Rosemary Butcher’s death was announced yesterday (14th July 2016). Here’s some memories of her.
[Rosemary Butcher (wearing sandals) in New York in 1970 in a piece by Elaine Summers in Union Square. photo from Rosemary Butcher: Choreography, Collisions and Collaborations]
The first class I took with Rosemary was at Dartington Hall in 1980 during the Easter Dance at Dartington Festival which was my introduction to British new dance. It was there also that I first saw her work. The piece was 5 Sided Figure and I remember that one of the dancers was Janet Smith. In this performers moved along the sides (and axes?) of an irregular, five sided geometrical shape that had been taped out on the studio floor. I remember them pausing at its points for little choreographic events that I think were also sometimes triggers to which other dances responded. It made a really strong impression on me – its clear, simple conceptual structure and the quiet, thoughtful, responsive quality of the performers.
That was 36 years ago. I took one more class with Rosemary, in 1986 when I was on the editorial collective of New Dance magazine and we were doing a special issue to accompany a retrospective of her work. I came down to London and attended her regular Friday evening class at Riverside Studios. Others attending, I seem to remember, included dancers who she regularly worked with at the time like Merry Dufton and Caroline Pegg (with whom I worked on New Dance) as well as people who were involved with the Alexander technique, and also I think some young architects.
Not living in London, I’ve not always been able to follow everything she did, and of course a lot of it was been abroad, particularly in Germany and Austria. But every few years I’ve made trips to London or elsewhere to see a new piece. I remember the slow, thoughtfulness of pieces like Shell: Force Field and Spaces (1981) and then the dynamic running in Flying Lines (1985) developed from the idea of running with kites. Then in the 1990s there was an extraordinary series of works with dancers like Gill Clarke, Jonathan Burrows, Finn Walker and others which had an extraordinary depth and resonance.
[Flying Lines. photo from http://rosemarybutcher.com/]
In the last few years I started talking with Rosemary about her work and sat in on a few rehearsals. Most recently she let me follow through several stages of her project After Kaprow with Ana Mira, first as an idea, then as a two screen video project in a studio, then an installation with live performance at the Bloomberg Gallery, then the films shot in Italy and the duet at The Place Theatre in London where I chaired a post-show discussion with her and everyone involved in the project. It was an amazing example of how research can animate a community of creative people to discover and bring into being something new and previously inconceivable. Looking back now, it was so obviously and so clearly an extension of her work.
[Ana Mira in After Kaprow at the Bloomberg Gallery, photo from http://rosemarybutcher.com/]
My background before I started writing about dance was painting and fine art. So, for example, I actually knew Heinz Dieter Pietsch’s work before I became interested in dance. Only later did I discover that Rosemary was collaborating with him on a several pieces.
[Touch The Earth 1987 with set by Heinz Dieter Pietsch, photo from http://rosemarybutcher.com/]
And there have been so many similar collaborations. People in architecture, film, and the visual arts have always seemed to understand her work in ways in which some of the more conventionally oriented members of the British dance world have been able to do. Yet for me it has always been the movement material that dancers develop through working with her and the quality of attention with which they execute it in performance that hooked me, and that I always rediscovered each time I had an opportunity to catch up with what she had been doing. It was almost as if, as I watched the dancers, I could hear the underlying traces of her calm clear voice talking to them, feeding back to them about what they are doing, not exactly directing but nevertheless leading them through an evolving dialogue. I knew that I was watching something where there was a kind of ethics in the making process which resulted in an ethico-aesthetics in performance. And that’s what has always moved me and given me hope whenever I was fortunate enough to encounter her work.