Tuesday 14 January 2014

Video Review of Siobhan Davies Dance: Table of Contents, a live installation at the ICA

Siobhan Davies Dance: Table of Contents, a live installation
8 – 19 January 2014

Siobhan Davies is an award-winning British dancer and choreographer with a particular interest in the concept of how one might archive dance and other performance art. To welcome in the new year, she has collaborated with the ICA and five dance artists to produce an innovative and boundary breaking part-improvised performance – or, as the gallery is billing it, a live installation – which will run for seven hours a day, from 8 – 19 January.

Walking into the studio is like walking into the middle of a dance rehearsal. One or two or three performers at a time are dancing, often speaking aloud, discussing what they are doing, where they are going, what they are sensing. Some address the audience directly, employing props to offer an impromptu anatomy lesson or, in the words and acts of Finnish collaborator Helka Kaski, to give the heart “its public debut”.

Nimble, agile and seemingly weightless, the performers move hither and thither, following unprescribed paths, wearing everyday clothes, and blending and interacting with the audience in a manner similar to Turner Prize nominee Tino Sehgal. Andrea Buckley and Charlie Morrissey, working together, become symbiotic in their motion. First he lifts her, then she him, carrying him across the floor space, before placing him down on a handily positioned stool, recently vacated by an audience member, all the while chattering about what she is doing, what she remembers from their last dance together, and how she is glad to take a quick breather: “It’s really great when Charlie cooperates,” she laughs. “It doesn’t always happen!”

A kind of slow motion gymnast, Matthias Sperling creeps from one end of the room to the other without touching the ground. Using eight upturned plastic cups, he carries out a Twister-esque game of criss-crossing his limbs like a confused octopus. At the same time, across the room, Rachel Krische gestures wildly, face expressive as a mime artist, smiling encouragingly and asking audience members to help her out by repeating words heard on a headphone set or listening to the recording of a conversation with Siobhan Davies about the evolution of dance.

The soundtrack is created by the voices of the artists, their heavy breathing, the gentle padding of their feet, and the scraping of chairs and cups across the floor. Some audience members laugh or chat to one another, alternately bemused and amused. At points, however, they are transfixed, waiting to find out what will happen next. At intervals, everyone in the room is invited to gather around some large wooden tables, moved about between “sets”, where the artists about to take to the stage will mark out their dance space and set out their proposals.

In his piece, For Now, Sperling performs moves from what he calls the Siobhan Davies archive – elements from other dancers and choreographers, as well as from previous works of his own – all the time questioning their relevance for the performance at hand, as if selecting images from an archive to compose on a story board, the picture grows and flows. Reperformance brings the art back to life and, of course, offers an answer to the thesis or starting point brought to the table by Davies: how can an ephemeral and live art form be preserved for posterity? Well, through photography and reperformance, written description and film. The dance artists in this installation do their part, and this short film is Studio International’s contribution to the archive.

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