Merce Cunningham's 1958 piece Night Wandereing is an abstracted walk through the city at night, with Kevin Coquelard as flickering dream-shadow to Julie Cunningham's wild urban Wanderer. Her movements are clear, cold and focussed; balletic but freed from ballet structure, and all the more beautiful for this liberation. Cunningham is a body walking past a street lamp, Coquelard her shrinking and growing shadow. He disappears (across the street?), waiting while she pauses (at a shop window?). She rolls her body and he supports, her gestures powerfully new and yet familiar after so many years. She describes arcs of space with perfect sweeps of her legs, every line geometrically sharp and economical.
The aspirant perfection of modernism is never far from my mind while watching Night Wandereing: Bo Nilsson's 12-tone piano music is beautiful - strangely cosy in fact - and the hugely evocative Robert Rauschenberg costumes lend a fifth psychic dimension to the experience.
How striking and unsentimentally evocative this piece is, and how breathtaking it must have been to witness at the time. I've been reading Ayn Rand lately, and I can't help placing the moving bodies and the sounds of this piece into my own imagined version of the late 1950s, where their brave abstractions move alongside the other great art of the time, Cage, Feldman, in a place where people like Ayn Rand never existed. Great art, and still vibrant.
We each have a star says Florence Welalo in the central speech of John Scott's Precious Metal. "Your star follows - no colour, no country, no continent". Ryan O'Neill's speech, "I saw lines of protestors on the Austrian / Italian border, protesting against the police at the new border" forms a dark counterpoint, underlined by Tom Lane's destabilising oceanic drone and bells. Scott's dancers are with us in an imagined asylum, but this is a waking dream and we are not allowed to forget what looming shadows lie over the edges. Not dragons, but worse: us, versions of us which are brutal and cruel.
Scott's energies lie with Welalo, to make the antimatter of hatred, to create a beauty for every ugliness. This is for me the central alchemy of Precious Metal.
Scott's love of the body is irresistible, and he wears his artistic duty lightly because of this. Precious Metal is earthy, warm, eloquent and fun. The performers are heavily invested in the work, utterly committed, and clearly enjoying themselves. O'Neill's Tragic Finale bit drew a round of applause, the louder his brilliantly ersatz sobs the louder the laughter...we are included in the joke. This art is for everybody.
Underlying the thematic content is this love of the body, in movement, creating shapes, in tension, in laughter, shouting glossolalia, twitching, running, bare, clothed, in unison, in chaos, joking, jumping, jerking, speaking French, English, Kabiyé, cutting up space, relaxing....it's all here. There is so much to say, so much fun to be had, so much exploration to do. How to fit it all into just an hour? Scott's downtown Abstract Expressionist / collagist aesthetic means that each element is allowed to have its own personality. Nothing is overworked. Systems are picked up, established and abandoned. Games are played. The body is the vehicle, for not only the thematic message, but even more satisfyingly just for its own exuberant logic. Images come and go - Matisse's Les Danseuses, an undulating human wave, a human pile-up. During Welalo's speech the formal choreography returns behind her like a symphonic surge. She gets the dancers to take off their tops, we laugh, off they go. At one point a beautiful cora figure and drone provide a rhythm which the dancers ignore, stamping to their own collective groove. We are in a playground of chaotic but internally consistent physicality; watching experts, razor-sharp performers. And somehow we are always part of the fun.
Nevertheless, the poignancy of the message is never out of view. At one point Coquelard, in the middle of a fevered speaking-in-tongues, says in French "quelle vaudra subsister"..."what will remain" (I think). He tries implacably to encourage Welalo to dance, and her refusals, increasing in intensity, become a dance. The quartet organise themselves into two couples and quietly orbit the stage to embrace each other in every recombination, growing hilarious and boisterous. Junior Yusuf sits at the end slowly repeating "the things", as if distilling every moment of what just happened into these words. "The things" - the languages, the systems, our ways of life - are just objects; for better or for worse, we give them their value. They can be used to make people happy or they can be used to hurt people. Precious Metal is a clear-sighted, good-natured, sometimes chaotic, meditation on this fact.
Bryan for DRAFF