Review: Siobhan Davies Dance - Table of Contents - ICA

Performance: 8 - 19 January 2014
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 4 February 2014

Rachel Krische. Photo: Elliott Franks

Reviewed: 9 January 2014

Writing this notice requires me to break the golden rule of criticism since I appeared in the performance that I’m about to review. My turn – more of which anon – was unscripted and unplanned but it certainly altered my perception of the whole event. Conflict of interests readily confessed!

The email accompanying my invitation for this press showing of Table of Contents stressed the “drop in” nature of the affair. “Pop in any time between 4 and 6”, it said. So, when I rolled up just before 5pm it was with the worrying surprise that I was interrupting Andrea Buckley and Charlie Morrissey re-enacting a duet from memory, discussing what they remembered while recreating the movements. Standing nervously at the door, I was ushered in by none other than the choreographer herself with reassuring words that invited me to make myself at home indicating that nothing whatsoever could be regarded as a disturbance.

The event was a cocktail of many ingredients: part archival retrieval; part promenade performance; part discourse on the nature of dance (and the nature of memory and presence); and part art exhibition. It was also an exercise in deconstruction since the show will have had hundreds of hours of performance in London, Glasgow and Bristol but rarely will any minute repeat anything that has gone before; and it had the significant impact of breaching the fourth wall by bringing the audience and artists together in one space.

Table of Contents consists of several pieces (around 15, I was told), which are largely constituted from the dance artists’ memories of works they have performed before, as immediately evidenced by the duet in progress as I arrived. It turned out that this was from ROTOR, a work that Buckley and Morrissey performed for Davies in several gallery-style spaces in 2010/11. As well as existing in this sense of tabular reference, the performance space contained a physical table (of the rough, wooden kind that might sit in the kitchen of an old farmhouse). This single item of furniture was moved around the space from time to time. Performers – and audience members – sit around the table while some apparently random process appears to determine what will happen next. To aid this facility there are prompts on cards and sticks of chalk, used by the dance artists to write on the floor.

So, whatever I saw and experienced, is unlikely to be replicated in what anyone else sees. The oldest of the remembered works featured in Table of Contents is Sphinx , dating back to 1977 when Davies was a member of London Contemporary Dance Theatre and the most recent were installation works made during the last year. In many respects, the performances appear to be an extension – a physical manifestation – of Davies’ remarkably comprehensive digital archive (, which has brought together a rich panoply of recorded performance, rehearsal and “scratch” material (ie film of ideas being explored) plus all kinds of associated paraphernalia such as reviews, programmes, posters, interviews and lectures. The extension of this resource represented in Table of Contents introduces a concept of each performer being their own archive: that within each person is a repository of memories of movement that cannot be captured in an interview or an essay. It can only be remembered through re-enactment. As this idea spread, my understanding of the whole enterprise blossomed.

And it took full bloom when Rachel Krische invited me to join her in performing Manual, a work that Davies and Helga Kaski developed at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art last year, and so one of the more recent entries in this archive. The exercise was for me to give directions to the dancer that would enable her to stand up from lying on her back. It sounds like a game of childish simplicity but it is remarkably difficult. Instructions had to be given in very precise terms: “Move your leg here” was not specific enough, whereas “push down on your right heel” was at the edge of acceptability. Given that each of the other dancers had chosen a member of the audience to perform the same task, there was also a surprising element of competition (well, at least in my mind) and although I had the embarrassment of having Rachel stuck temporarily with her face and feet planted on the floor while her backside was raised in the air, I managed to relay the right orders to get her standing before anyone else! It was a fascinating exercise in understanding the mechanics of movement although I think Rachel cheated (just a little) to help me!

Not everyone will get to perform but irrespective of this rather personal inter-action with the event, it promises to be a fascinating experience for whatever time that visitors manage to “pop-in”. It’s an ever-changing work of art and an intriguing exercise both in terms of understanding the memories of past choreography that remain in the body, and (for me, especially) to see, close up and personal, how trained dancers understand things about their bodies that we ordinary mortals don’t realise that it is possible to know. *

Catch further performances of Table of Contents at Bristol’s Arnolfini gallery in April.

(* with acknowledgement to Ramsay Burt, Professor of Dance History at De Montfort University and his essay, Dancers and/as Archives).

Photo of Rachel Krische by Elliott Franks.

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He writes for,, Dancing Times, Dance Europe and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and of the National Dance Awards in the UK.

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