Review: Dan Canham - Of Riders and Running Horses - Dance Umbrella

Performance: 15 - 18 November 2015
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Monday 19 October 2015

Dan Canham - 'Of Riders and Running Horses' Photo: Bettina Strenske

Performance reviewed: 16 October

There’s a buzzy atmosphere at Faringdon’s NCP car park, which is empty of cars at this time in the evening. It’s like arriving at a rave in a secret public place. The organisers, Dance Umbrella and The Place have set up a bar, box office, even a cloakroom decorated with fairy lights to make what is a gloomy, grimey space into a welcoming one.

As we’re ushered up to the roof it’s exhilarating, with the wind, the views of the night cityscape and the sound-system’s brooding, trancey dance music: an urban thrill.

We sit round the demarcated performance area, looking at the empty band-set with anticipation. A good fifteen minutes later, just as my enthusiasm for being on the roof of this car park is waning and the cold is beginning to bite through my layers of clothing, the band members arrive. Sam Halmarack starts singing with his plaintiff voice and Luke Harney introduces the base, playing drums and synthesisers. It’s a cool sound they create: a mixture of electro pop, dance music and art band vibes.

The five women dancers, who are planted in the audience gradually assemble on the floor one by one, their unremarkable clothing, intended for warmth rather than unique urban flair. Engaging individuals, they each move with their own distinctive style – hip hop, African, released fluid contemporary and folk. They blend these styles into explosions of unison, mirroring the climaxes of the live music.

It’s within these moments of collective dancing that we can sense their shared ‘joy’. They exchange glances, watching one another closely, uttering shouts and cues. Here they look vibrant and animated, moving like an efficient machine, but emanating pleasure, similar to that of participating in a ceilidh, or at a music festival or club. This is what works well with Of Riders and Running Horses – the dancers’ ability to capture that shared physical frisson and improvise with it. It’s immensely appealing to both young and elderly audience members alike.

However outside of those collective moments, there’s a tenseness, a hesitancy which while providing an interesting tension to the work, reduces the impact of the intended ‘communal’ experience. Each of the young women’s solos are introverted and well- crafted but although performed with intensity and commitment do not connect with the city environment we are in.

Why have us sit in a cold car park watching this, when we could watch it indoors? The performance space is set up like a conventional studio space; I want to see these women dance in different areas of the car park, bringing this inner city space alive. It’s disappointing.

The ending of the piece taps into that sense of collective pleasure again and the band whips up its dancey beats to entice us all onto the floor. It’s a relief to move around but as I leave the party scene I feel that while Dan Canham’s ingredients are great – the musicians and dancers – the potential of what they do in this gritty, central London car park is unrealised.

Dance Umbrella continues at venues across London until 31 October.

Of Riders and Running Horses Photo: Bettina Strenske

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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