Review: Rosemary Lee in Square Dances at Squares

Performance: 8 & 9 October 2011
Reviewed by Katherine de Klee - Sunday 9 October 2011

Rosemary Lee's 'Square Dances' Top: Gordon Square & below: Brunswick Square.
Photos: Ben Lalague

Review: Saturday afternoon.

The squares of London are shared spaces where strangers come together. Some come to meet, but though there is no expectation of privacy, some seek peace and escape.

Today there was something happening. The afternoon was grey and breezy, the world had remembered that it was October and the wind had picked up the smell of the leaves. A wide ring of people was forming in Brunswick Square; the expectant crowd drawing the attention of other passers by and growing. Then from amongst the circle a group of men walked forward into the space and raised their arms to the boughs of the chestnut tree they stood underneath. Clothed inconspicuously in suits, jeans, jumpers they stood there as though in silent worship. A bell tolled solemnly and they remained like statues, becoming part of the topography of the park: living people in living green space. And the bell tolled again. Leaves fluttered around their feet and pigeons walked between them, the grey of their feathers matching the tones of the dancers’ clothing. The bell continued to toll slowly and the men – their movement barely perceptible – sank slowly to the ground.

As I watched the men sinking, growing old and dying in front of me, I became aware of the restlessness and movement of the other spectators. The whispered guessing of what it meant, what it was for, a passerby coming up to ask quietly what was happening.

Queen Square had a different feel: more formally groomed like a garden. We were directed to the benches around the perimeter. The dancers walked out – each carrying a little desk bell – and positioned themselves one in front of each bench. Placing her bell carefully on the ground, the girl who stood before us took a step forward to introduce herself and tell us that she would be performing a short dance, dedicated to someone, in the same way that the benches on which we were sitting carried names. Who would you like to give it to? I said the name of someone I loved and she wrote it on her arm. Stepping back she rung her bell and began to move like she had just been given her body, like her limbs were surprising to her and she was learning what they were capable of for the first time. Each bench had their personal dance, and to look along the line to others was to spy on something I felt I was not entitled to see. The end of the first dance was marked by the sound of tiny bells across the square and the dancers moved on to new audiences. This time a timid young man wrote another name for us on his arm, sounded his bell and forgot his shy self. His movements were strong, slow and controlled. The tiny bells chimed, the dancers moved on again – we were given three special dances, each framed with a bell.

Woburn Square was different once again: a long thin park with a small playground at the end, so it was fitting that it should be ten little children who performed here. Unlike the other performers, the children were dressed in bright colours and they scampered through the dry leaves like the lost boys of Neverland, catching fairies from the air and holding them to their ears to hear their secrets. They each had satchels from which they each drew a small bell. They skittered across the square like a little flock of late swallows and the autumnal afternoon made them seem even more transient, like the wind would pick them up and carry them away.

Gordon Square was my last stop – although the performances could have been viewed in any order. It was the biggest of the squares and another crowd began to gather around the edges, waiting for the dance to begin. I wondered if I skipped across from one side to the other, whipping my scarf around my head, whether the watchers would have believed I was part of the piece? But I was part of the dance; we all were, standing framing the outdoor stage.

A large crowd of women performed this dance. Old and young, they appeared all dressed in shades of blue, ringing bells. They raised their arms, just as the men had done in Brunswick Square, prayerful and pagan, and they swayed and moved, rushing back and forth like the tide, the sound of the bells like the sea against the shore.

There was in all four dances a sense of grace. These were beings of the earth and something Elemental about the dances. It was an exploration of movement and of the interaction between the body and the space, and looked more like mime or tai chi than conventional dance. It was the perfect day for Square Dances; the grey skies suited their clothing and the motion of the autumn air stirred and moved them. Autumn is a season of change, everything must end and fade to bareness – and the leaves settled on the ground again.

Part of Dance Umbrella 2011 **”“:

More about Square Dances

Rosemary Lee’s ‘Square Dances’ Top: Gordon Square & below: Brunswick Square.
Photos: Ben Lalague

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