There had been torrential rain earlier in the day, and so I wore walking boots and wet weather gear to go to Gemma Peramiquel’s site–specific work Botanic Dance (part of Oxford Green Week) in South Park. Would the performance take place at all, we wondered, but there was a notice at the gate on Morrell Avenue telling us to follow the red arrows, and so we made our way across the huge expanse of damp grass to the copse at the top of the rise. The cast, children, teenagers and adults dressed in black leggings, assorted green tops and white sneakers, greeted us. We sat on a fallen tree trunk, surrounded by a semi circle of freshly planted flowering pot plants.

Then the music started (improvised on a fiddle with percussion, and later on a squeeze-box). We were asked to turn round, and saw the dancers who had secretly gathered behind us moving among the trees, interacting with them as well as dancing around them, almost treating them like partners.

We were all invited to join in, forming a linked chain that continually renewed itself, as the person at the front of the line ran to the back (‘Go now!’ whispered the dancer next to me … I wanted to explain that I was pausing for a second listening for the end of the musical phrase, but thought I had better do as I was told, and ran). Dancers let the audience members rest and watch as they formed a procession of two lines moving towards the planted flowers. I had a moment of anxiety as they picked all the heads off one of them, but then we were on to the next section, all walking downhill in two groups, encouraged to notice the grasses, the buttercups, and to make a wish on a dandelion clock. This engagement further disrupted the distinction between audience and performers, before we gathered together for the final ‘gallery’ show, in which the cast danced solo, in duets, or in groups, some in the open, others under trees or emerging from bushes. Even the adults seemed tiny figures next to the tall trunks, and with their green costumes and idiosyncratic movements it was like watching the woodland folk from a children’s book or a story in a 1960s Brownie Annual. It made me acutely aware of how small mankind is in relation to the whole of nature.

The sun had come out, the rain was gone, and despite the cold, the dancers kept smiling: I found this an immensely enjoyable and accessible dance experience, both as a spectator and as a somewhat hesitant participant.

Maggie Watson

16th June 2019

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