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Dance of Words

Dance of Words

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Published by LUX
Artist Michael Curran's contribution to the LUX Genealogies project. Read an introduction to the project in the initial LUX Genealogies page: http://www.lux.org.uk/blog/lux-genealogies

Artist Michael Curran's contribution to the LUX Genealogies project. Read an introduction to the project in the initial LUX Genealogies page: http://www.lux.org.uk/blog/lux-genealogies


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Published by: LUX on Mar 18, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Dance of Words
“Grant them their own traditional steps and postures
  But see they dance it out again and againUntil only lightning is left to puzzle over 
The choreography plain, and the theme plain”
Robert Graves / 
 Dance of Words
Perhaps more freebies lay on the ground at this point in time or maybe a youthfulenthusiasm made me more insistent on finding a way via theatre side entrances andalleyways into the auditorium, in any case it happened in the 80s that I was exposed tomuch contemporary dance, usually at Sadlers Wells Theatre. Despite having no previousexposure to this art form I was very soon drawn to the calligraphy of the moving body. Itwas a revelation to realise that gestures, actions and events could often only beunderstood accumulatively and that they had to be experienced from moment to moment,from motion to motion. Once I overcame an initial incomprehension and impatienceslowly I began to learn a great deal about the rewards of attention and the workings of time. I think without this kind of exposure I never would have started working with videoor film.Then I was making tentative forays into sculpture and a concern with the body. Manyafternoons and late evenings were spent casting bodies and limbs. The results became asuccession of seemingly useless parts, something ill-made and awkward to stumble over.Afterwards I began photographing bodies in motion but then started using video as amore successful way to capture exact micro gestures of movement. Although totally ineptwith a camera, I arranged to shoot the David Massingham Dance Company one day inrehearsal in order to catch still frames of dancers in motion and thus one of my earliestvideo works came into being. My interest shifted almost immediately from still tomoving image.
 Blissfully ignorant and unaware of any history, I remained oblivious to the fact that
during this period Sadler’s Wells were showcasing key pioneers of the dance
-world, thework of choreographers with a root connection to the emergence of Modernism andContemporary Art. I saw Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown both of who activelycollaborated with artists in a free exchange of experimentation. Cunningham wasinstrumental in the loft performances and happenings taking place in New York duringthe early 60s and had worked closely with Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage and laterJasper Johns, whilst Brown too had collaborated with Rauschenberg in the devisingscreen and sets during the 70s. Indeed, at the point of seeing the Trisha Brown Companythe sets were Rauschenberg designs, consisting of various arrangements of movingscreens, which backed and then obscured the dancers. What was so arresting about suchperformances was not only their sculptural awareness and use of time but also theemployment of every day actions and movements to explore the scope and physicalcapacity of the human vehicle.These choreographers later began to work very consciously with video to explore theirconcerns. I was soon to be surprised by companies and pieces that overtly referenced filmand others who made direct use of the medium of the moving image.
The Lindsay Kemp Troupe evoked a sense of the silent era through Kemp’s use of heavy
make-up, exaggerated gestures and expressionistic lighting. There were also myriadreferences to the language of Butoh, Mime and Burlesque. First came
and later a production about the Great War,
The Big Parade
which specificallyreferenced the making of silent films.
 A great part of the pleasure in attending
Kemp’s shows was seeing full tilt the work of a
man responsible for
popular culture from the 70s onwards
in his work with Bowie, his choreographies for numerous films and his fleeting cameos in cultclassics such as
The Wicker Man
Vampire Lovers
. But perhaps most memorable wasencountering the electrifying stage presence of the blind performer Jack Birkitt aka TheGreat Orlando
who had appeared both in Jarman’s
as Borgia Ginz and asCaliban in
The Tempest.
Kemp’s dark carnival c
ombined the worlds of dance, literature,film and dream with an absolute abandon and in doing so reinvested the word
with its true sense
that of shady, alluring and sometime dangerous enchantment.One aspect of dance performance that took me by surprise was sound, not the musicalscore but the sounds that the dancers made whilst exerting themselves, the squeak of barefeet on the stage, sharp intakes of breath, rapid and forceful exhalations, the slappingsound of bodies meeting, occasional grunts of effort. The sheer physical exertion andeffort of dance was made manifest in the sounds emanating from the dancers.These bodily sounds became heightened and intensified in what came to be known as
Physical Theatre
, best exemplified in the gravity defying performances of groups such asLa La La Human Steps and DV8 Physical Theatre. Such companies pushed theperforming body to its limits, exploring stamina, vulnerability through physical trial.Exposure to such performance left me with an enduring interest in difficult durational toiland repetitive acts, and this interest began to take shape in my student work as I startedfilming scenarios with a poet, a boxer and a dancer, the muscularity of words pittedagainst the straining body.

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