A couple of weekends ago I was in Nottingham for Nottdance, a biennial festival of new dance. If I had the time I would write about everything I saw, because it was all brilliant, but things being what they are I’m going to have to focus on what were probably my favourite performances of the weekend, Rosanna Irvine’s Ah Kissing and Odori-Dawns-Dance’s Forest and Clearing.
I was warned in advance of attending Birmingham Dance Network’s annual showcase of new dance work that the audience would be invited to provide written feedback to the artists, but somehow I forgot to bring a pen. Here I’ve attempted to answer the questions asked on the feedback form for each of the six pieces. I lose a degree of anonymity, but, well, should’ve brought a pen.
A few years ago I saw a ‘remix’ of a dance piece by Judson Dance Theater alumna Lucinda Childs at a festival in Amsterdam. The piece was titled ‘Radial Courses’, apparently because the choreographer felt she couldn’t get away with calling it ‘Running in Circles’ — which would’ve been a more accurate description of the dance itself. I was reminded of this piece when watching three members of Birmingham Dance Network performing in response to Donald Rodney’s Psalms, a work of art consisting of a powered wheelchair programmed to move autonomously in circles, spirals, and figures-of-eight, all while avoiding obstacles such as people.
VIVID Projects are currently showing an exhibition of art by Donald Rodney, an artist from Smethwick who pioneered the use of technology in art in the Eighties and Nineties. Rodney suffered from sickle cell anaemia, a condition that would send him in and out of hospital for most of his life, eventually killing him in 1998. The first artwork encountered when entering the gallery, Autoicon, delves into this life history through various records and archival materials related to the artist, surfaced through a digital search interface (a ground-breaking novelty at the time). A film showing interviews of others affected by sickle cell anaemia is also included, with a search interface giving access to their thoughts and experiences in the same manner as the Autoicon.
“Give me a boundary. I want to know when I’ve arrived.”
These words end Mitra Saboury’s Dry Wall, a short film in which the artist navigates, through words and crawling, floor-bound movements, an empty, dilapidated warehouse space. They articulate a need, pulsing through many of the films on show in her two-part Birmingham exhibition “Pulling Walls”, to investigate, to explore, to test, and to get to grips, in very literal ways, with the built environment around her, in order to know where she is in her own body.
The day after seeing Grace Schwindt’s film at Eastside Projects, I took the slow train to London to catch an exhibition devoted to the choreographic work of Yvonne Rainer at Raven Row. As well as a large number of photos, videos, drawings and texts, a daily schedule of live performances in the gallery presented a rare opportunity to see some seminal dance works by the US artist. The exhibition focused on Rainer’s work from the 1960s and early ’70s, when she was most active as a choreographer; at this time, she and her colleagues in the Judson Dance Theater group were preoccupied with much the same radical critique of power as Schwindt’s interlocutor in West Germany.
When I discovered, on a flying visit before an event elsewhere, that Eastside Projects were screening a film featuring dance, I knew I had to come back for a proper look. The film in question was Grace Schwindt’s Only A Free Individual Can Create A Free Society, a recent commission that takes an interview recorded between Schwindt and a left-wing activist as a kind of score for an elaborately staged choreography performed by eleven dancers. The interview explores the interviewee’s experiences of radical left-wing movements in 1960s and ’70s West Germany, before moving on to how his own views on the nature and practice of freedom have developed and found expression since that time.
Two years is a long time these days. I can no longer make sense of most of what I wrote nearly two years ago upon seeing Jan Martens’ Sweat Baby Sweat for the first time, but luckily (and unusually, for contemporary dance) I had the chance to see it again at The Place in London, courtesy of the Dance Umbrella festival.
You will need 1 or more of each of the following: performer, contact microphone, omnidirectional microphone, mic stand.
You will also need a computer running a real-time audio processing environment such as Supercollider or PureData, and some way of outputting sounds from the computer (inbuilt or external speakers, a PA system, etc.).