exchange with Siobhan Davies Dance staff. What frameworks do artists need to establish within a process of experimentation, and what has the capacity to puncture a preferred aesthetic? How much must be fixed down before we can attend to the unexpected?

Back in the roof studio, Marina Collard has powerfully transformed the space; we see a single performer framed through simple sidelight and a wall of dreamy projected visuals. Tom Paine’s camera wades forward through an inverted forested wilderness; these explorations of an exterior landscape provide a backdrop of soft disorientation for the performer to move within her own sensorial enquiry. Collard’s movements are articulate and undertaken with great skill; reflecting an enduring and close consideration of movement and the body. She pauses, catches herself, accelerates into something more intense: I find myself leaning forward and nodding. As the piece persisted though, I craved for her to look out, to speak; to do something to trouble the framework she has established. Collard’s work remains within a private psychic space; an earnest performance of exploration and doubt that settles quickly into comfortable rhythms. Uncertainty begins to have a very certain look.

The theme of disorientation running through all these performance might be understood to echo a wider disorientation felt within the UK dance scene. Around this evening of work in progress/in process, we can ask: what are we actually working towards? Where do we want (or expect) to show our work? And to who? Is there any market for this stuff? However, Siobhan Davies Dance’s commitment to making itself more porous to the independent scene is very welcome, and Harrington, The Uncollective and Collard made use of the evening in different ways – presenting excerpts, an open studio practice, and a full work in its own right. But further: the cracks between these performances provided a fertile context for the recent wave of conversations taking place between artists around self-organising and collective ambitions for the future. I look forward to seeing how artists will continue to experiment with nights like these: as a space to test ideas with an intended future elsewhere, or a new kind of platform in itself for which we might be producing and presenting our work.

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