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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
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
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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