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Sunday, July 3, 2022

Preview: Proximity

I have to start by admitting I know nothing about contemporary or classical dance. I was however fortunate to be invited to the run through of this very different offering at the BT. It is not often we see shows dedicated solely to showcasing dance. In part I guess this is due to a scarcity of dancers in Oxford, but also because of a scarcity of audience. Being myself part of the philistine mass, I was apprehensive about the prospect of finding words or indeed even thoughts to apply to what I was to see.

The question of relating to an audience is one which is central to choreographer Emily Everest-Phillips’s approach. Indeed when I confessed my ignorance, I was even reassured, that this was precisely what they wanted from a previewer. Fortunately I was also given an impromptu dance lesson – the insights from which I hope will make this preview a little better than an exercise in the blind leading the blind.

The first thing I learnt is that dancing is really very difficult. I was instructed in the execution of a sort of pectoral thrust while pulling one’s open palmed hands backwards. The result was akin to Disco Stu’s pelvic solicitations. But I gleaned something of the nature of the sort of expression dance affords. The choreographer gives you a movement, and then you mirror this movement while imbuing it with an expressive embellishment of your own. Thus what in Maddy Walker’s capable performance became an enigmatic and ethereal whisper was in my rendition a sort of mathematically constructed pick-up line.

The sense that the interplay of gestures is equivalent to constructing a phrase was confirmed when I was told the audition process was designed to initiate a conversation. The dancers were given some moves and then asked to dance with each other in the hope of a dialogue emerging. This sense of conversation was I think most clearly seen in how the dancers used space and time in relation to each other. In the opening dance, the pair engaged in a persistent game of moving behind and in front of each other in small and subtle ways. They sort of mirrored each other but along both the x and y axes. This created an almost contrapuntal relation between each other in space. The connectedness but also fragility of the relation between the two was thus very eloquently expressed in this shifting and mirroring of positions. 

Mirroring was not the only type of relation expressed however. In another piece, one of the two dancers started on the floor and moved slowly while the other moved frantically on her feet. By the end the one who started on the floor was dancing and the one who started by dancing was lying on the floor in the same spot as her counterpart. Asymmetry seems to be just as an important a relation. But what I think both this symmetry and asymmetry have in common is a very architectonic concern for balance and harmony. From what I saw, this architecture was concerned with constructing a sense of oneness. This oneness came about by either conclusively separating or uniting the pairs. In this regard, I was reminded of intertwining musical strands searching for a definitive synthesis in a fugue. I think the im/possibility of unity (such as in a fugue) is what happens in the space between two bodies in close proximity to each other. It is this which I think the production is trying to get at. 

This reading however forgets the other side of the story. The dances were not a formalistic staging of spatial relations; this was after all a conversation. The dancers were smiling a lot; they were enjoying it in a way that suggested more than just the delights of Cartesian geometry. The best expression of this I think always came about 75% of the way through the routines. It’s the point at which the dancers, having already impressed with their ability, somehow kept on going. This excess of energy is very compelling for you wonder: how and why can they keep going? This I suppose is the content that corresponds to the form, the drive and the energy that informs the expression of their carefully choreographed movements.

In the attempted synthesis of form and content, some moments really take your breath away. I’m still not precisely sure what is being said. It is  however being said in a way that suggests so much, tenderness, fragility, violence and poetry. It is indeed very compelling and strangely moving. All in all, I very much look forward to seeing if as Hegel said of love, the production can ‘propound and resolve the contradiction’. If the dances will ultimately manage to move from the proximity they seem describe to the unity they seem to be toying with. 

Or the above is a load of nonsense. In any case it’s certainly very enjoyable to watch and I highly reccomend you go and watch. 

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