May 2010

John Moran and his neighbour Saori return to The North Wall on Saturday May 29th at 8.00pm.  For an account of last year’s show by this oddball couple, read Rachel Guildea’s “Bumpy Ride” :

Meeting Thursday 3rd June, Oxford Town Hall (Panel Room), 2-4pm

Moving Voices is a project which provides volunteering opportunities for people aged 16-25, around all aspects of dance. The Oxford committee has been going for about 8 months and have run projects including a trip to Move It in London, and a flashmob in Oxford city centre. Moving Voices is peer-led, meaning the committee makes all the decisions, and makes their own projects happen, with the support of a facilitator and overall project manager.

Projects that Oxford Moving Voices are currently planning include being involved in a flashmob event in Oxford as part of Big Dance South East in July, and a ‘Mini Move It’ festival of youth dance in and around Oxford with workshops, performances and stalls in the Autumn. You can get involved as much or as little as you like – you can come up with your own project and get others to help you run it, or you can come on board for one event only. You don’t have to be a dancer to get involved – there are opportunities for photographers, project managers, for getting experience in finance or event management, or teaching workshops and designing marketing material, amongst other things. Moving Voices offers the chance of getting accredited awards for your work and time, as well as various training opportunities around anything dance-related (which you can suggest or even organise). There is money to cover any expenses so you won’t be out of pocket.

The committee is currently welcoming new people to join and become part of the forthcoming projects. If you would like to find out more – no obligations to join in! – please come along to a meeting onTHURSDAY JUNE 3rd in Oxford Town Hall (Panel Room), 2-4pm(on St Aldate’s near Carfax/Cornmarket St).  Do come along if you’re interested in it even if you’re not sure how much time you can commit – there will be ways of getting involved for just one day if you like.

Thanks and hope to see you at the meeting!

Miranda – Moving Voices Oxford facilitator.

Following DEC at OVADA here is another cross art collaboration event, part of the Oxford City week of ArtWeeks:


A cooperation between a fim maker, dancer/visual artist and musician reflecting our local environment

Malcolm Atkins – music

Barry Reeves – film maker

Helen Edwards – dance and visual art

1 Westbury Crescent, OX4 3RZ 8th-15th May – afternoons 3.30-5.00pm

Further information from malcolm.atkins1@ntlworld.

I was lucky enough to be present at the OVADA Gallery on both the Wednesday and Saturday evenings – and for the Dance and Academia seminar on collaboration and improvisation on the Saturday afternoon. I went not knowing what to expect and came away reeling from the experience.

After Prospero (poem by Robin Kirkpatrick) is a tremendously dense and allusive piece of writing and Susie Crow, dancer and choreographer, and Malcolm Atkins, violin, keyboard and voice composer and improviser, had decided to divide up the work into five sections and to tackle these almost as separate units – which had the advantage of recognising its diversity and richness but which gave Susie the difficult task of re-uniting the component parts almost single-handedly – as it was her improvised solo to Malcolm’s music, that set the tone / tenor and established the main ideas from which the whole evening sprang.

The idea of calling it a solo (my word) is a misnomer from the start – as the creative thrust was interactively steered by both musician and dancer (to say nothing of Robin Kirkpatrick’s textual input) and was also the subject/object of four separate artists’ responses – two or three of whom were on camera, with their work projected onto the walls of the gallery upstairs throughout – like a living changing setting for the dance.  And our thinking / the dance (their common subject matter) was also steered by a display of their work in the lower gallery where we all first gathered for drinks – and where the poem was read aloud before the improvisations began.

The artists’ hands / brushes / compositions – and the very sheets of paper on which they worked – also danced, therefore.   The shadows of Susie’s body intersected with the lines they drew – or bent with them in a curious synergy, even when, facing away from them, she could not see the projections.  They appeared in some cases to trace the narrative she danced – or to narratise the forms taken up.  In others they synthesised an abstract representation of its energy and thoughtfulness.  Moreover the cameras took some of the blacks and fragmented them into deep blue, changing a Chinese calligraphic original into a chromographic spectrum – or focusing on one tiny part of the composition in a way that gave it a peculiar intensity – huge magnification – and a spatial significance hard to see in the original.  The artists could adjust the cameras (they had one each) to reveal different aspects of their work – though in the early stages, in order to keep their own hands free, they tended to clamp them to stands.

The improvisation was sustained for some considerable time.  It was possible to identify a tentative exploration of possibilities that allowed the spectators to work out how the whole thing might develop.  Thus, ENTER as wearing no apparent mask was followed by an assertion that the dancer’s body, and the musical and artistic responses to it, were to frame the entire event: There is no world but persons.

These parameters were reinforced by dance patterns and body shapes that were initially fairly normative, lulling the viewer into the sense that we had no need to answer, alter or be happy.  The dance unfolded in a slow, thoughtful way – though bottom-led movements, an inward gaze and an older dancer all suggested a Prospero figure of wisdom, maturity and female earth-rootedness.  [It will be interesting to see how Helen Mirren plays this role].

Then our detachment was called into question.  Increasingly I could not remain audience – was required to associate with / move with the dancer, focus on her ever more tightly.  Her own internal focus seemed to increase, the focus of artists and music on her intensified, heightening my own focus.  I was astonished – even affronted – to find the gaze of the man to my left cutting across mine to look at something else!

Susie Crow broke out of normalcy, became mechanised, driven, clock-like as well as organic – something I couldn’t wholly account for until I looked back at the poem (in my hands) where clocking-on and industrial reason were mixed with rivers, wind and birdsong – a fusion which required a risk in mind and sense if the rhythms and modulation are to be our own and to echo within and between us.

But it needed no revisiting of the poem to recognise her exploration of baroque encrustations – erupting from her body like sores and decorations and recalling the Venetian Carnival and its risks of putrefaction – or to feel the accusations of subtle enslavement implicit in our love of cultural events even such as this – a hearking back to something more pagan and pure – a cry not from Caliban perhaps so much as Prospero’s Books or Shaffer’s Equus: a declaration that we need to change our pickings of melismata for recognition that while this could be paradise it is not, and that we should be changing it – should engage / alter / be altered.

Certainly I felt it left a space only for perfect attention – and that the call on other improvisers to fill that space and to respond was a direct call to me too to engage.

The other two improvisations (responses from Dan Baird and Ana Barbour on the first evening) were inevitably more immediate – less developed.  But their effect was heightened by the very different languages these dancers employed – by Dan’s aesthetic acrobatics and Ana’s facial as well as physical engagement with the spectators and the situation.  Ana is also very tall, lending her physical presence great authority, but adopted a manner on this occasion very playful and puckish (perhaps Ariel like) yet Junoesque.

In contrast to Susie Crow’s overview, they each focused on a line from the poem chosen for them by a member of the audience.  Dan’s was the line: transformation / from girl to spider or lozenge bright snake – one remarkable for the strength of its original poetic imagery and one that he said had already caught his attention.  And his range of spiderly dance images was impressive, the scrabbling scuttles sideways – suddenness – inversions – unexpected extensions of a single leg [yes he did seem to have almost eight] – surveying the bottom of one foot as if it were a spinarette and tumbling away from it across the dance space.  The metamorphoses were also there, though Dan seemed more taken with the lozenge than the snake – but, since the Lamia associations were for me inescapable and connected to the image of a female sorceress, I felt a loss of the gendered girl / snake throughout.  [As with Susie Crow’s Prospero how can em-bodied art forms escape a gendered reading?]

Both Dan and Ana revisited and reworked ideas, patterned and managed them.  Ana’s given lines were our own being an ending / and echoing within and between us –  and she used them to make ready contact with both the audience and her own inner self, folding herself in on herself, unrolling, revealing, embracing, engaging with the outer world, even moving right through it (us) as one open to contact.  The musician who worked with Dan, the cellist Bruno Guastalla, evoked a whole range of the less usual sounds associated with the instrument – scrapes and rasps as well as notes – and also span it on its spike later on – as if it danced.  Ana was teamed with a violinist, Jill Elliott, and their work seemed particularly interactive so that the ideas flowed seamlessly between them.  Throughout the artists were capturing images, and in the second half of the evening these would be used to trigger the next phase in the development of the improvisation.

This second half of the programme I found less easy to take hold of.  It was infinitely complex.  Perhaps, caught by the tension, focus and energy between participants (and between participants and audience) in the first half, I was tired and unable to concentrate as well as I should – but perhaps to assume you can ‘take hold of’ something like this experience is rather arrogant.  Certainly ideas were coming from and flying in all directions.  The artists limited themselves to two screens but one adjusted her camera sideways-on to the line of dancing figures she had created – so that the projection looked like a Mantegna procession – receding into the distance – but advancing on the camera – and us.  At another point the dancers consciously explored the back wall, setting themselves hard up against the projected images, moving the focus of our gaze along from left to right until Susie’s now small hands were reaching out for the artist’s projected large one.

I suspect that this part of the programme was, for the performers, the most satisfying, developed, total and whole-scale.  But from the audience’s perspective it was, of course, harder to control.  We are pathetically dependent on the eye of a director to select and fashion our gaze – to a single manageable focus for our aesthetic awareness of dynamic visual media.  Here ideas and performance kept flying out of the edges of the vision, intersected and caught the attention – only to be dropped into inaction as the individual artist felt a pause.  But to be able to observe the artists’ working out of their movements was magical – the careful negotiation of space – of shared dynamic – of style even.

The losing of the audience was most evident when it failed to recognise the end of an improvisation – failed twice to applaud, though applause was initiated.  Increasingly however, the dynamic became intelligible.  Relationships were fashioned – drawn between pairs of dancers or between a dancer and an artist – until the dancers coalesced into a central final structure, pulling one another into place, into shape, into balanced cohesion the one with every other.

If the connection between intention and movement was more immediate in the first half – easier to discern and more accessible (with greater tension / investigation of unexplored territory), the intellectual demands of the second half – its recognition that there are no easy answers to relationships in a world consisting wholly of persons, its determination to explore these without more compromises than were imposed by other persons – were enormously worthwhile.

Perhaps the complexities of the second half’s being harder to assimilate are simply evidence that it was harder for a viewer to control.  They offer a genuine sense that life and performance running away with you, though hard to handle, is actually the name of this game. This is in every sense a work in progress.  We as audience were privileged to be admitted to this atelier – were deeply satisfied by so multi-sensual an assault upon us – should have been willing to accept that the director’s shaping hand is absent in this form of theatre to our advantage as well as to our loss of containment:  should have made the most of what we were offered, not asked it to be something else – will do better next time.

Those I spoke to did feel they had been present at something very special – full of a powerful energy / presence – and found the evening highly memorable.

In this context – as in many others – the performer is himself/herself audience to his own performance – feeding back to the group individual response to that group and to its response.  It may be self-referential but it is also mutually supportive and productive of a strong and highly self-questioning group ethos and creative dynamic.

I wrote all of this but the first paragraph on Thursday 22nd – after the first evening and before I had heard either Cecilia MacFarlane’s challenge: “why do you need to know what it looks like?” or Robin’s astonishment at the ways in which all the poem’s themes seem to re-emerge in dance that only purports to look at a single line of it.  Both ideas were clearly already there in my response to what the collaboration had offered.

How was the Saturday different?  What was in me and what in the things I saw?

It’s very hard to say.  I was expecting the format I had encountered on the Wednesday and the event was and was not the same.  Less edge perhaps, and more of a lyric beauty.  But at the time I felt that edge and lyric beauty were oddly compatible.

Susie’s opening dance on the Saturday was more confident, less uncertain and tentative, more complete.  Her second dance, amazingly, had something of both the tentative and the complete.  She had been working on these themes all week.  Her interactions with the projected edge of the paper as it was painted felt really new – yet something to which she was returning.  The artists seemed to be playing with the dancers more.  However (perhaps with the last two, younger dancers) this seemed more formulaic, line following body curve as if it had learned how to play this game – lost the sense of delighted surprise at what they did.

Ana Barbour’s dance (and to have had the privilege of improvising with her at the end of the seminar was such fun) was beautifully done.  The way she span and quivered at the thrust of artist’s brush and hand, her interactions with the other dancers, her awareness of trigger words, her height, the variety and fluidity of her low movements were a delight.

I was better too, at seeing more of what was going forward – at looking two or three ways at once – and still felt I missed much.  Dave (with me on this second occasion only) also felt the problems of an attention divided – was caught by the visuals, the effects of light and jam-jar projected fractures.

Ana Barbour spoke of the four years she spent in India and the East – of the wonderful range of cultural input with four strands of Asian dance coming together – of courses run in the same outdoor space – in close proximity – with all ages and sorts of person taking part – of the fusion / confusion / interconnected, collaborative and parallel endeavours going forward together.

Surely, I thought, this must have been in some ways parallel to the heady mixture of activities and input the likes of Botticelli faced at the Medicean court – ideas and creativity running riot and highly controlled – exploding in all directions but demanding specific outcomes – with a dynamic that held all in its grip.  Is it really too much to hope that, in these kinds of working practices, we may have the makings of our own renaissance.

In fact the second evening (Saturday) simply served to heighten existing responses.  The work was already leaving behind the risky business of the initial negotiations between artists (what a privilege to be present) and was moving in directions closer to those of performance.  It was more finished – revisited ideas in ways that were less tentative, more polished.  By Saturday there was a different kind of tension to it.  Its creative tension crackled less, but the intellectual effort required just to be present felt ever higher.

Barbara Berrington

9th May 2010