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Flash Review 1, 7-24: In 'Court'
A Dance Installation for an Audience of Three

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2003 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- In its own calm and quiet way, "Court," a duet for an audience of three by London based choreographer Angela Woodhouse, is a dance collaboration which challenges the status quo of dance performance. Why? -- because it poses some fundamental questions about space, intimacy and the audience/performer relationship, and it redefines a refreshing dance/art aesthetic. Performed in an installation created in collaboration with textile artist Caroline Broadhead, which consisted of small rooms suggested by white layered muslin walls, "Court" lasted a fleeting fifteen minutes, though it runs July 26th through July31st. It was a liberating night out to see dance, as the venue was the small, stylish Barrett Marsden Gallery in London, and consequently free of the usual dance baggage and expectations. Also the night I was there, I was joined by one other audience member so it felt like an exclusive private view.

Woodhouse directed us to the two different entrances which led to the center of this muslin maze and left us like a couple of children arriving at the gate of the secret garden to make our own way in. First I noticed the texture of the white material which was slightly patterned and slightly transparent with a pinkish hue. Next my eyes were drawn to small mirror glass mosaics arranged on the floor which reflected onto the ceiling, like stars. In the center of the maze were some pillars and some delicate chairs made out of the same material. It was a mini heaven of purity and beauty, a chill out zone for the jaded dance spectator.

Walking along my corridor to the center of the maze I met my dancer head on, while the other member of the audience met his dancer although I could barely see them through the walls. My dancer started moving her hand very slightly, very slowly. Sometimes she looked at me directly. It was intense and for a moment I panicked. "Should I move in response to her slow gestures, should I walk away, should I stay frozen, could I touch her, should I smile at her, am I a performer or an audience member?" We are not used to being confronted with such intimacy in our public lives. Was this public or private? Suddenly I didn't know what the 'rules' were any more. Issues of identity and power dissolved together with the boundaries between audience and performer. We were all in this together. Dance performances rarely confront us with such subtle anarchy.

What I did know was that the dancer was certainly picking up on my energy and my body language. I relaxed and smiled at her then we moved on. In the middle of the installation, both myself and the other audience member balanced the space somewhat awkwardly with the two dancers. We both felt rather sweaty, dirty and just off the street in this elite white Zen den. This was their space and they fitted it as perfectly as their own skin. Our intimacy made every action or gesture exaggerated -- every breath, every shift of weight, every glance. While the dancers focused intently on their duet and on each other, they were always aware of us. As we invaded their space, we also gave them their cues.

The choices which the layered material walls provided were endless. You could hide, peep through them, stand close to the other humans or totally in isolation. There were moments when you could slip into voyeur mode and take a step back into objectivity but not for long. Like a couple of soothing but guiding therapists working in a spa, the white clad dancers kept bringing you back into the here and now, involving you in this intimate and purging experience in which time stopped for fifteen minutes. From the beginning we as the audience were in a state of becoming the installation as well as the performers.

It was a tactile, subtle and cathartic work and I felt like I had entered a painting or a landscape rather than a dance piece. It worked well as an installation, as the dancers only moved in response to their environment and made clear connections between the form of their duet and the content that was gently imposed by design, action and audience interaction. "Court" left questions unanswered; made suggestions without closure. Such conditions are fertile for dance.

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