Tag Archives: Juncture at Yorkshire Dance

Juncture at Yorkshire Dance, 2: ‘Assembly’

The other piece at Juncture that I want to write about is Nicola Conibere’s Assembly. The best explanation of what happens in this work is on Conibere’s website: ‘Assembly acknowledges each spectator’s unique presence without asking them to do more than watch; each time a spectator enters the gallery a performer will join the performance, leaving it when the same spectator departs the room’  Some weeks ago I had looked at a showreel of Assembly on vimeo  so when I went into it I had some idea about it without knowing all the details. Nevertheless it surprised me and, for reasons I will explain, left me feeling hopeful.

First I waited outside the room. The person who let me in had a radio which she used to let in the door at exactly the same time that a performer came through another door the other side of the performance space. The space itself, in Leeds Central Library, had double doors in the middle of the wall behind the spectators and a matching double door immediately opposite behind the performers. I could therefore see and be seen by my ‘pair’ straight away. I looked for somewhere to sit, spotted the smiling face of a friend I hadn’t seen for months, settled down and then turned to find my ‘pair’ again.

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[Assembly Photo: Christian Kipp]

My ‘pair’ and I looked at one another for a long time before I started to take in what else was going on. There were, I think, fourteen of us in the audience and the same number of performers in the space, just sitting there looking out at us. When someone in the audience got up to leave, one of the dancers turned to walk out the door at the back, both remaining connected right up to the moment of passing through their respective doors. After a short pause another performer and spectator entered. And the dancers in Leeds were fairly diverse – young and old, male and female, and with varying degrees of performance experience.

So Assembly is essentially a self-generating machine. It has a finite series of tasks, and as each new dancer enters the space, she or he initiates a new one of these which, without anything being said or any overt sign all the other dancers easily pick up – a kind of hive brain. These are mostly everyday actions executed in silence. They include: standing; lying; walking from one side of the space to the other and back; taking a step to the right then a step to the left back again; swinging the arms from the sides up to shoulder height and then back again; bopping along casually to imagined party music, and so on. These are all done in an easy-going way. The performers know all the tasks and each dancer chooses one as she or he comes in.

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[Assembly Photo: Christian Kipp]

How long each activity goes on is, in effect, determined by the audience because it is only when one spectator leaves and another comes in that the new performer will initiate a new task of their choice.

I felt a warm connection with the dancer who was my ‘pair’. From time to time we’d find each other’s gaze again. At one moment, for some reason, we both spontaneously started smiling at one another in a slightly complicitous way. I wasn’t just a passive spectator. I was aware of the small difference I was making to the larger performance event that was unfolding.

At one moment I tried unsuccessfully to work out which dancers were paired with the spectators sitting around me. Someone I spoke to later evidently hadn’t made such a firm connection with their ‘pair’ that I had had.

I noticed in one of the longer passages of repetitive moment how the performers’ mood gradually changed as the task became more automatic and habitual, and the performers somehow less self conscious, more everyday in their manner, present in the hear and now. From my point of view as spectator, I initially took in what they were doing, then after a while became slightly bored. Then I began to notice the small, singular differences between the ways in which my ‘pair’ and the performers around and behind her were executing the task.

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[Assembly Photo: Christian Kipp]

I saw Assembly and made some notes about it at the timewhich was before the US elections. I am writing this post when the consequences of the election result is just beginning to sink in. For a session with our MAs this week I’ve been reading an interview with Brian Massumi published in 2003 on the politics of hope, because hope is what I think we need just now. In this Massumi talks about hope and affect. ‘When you affect something, you are at the same time opening yourself up to being affected in turn, and in a slightly different way than you might have been the moment before’. This opening up to a situation and being aware of how one is affecting it corresponds with my experience of Assembly.

Some of the commentary in the British media this week are suggesting there has been a backlash from angry white male working class voters against so-called Washington insiders. Anger is violent but need not necessarily mean a closing down and or becoming impervious. Massumi writes that anger ‘forces the situation to attention, it forces a pause filled with an intensity that is often too extreme to be filled with words’. He goes on to suggest that the consequence of an angry outburst ‘forces the situation to rearrange itself around the irruption, and to deal with the intensity in one way or another. In that sense it’s brought something positive out – a reconfiguration’.

After Brexit everyone in my Facebook feed was shocked, no one had seen it coming, nor I think did many see Trump’s election coming. Facebook creates a bubble in which we are only aware of people who think the same way we do. We really need to open up to what else is going on around us and begin to try and understand what underlies the intensities of affect that the Brexit campaigners and the Trump team are able to generate and channel.

That doesn’t of course mean trying to appease racists, homophobes, mysogynists, islamophobes and others who have been taking the rise of the new right as permission to come out and say in public what they had previously kept to themselves. Ed Milliband’s ‘Immigration Controls’ mug was surely a disaster. There is, however, a need to reconnect and engage with broader communities of people with similar progressive views – not seeing all white male working class voters as an undifferentiated block. The connections performers and spectators in Assembly were making within such a diverse group of performers and spectators seem to me to offer hope that we can make such connections.

[that mug – available from http://www.katyjon.com/tag/election-merchandise/]

I said earlier that when I entered the room in which Assembly was being presented I knew something about what to expect. What I anticipated – and perhaps hoped for – was that I would experience something new that might prompt me to have to respond in the moment to something unexpected so that I wouldn’t be able to fall back on familiar ways of responding.

In dark turbulent times, a facility for responding to new and challenging events in creative, non-habitual ways is increasingly important. Assembly resonated with me because it did just that in such a simple, clear, unpretentious way. It left me feeling optimistic, and this is what I think we need to try and feel at the moment.

Juncture at Yorkshire Dance, 1: ‘Wallflower’.

I only managed to attend one day of Yorkshire Dance’s Juncture festival, curated by Gillie Kleiman. On the Saturday that I was able to get to Leeds, there was a really packed programme. Talking to people who’d been there for a couple of days, I sensed the festival had gathered a momentum – people referring in conversations to pieces they’d seen earlier in the week, or things that had come up during previous talks.

I got to the Yorkshire Dance building by 11am for a talk on dance and politics. Then in the afternoon I saw Nicola Conibere’s Assembly, going on from it to see part of a five hour durational version of Quarantine’s Wallflower, and then, in the evening, I saw Immigrants and Animal’s new Double Penetration version of Laura Laura. I had wanted to see Assembly and Laura Laura, but only booked for Wallflower because it was on. I knew nothing about it and it was a big surprise for me.

I only know about Quarantine from their website. They seem to me to be a project-based theatre or performance company with a northern focus who work on projects in an experimental way but do so in ways that can engage diverse communities (rather than the usual dance or drama audience). Wallflower‘s premise was an attempt by each of the dancers to individually remember every dance they’d ever ance and try, during the run of the piece, to reconstruct it. I’m guessing the Quarantine creative team deliberately chose particular performers for Wallflower and brought them together to create it since they all have such different backgrounds.

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[Jo Fong. photo from http://qtine.com/work/wallflower-2/]

I must have been seeing Jo Fong dancing with various companies – including Extemporary, Rosas, DV8, Rambert – for 25 years or more. The other performers I didn’t know. My guess is that James Monahan comes from a drama background while Nic Green from live art? Sonia Hughes is a writer and dance-floor queen. She was a formidable presence performing while sitting with the audience having got a leg injury dancing the night before. There was one more dancer who I guess was there because Hughes couldn’t dance, but she was not listed in the programme. All the dancers sat in the audience when not actually presenting their memories of a dance or of some other movement event.img_2104-705x400

[Sonia Hughes, James Monahan and Jo Fong in Wallflower. photo from http://qtine.com/work/wallflower-2/]

A lot of the time I was there, the performers remembered parties and clubbing, so danced to a variety of different kinds of music, including rock, motown, punk, funk, soul, indie. There were also bits of remembered contemporary dance. Jo Fong danced to Steve Reich’s Piano Phase remembering, I assume, a few phrases from De Keersmaeker’s Fase. Sometimes these bits of choreography were performed full on, sometimes marked. Those with some formal dance training remembered ballet and contemporary classes, and there were bits of folk dance and Irish step dancing.

DU16 Quarantine 3 Photo Simon Banham.jpg[Sonia Hughes. photo from http://qtine.com/work/wallflower-2/]

The music came from a DJ (who changed each hour) who was sitting at a table with laptops and other equipment at one end of the performing space which was arranged in a traverse stage format. Dancers requested tracks, sometimes without remembering their name but just humming them in a way that reminded me of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Sometimes performers talked through personal memories – one dancer, as a teenager, had had a television that was right up against the foot of her bed and at night lay watching it with her foot on the ‘off’ button ready to turn if off if her parents peeped in to check she was going to sleep. Another remembered a scary encounter when he was with a group of friends out late who were held up at gunpoint by a gang and robbed.

The cast took it in turns to be the archivist and write a brief record of each dance in a big hardback notebook. They changed over, I think, once an hour, and at one moment we were told exactly how many thousand dances they had remembered since the first performance in Groningen last year, and how many hours and minutes this had taken. On a table on the way to the exit was a typescript ‘The Index’ which listed each dance up until today’s performance.

I turned up an hour after the performance had begun and stayed two and a half hours. Because I’d been late it took me a while to work out what was going on. Audience members came and went. Sometimes we saw high energy dancing, sometimes there were great stories, a bit of karaoke or a party piece. But there were also lulls and quiet moments. I suspect there were some fixed, rehearsed moments that they always did during each performance, and some kind of running order for these key moments were spaced out during the performance with room between for new, impromptu memories.

Performers paced themselves to last the full five hours. And they seemed to be supporting each other, chatting together and commenting on what they were doing, sometimes standing in for someone in the past or becoming an extra body for a re-enactment.

Although they were all from such different backgrounds, they empathised with each other. They too had felt something like that, or had done something like that. Sometimes they laughed at cultural references I didn’t always catch. Because I became immersed in the piece because it went on so long, I too somehow felt myself being drawn into the sense of community that the piece was generating.

The dancing itself often looked and felt quite spontaneous and rough though actually there was some wonderful dancing that is still fresh in my mind as I write this review a week later. This roughness seemed to give an ‘accessible’ feeling to the show, but there was nothing superficial to it.

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[Nic Green. photo from http://qtine.com/work/wallflower-2/]

Memories are powerful stuff. Memories are something that we share with others who were there with us at the time or that we told someone about just after it happened. I don’t think I have many memories that no one else has, things that I never told to anyone. Memory is both personal and collective, and we can sometimes adapt or revise our memories so that they conform with what others, who were also there, insist happened. There must have been occasions when I myself have insisted that my own memory is better than someone else’s.

There is something particularly poignant about some performers’ struggle to remember a movement sequence that has almost gone, the detail already irretrievable but the feelings that accompanied it still lingering. Memory’s failure, a reminder of mortality, and preparation for dying.

But one of the wonderful things about trained dancers is their ability to remember long complex sequences of moves which they can bring back sometimes ten or fifteen years later with the help of the original music, or diagrams or words in a notebook, photos, or snowy video tape. Magically, if at the right moment the other dancer in the piece is in the right place behind them, even that can bring back muscle and spatial memories. Dancers’ acts of remembering are for me sources of hope.

There were moments when the archivist looked at what they’d noted down and gave us a brief summary of what they felt were the highlights from the previous hour. These summaries magically brought dancers and spectators together in a collective act of remembering that was quite special. And to think that I almost hadn’t book for Wallflower … hmmm.