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Flash Review 2, 6-5: Busting Borders
Butcher Blends the Forms Smoothly

By Colleen Teresa Bartley
Copyright 2001 Colleen Teresa Bartley

LONDON -- The London Premier of "Scan" reminded me why Rosemary Butcher is one of the most respected choreographers in England. Performing in a main room on the first level of the Hayward Gallery, Butcher masterfully crafted the dance, lighting, minimal music and film into an examination of movement and intricate patterns. Dance is rarely presented in this way anymore, as most intimate spaces are reserved for live visual art performance.

When I first entered the gallery, I was surprised to find that a small square stage had been constructed, surrounded by chairs on all four sides. I had expected the piece would engage with the gallery space or some art contained within the space. Instead, a mini-theatre was created. The audience was seated around the stage like a frame, containing the energy of the piece.

Two male dancers, Paul Clayden and Henry Montes, and two female dancers, Lauren Potter and Rahel Vonmoos, entered after a short time with the atmospheric music. The four dancers began coupled, one man with each woman, and developed active sequences involving contact, slicing across personal space, extreme highs and lows and straight linear pathways with frequent changes of direction. The feeling created was rushed and precise, like the well-oiled machine of a busy city, with the organized chaos of people going every-which-way with determined purpose. The partnerships changed to male/male, female/female and then again to the opposite male/female partnerships and back to the original partnerships. Individuals and couples developed signature movements and repeated the phrases from different perspectives and angles.

A sense of violence was conjured with sudden drops to the floor, giving into gravity, extreme falling and catching, and the manipulation of each other's bodies. Often one performer would hold another back with full force, then let them go or hold their wrists above the head. This aggression was counterbalanced by the intimate nature of the lifts and holds and some of the tender ways the dancers placed hands on their and their colleagues' different body parts.

The intimate size of the audience and their close proximity to the dancers left some breathless. At times, one of the female dancers reached forward into the crowd, just barely at the level between the heads of the people in the two first rows of chairs, almost stretching into their personal space before retreating. This gesture of barely poking through the invisible curtain between audience and performer suggested a broken barrier, but the energy of the dancers stayed confined to the small platform. The performers moved to the edge of the platform, teasing the audience with the idea that they might come forward, even with their gaze, but they never actually broke through.

Butcher did not challenge the audience/performer relationship. The roles of viewer and viewed stayed clearly defined. Perhaps her choice of gallery space instead of theatre space suggests a way of looking at her work that is more like appreciating fine art in a gallery or museum. In this way, people appreciate the aesthetic beauty of a piece (its line, form, shape, and content) without engaging directly with a body. Perhaps she is asking the audience to look at the line, form, shape, and patterning of abstract movement without engaging in the tendency to create meaning beyond the movement structures.

"Scan" was both sculptural and lyrical, including moments of fluidity within the precision. Butcher slowed down the pace of some movement, suspending lifts and extending partnered work, with one dancer standing counterbalanced on another's leg or draped over another's shoulder. The slower speed relieved us from the massive amount of quick changing movement. She layered the material so that transitions would be subtle, but gave clues to the logic behind her work.

Butcher presented the dancers as a reflection of forces as well as human bodies. Included in the purely functional manipulation of body against body and awkward lifting were other more gentle moments: A male dancer playfully held his female partner at the waist, kneading her skin and walking his hands along the surface of her body, before carefully wrapping his arms around her waist as if it were a present, his gaze fixed on his hands the entire time. The other male dancer held his partner's head on both sides before letting her drop backwards into his arms.

The composer and sound designer, Cathy Lane, employed abstract sounds which developed from static noise to voices and other electronically pleasing and grating sounds. At certain times, the score seemed the focal point, while at other times, I had to remind myself to listen. At one point I noticed that the music had changed from voice to droneand I wondered how long it had been that way.

The team of Vong Phaophanit , Greg Pope and Claire Oboussier were responsible for visual concept, film and lighting. Simple columns of light crossed the stage vertically and horizontally (depending on from which angle you viewed the piece), first in a single beam and then in multiple beams. The grid pattern suggested linearity but the changes in thickness and intensity suggested softness. The lighting transitions moved the work forward without an obvious cueing effect.

One of the most interesting moments occurred as the performance transitioned from live dance to dance film. The performers danced center stage lit only directly above by the film projection, their shadows mixing with the film image. My attention shifted from live bodies to shadowy images with the shadows morphing and breathing a life of their own on the film projection. The dancers then exited one at a time to leave the audience with the film.

The film was projected from directly above stage center. The first images were of a hand coming into the frame, appearing ghostly or angelic as lit from behind. As a result, the hand appeared soft, as if the skin blended with the surrounding air, blurring the border between flesh and atmosphere.

The film developed to include extreme close-ups of a foot making contact with the floor, with the reflection of the studio floor adding a glimmery glow to the toes. This allowed for the careful examination of the delicate shifts of weight involved in standing, balancing and placing the foot on the ground.

Once the audience relaxed into this perspective, the film moves on to include wider shots of the body and larger movements, ultimately exposing the process of making the dance. Two dancers are shown rehearsing with Butcher, seated at the side of the room giving direction. The images show fragments of movement, a facial expression, the point of contact between the dancers, an arm swing, Butcher's strong arms describing an instruction. Intercut are fragmented voices of the performers. This gave insight into the construction of the dance, exposing its intricacies and complexity, as well as the gritty, working world of the dancer.

"Scan"'s well-crafted, sleek presentation of dance, design, lighting, sound, and film is a rare find in the contemporary world of jumbled and confused cross-collaborative, interdisciplinary performance. Butcher's partnership with a strong visual and lighting design team explored and presented her choreographic ideas in an intense, contained, and explosive manner. I wish more dances would be presented with such thought and precision.

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