The art of choreographing thoughts

“Actually I really like this artform. I would love to be one of the people who expanded its territory.” – Siobhan Davies

‘Figuring’ by Siobhan Davies and Helka Kaski, materials / rearranged / to / be (2017) by Siobhan Davies Dance. Photo by Pari Naderi

Thursday 19th January 2017

This evening, our Next Choreography session took place at the Barbican centre, where we got to see Siobhan Davies’ new work:

Material / rearranged / to / be is a collaboration between Davies and 13 other choreographers, artists and scientists that tackles the relationship between body and mind . . . A starting point is the German art historian Aby Warburg and his 1920s Mnemosyne Atlas, in which he collated images from different eras and types of art – a renaissance painting, a piece of classical architecture, an early 20th century advert or newspaper cutting – which all represented similar actions, icons, or gestures (he was particularly fond of nymphs). Warburg showed how symbolic images reappear in different times and places throughout history.

Davies creates her own kind of Atlas, a montage of pieces that will play alongside each other throughout the day in ever-changing formations . . . What all the pieces share is the idea of physical gesture: where it might come from and what it might mean. “Warburg was curious about how the artist used the behaviour of the body to hold a thought,” says Davies.

And how does the body ‘hold a thought’? Well, I would say that in the first place, it has to think. To take the time to think and to embody that thought, I mean. Then, the thought might become intention, posture, gesture or attitude.

This is all visible in Siobhan Davies’ choreography and in her performance. I would say that she shows the same curiosity and attention to details as Warburg in his Atlas. Yes, her movements might seem slow, or minimalistic at first sight. But if you take a closer look, you realize that it’s sheer thinking in motion. And that is what fascinates me about her work: it’s reflective thinking in action.

Fifty years ago, Davies was one of the very first contemporary dance students in the country . . . At 66, she remains one of the most curious choreographers out there, her work, like the woman herself, unflashy and intelligent, her inquisitiveness reaching places dance doesn’t often go . . . She now wants to bring her audience closer, in every respect. Davies points out that in watching dance there’s no mediating object, no musical instrument, no paintbrush, no script, between dancer and viewer. “Both the performer and the observer are the same,” she says, but we’re used to seeing dancers push their bodies to extremes. “For some people that extremity is just a delight,” Davies says. “But for me, I only want to go so far, so I am keeping human contact.”

Actions from the ‘Encyclopaedia of Experience’, Charlie Morrissey, material / rearranged / to / be (2017) by Siobhan Davies Dance. Photo by Pari Naderi


In short,

Davies’ work is human scale: it’s unvirtuosic, her dancers dress in normal clothes and shoes, and what they do often looks like they’re busy solving a puzzle with their bodies. But it’s far from artless. “You can have work based on everyday experience,” she says. “But, in the making of it, there’s still a sense of virtuosity. In poetry, one often uses everyday language, but it’s the structure and the attention to detail that allows the reader to be transformed into another mode of thought.”

This seems a good way to think about Davies’ work: deceptively simple in terms of the movement presented, but full of poetry in its ideas and structures.

Source: The Guardian, Thursday 12/01/2017. An article by Lyndsey Winship.


Version française disponible ici 🙂


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