Review: Siobhan Davies in Commissions at Bargehouse

Performance: 4 - 13 November 2011
Reviewed by Katerina Pantelides - Wednesday 9 November 2011

Siobhan Davies Commissions. Henry Montes & Deborah Saxon in 'Landmark'.

Reviewed: 8 November

It is a truth reluctantly acknowledged that even the most ardent dance fans have: a) sat in performances (both terrible and otherwise) where they’ve willed time to race; b) dreamed of a whistle-stop tour around the practice of a choreographer whose work is interesting but takes forever to get to the point; or c) wished they could replay a favoured moment in slow motion. Such practices of time-control elude the vast majority of theatrical dance performances, where audiences are expected to diligently give up a fixed portion of their time to proceedings on stage. According to protocol, finales and intervals govern how long we are exposed to dance rather than our boredom threshold.

A series of interdisciplinary displays of dance and visual art, Siobhan Davies’s Commissions at the Bargehouse allows us to control how, and more importantly, for how long, we immerse ourselves in moving spectacles.

Willingly or not, with the constant stream of passers by and clusters of personnel (dancers, artists and gallery staff) in everyday clothes, performing every day gestures, we can even become implicated in the performance itself. On entering the first space where Gill Clarke and Lucy Skaer’s _*A Dance of Ownership, A Song in Hand* _was in full swing, I faced the uncanny situation where the three performers were wearing a variant of the camel coat I had on. Their gestures: unreeling the film projected on a screen and handling it, were so utilitarian that I didn’t immediately recognise them as dancers: if anything, they were the dance-makers; the acrobatic turns of the performance being executed by projected images of St Kilda and Mount Stuart. Still, after a mesmerising five minutes, it became clear that the revolving landscapes which juxtaposed gules from stained glass windows with Hebridean hills were pure handiwork, as projected fingers called to attention the efforts of the live performers.

Climbing to the next floor thinking about memories that are manipulated, caressed and there because someone wants them to be, I heard a strangled cry… only to enter a peaceful room with what looked like white canvases featuring blowsy shapes. Sarah Warsop and Tracey Rowledge’s _*What isn’t here hasn’t happened* _showcases the graphite trace of choreographic movement, itself inspired by words. After a two-minute survey of the pictures, I noticed that some marks seemed to have been made by body parts while others looked strangely mechanical. I was lucky enough to meet Rowledge in the room, who told me that she had to fashion her own graphite shards for mark-making because no suitable tools existed, and that she called the works ‘emotional landscapes’ – imprints of the invisible choreography and words.

Vastly differing in tone, but no less reflective, Deborah Saxon, Henry Montes and *Bruce Sharp’s Landmark*comprised of a roomful of flick-books hung at different levels – some were high enough to be beyond the reach of even the tallest visitors. Those that were within my grasp gave me the thrill of choreographing my own movies – the controls of ‘fast-forward’, ‘rewind’, ‘slow-motion’ and ‘double-speed’ literally at my finger-tips. Returning to the room at a later interval, it was fun to watch the sheer, child-like enjoyment that others gained from this process as well. A work that references the stories of communities who have lost all traces of their material existence, Landmark successfully conveys both the arbitrary nature of memory and the sense of fulfilment inherent in making moving narratives from fragments.

A Question of Movement, a film by Henry Montes and Marcus Coates and the last work, proved for me the most challenging and for the hub of audience members who gathered to watch it, the most gripping. Montes invited members of the general public to ask a question, and Coates would respond to it in movement, thus drawing attention to the unconscious drives behind their dilemmas. I confess, I used my prerogative as a mobile exhibition visitor and only stayed for one roughly five-minute extract of the 33-minute long video, where a teenage boy in his bedroom relates how he can never accomplish anything because he is always distracted. With one hand resting on the TV, his other hand performing quotidian flicks and scratches, a stoic Coates apparently conjured the demons inhibiting the boy’s progress. To me it felt like a case of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, but after about three minutes of awkward transfers of weight, the teenager thanked Coates for unveiling hidden aspects of his problem…

Unfolding at the visitors’ own pace, and dealing largely with everyday movement rather than the technical bodily extravaganzas of theatrical performances, the pieces in Commissions succeed or fail on the level of personal experience. But it’s definitely worth discovering how you respond to the intriguing moving scenarios on offer.

Siobhan Davies Commissions continues at Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, until Sunday 13 November. FREE.

Tues, Wed, Sat & Sun 12 – 5pm
Thurs & Fri 4 – 9pm
Find out more about Commissions in ourQ&A with Siobhan Davies“:/content.asp?CategoryID=3955

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