Posted on June 1, 2012
When we entered the Burton Taylor (the tiny studio attached to the Oxford Playhouse, usually given over to student theatre) it was quite dark, apart from a thin shaft of light, and quite empty, apart from the figure of a woman lying in the middle of the floor. We ranged ourselves against the walls, standing. The feeling of anticipation and curiosity is incredible. Suddenly a torch is raised – another woman is caught by its beam in the corner, struggling with a silver coat. The torch bearing man moves round and as it catches the light again the silver glows fiercely, the woman gasps.
This is just an example of the extraordinary power ordinary objects and actions acquire in this installation piece. The three performers move with an incredible deliberation, their movements magnified by our proximity. Our concentration moves to a string of pearls – two dancers walk slowly apart, face-to-face, and stretching it create an extraordinary tension. The remaining girl throws up her arms as if in surrender, with a sharp intake of breath. The silence, apart from quiet breaths and the sound of footsteps, is total. It seems almost dense, nurturing the mental associations of each gesture, creating a language of movement in free association – for there is no formal dance style used, and no plot or character, yet the work seems to fit together perfectly.
Our second shock of colour comes when the man bares his arm – it is painted gold. The golden arm, then the golden hand of another dancer, are presented to some individuals opposite me. I am approached by a girl, who withdrawing her arms into her sleeves as if to remove her shirt seems now to be shrinking back and finally removes a strip of nylon and hands it to me. Thus the dominantly flirtatious, the timid and the playful are all conveyed in a few seconds. A number of such associations are crammed into every few seconds over the course of the 40 or so minutes the piece goes on for.
Angela Woodhouse and Caroline Broadhead’s company has produced easily the best show I have seen over the course of the Dancin’ Oxford Dance Festival, and one that is perfectly suited to a small space where there can be no question of spectacle and the closeness of the audience demands an enormous charm from the performers. It is the highest form of theatre, where we seem to be watching and participating in, though only on the brink of, a tremendous ritual where through the magic of silence and slowness, even the slightest movement becomes enormous.
Thomas Stell is one of the winners of the Dance Writers of the Future 2012 competition