Contemporary dance review: JOHN & Dancing Away

Country Life's dance critic reviews two new contemporary productions.

”Before you can have paintings or…music…,” declared the choreographer Twyla Tharp, “before you can have language, you’ve got to have movement.” Most choreographers would probably agree. But not Lloyd Newson.

Widely known for dramatic dance-theatre pieces that have exerted a remarkable influence on British dance, this choreographer has chosen to concentrate increasingly on text. “A lot of dance is decoration,” he said recently. “It’s nice to go into a room and see lovely wallpaper, but the fundamental thing is the room itself…I don’t think you can talk about a complex world without words. As I get older, I have to have language.”

JOHN, his latest ‘verbatim’ work for his company, DV8, follows homeless men through fatherhood, arson, violence and addiction to gay saunas, the only place they can find solace and affection. Mr. Newson and his dancers rendered the movement from a series of personal interviews, gradually translating their subjects’ confidences into physical form that shares the stage with their actual words.

Passing through revolving anonymous spaces, nine performers animate the speakers’ emotional conflicts with a muscular eloquence that literally puts flesh on their thoughts. Tilting, embracing and grappling bodies graphically partner their words, gradually exposing the shapes and motives for their intimacy.

Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Dancing Away at ContiniArtUK, London until 31 January 2015.

Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Dancing Away at ContiniArtUK, London until 31 January 2015.

Mikhail Baryshnikov has also adopted a fresh perspective on dance. For the past 20 years, the great classical danseur has been exploring its variety and infectious energy with a camera, viewing the art as an observor rather than a participant.

The first UK exhibition of his photographs features enormous color prints that capture dance as it’s happening, both onstage and informally in public. Deliberately avoiding static poses, he has focused on the swirling fluidity with which all dancers fill their surrounding space. “I wanted the audience to see, to be able to imagine, the movement before and after, not just the frozen moment.” Decades of experience as a performer helped him define his intentions, and long film exposures allowed him to realise them.

JOHN remains at the Lyttleton Theatre until 13 January.

Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Dancing Away at ContiniArtUK, London until 31 January.

Manipulating art works instead of bodies, the dancer-choreographer Akram Khan has organised One Side to the Other, an exhibition of paintings, sculpture, photography and film. Dancers will add performance to the exhibit by leading small groups of visitors through it on certain days. The Lowry, Salford until 1 February.

Degas’s Little Dancer, the renowned bronze statuette displayed with 14 further Degas works on dance, including pastels and monotypes. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. until 11 January.


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