Motion & Meaning presented by DANSOX and the Liveness, Hybridity & Noise Series has been an exciting multi-disciplinary collaboration between dancers, choreographers, composers, instrumentalists and audio-visual artists facilitated by a week-long residency at St Hilda’s College. The project culminated last Friday in a ‘showing’ of the work in progress, alongside an exhibition by artist Simon Klein and sculptor Guillaume Klein. Open rehearsals on Wednesday and Thursday last week revealed some of the opportunities and challenges intrinsic to truly collaborative work: the importance of grace and generosity in allowing other artists in different media sufficient time and space; the need for mutual respect, and the courteous adjustments to be made to accommodate different etiquettes and conventions. The preparations were fascinating: we watched the very young composer Sophie Sparkes rehearse the mature and experienced musicians of Ensemble Klang from Holland; we saw choreographer Estela Merlos working co-operatively with dancers Piedad Albarracin Seiquer and Liam Riddick using improvisation; we observed the carefully structured creative approach of choreographer Malgorzata Dzierzon, and experienced the way in which Patricia Okenwa’s dance work, only partially disclosed in rehearsal, seemed to emerge from its chrysalis in performance.

To take the pieces in the order shown, Dzierzon’s Cue, to music by St Hilda’s graduate Anna Appleby, is an exceptionally strong collaboration between composer and choreographer that began in the earliest stages of musical composition, resulting in a particularly satisfying close-knit work. The first dance interval opens in silence, the stage bathed in rose-coloured light. Dancers Seiquer and Riddick stand side-by-side but face away from each other. She carefully reaches sideways towards him, and then withdraws her arm as they embark on a conversation of missed connections embodied in movement, in which they respond to each other’s smallest gestures; they are together, yet apart. Merlos’ How many eyes do we have then, being two …, a disturbing dance to music by Joseph Currie danced by Riddick and Seiquer, followed. The dancers start propped up against the front of the platform, below the musicians, but my eyes were drawn away from them by the extraordinary sounds made by the percussionist (Jonathan Bonny) who seemed to play the xylophone with a bow. The dancers slither to the floor, and gradually rise, coming together, in increasingly complex layers of rotating movement, always drawn upward toward the light, like souls rising from the grave for the last judgement.

The final dance work was Okenwa’s Grim’s Ditch, to music by Joel Baldwin danced by Riddick and Merlos. This piece, which brims-over with ideas, imagery and associations, would have benefitted hugely from having more time in preparation to develop and perhaps condense the content, which referenced, among other things, Elizabeth I, art and poetry, and included Latin chanting. It was a wonderful example of co-operation and exchanging roles, with the trombonist (Anton van Houten) singing, the mezzo soprano Michaela Riener joining the dancers on stage and lying down between them, film by (composer) Sparkes projected on the dance floor and the back wall, and (choreographer) Merlos performing as a dancer.

It was a huge achievement on the part of all the artists to bring these works to performance level in such a short time. The audience, which included dance practitioners, musicians, and academics from Oxford and beyond, was in itself evidence of the extensive interest in DANSOX’s work and its value both within the University and externally. Each of the works performed would merit its own review, and I hope that there will be further opportunities to develop and perform them. A big ‘thank you’ should go to Professor Susan Jones and DANSOX, to St Hilda’s, and to the John Fell Fund for bringing such gorgeous dancers and other exciting creative artists together in Oxford.

Maggie Watson

12th July 2018