Thursday, 21 March 2013

Sideways Rain @NottDance

Minimalism in music and visual art has always been clearly defined, becoming a signature sound or look for certain artists and composers: in dance, it has retained the common meaning, suggesting a lack of  movement. Yet in Sideways Rain, Guilherme Botelho has found a choreographic analogue to the heady vitality of Reich or Glass. Although the thirteen dancers do little more than cross from stage left to right, occasionally pausing or addressing each other, the relentless energy of the performance, and the gradual shifts towards more complex crossings lends Alias' production a modernist purpose that is sometimes grim, sometime celebratory.
At first, they crawl. Each dancer has the same set of movements, but different speeds. A new sequence is introduced, and gradually becomes the dominant pattern - from  crawling to walking to  rolling to tumbling. Murcof's minimal electro music is used like a film soundtrack, adding emotion to the movements: at first it broods, then injects a jittering energy, before emerging triumphant. If a dancer drops out of the constant flow,  they are ignored, perhaps taking a moment to change the paths of the others or attempt to engage them. Then, suddenly, they are sucked back into the relentless running from side to side.
For once, the description of the performance in the programme is accurate: "they tirelessly walk, run, fall, rise, stop then start again, driven by an inexplicable desire... towards a fate that seems to slip through their fingers... they depict  the human condition, the evolution of Man... a  visual and physical metaphor of brute force that animates all life."
The constant running is mechanical - each dancer is reduced to a cog in a machine that cannot stop. Murcof's alienating electronica stresses that only an impersonal will governs this universe, and that the running is an end, without purpose.
When a dancer pauses, it is as if they have briefly noticed the meaningless and, surprised, try to find something more. They might essay a brief pas de deux. They might block the runners' paths. These moments of grace are rapidly integrated back into the running, at best suggesting a new pattern of crossing.
A subtle change of lighting can lift the mood -  the running takes on a more thoughtful, even spiritual mood. While the individuals may still pace and race, their is more agency in each step. A finale, where clothes are left behind and the stage is criss-crossed by lines of thread, seems a delicious exhibition of freedom. Meaninglessness is replaced by sudden joy.
It is in these subtle changes of mood that Bothelho most closely follows the path of Reich or Glass, demonstrating how the single repetition is capable of dramatic velocity and exposing different emotions despite the limited vocabulary.  This minimalism might follow the harsh clatter of contemporary mechanical life, the dull routine of the commuter or the unimaginative shudder of pop beats: but in all of that, the indefatigable human spirit continues to feel.

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