Circular and Mesmeric

This article on Beyond the Body appeared in the Spring edition of Planet Magazine:

Circular and Mesmeric

A review of Beyond the Body

Taikabox Company presented their final performance of Beyond the Body on 28 November 2012 at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. This work involves five dancers, Eyebrow (‘a post jazz duo from Bristol’), a cinematographer and a digital artist.

 

With the company supported by five Cardiff-based institutions and recently working in Ebbw Vale, I anticipated some tough, ‘in-yer-face’ urban antics about industrial edgelands, poverty and dislocation. How wrong can you be?  The opening moments revealed five very calm, still figures dressed in a mixture of loose soft shapes, Japanese design and sharp modern tailoring in natural colours and interesting textures.  The design presented events and characters, which made me think of both the characters known as the ‘gardeners’ in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Year of the Flood, and of the futuristic sections of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

 

As they moved initially, floor light traced their circular, flowing gestures and rhythms, and their percussive breaths provided a surprising counterpoint. The smell of incense heightened the sense of a powerful ritual occasion for the dancers. I was unsure at this point how open the invitation might be, to join or share in this experience with them. They seemed to have found ritual dance which was personally empowering to them, and I was anxious that it might become self-regarding and have very little to do with the audience, as can happen with some autobiographical performance work.

 

However, the dancers then developed and changed this meditative phase by working with a back projection, which spilled onto the dance floor, revealing trees, their trunks and roots. Bill Mitchell’s succession of projected cinematographic images infiltrated and interacted with the bodies of the dance characters, who were identified by archetypal names such as Wanderer, Seeker, Shaman, Runner and Creator, and seemed engaged in some odyssey.

 

Constantly containing and shaping energy with compressive and circular movements, the dancers created fields of energy around themselves which became more extrovert and extravagant.

 

Kaleidoscopic and mutating projected images moved through bone shapes, starlit nights, a full moon, smoke, clouds and cityscapes, as reminders of worldly variety. My favourite sequence involved the image of white birds flying, slowed down to reveal detailed wing movements; this initially reminded me of a spinal column but it quickly morphed into what looked like thickening frost forming on a window. This was followed by some black smoky wraith-like shapes conjured by digital artist Iohn Collingswood, which appeared projected onto the floor, springing responsively from the movements and rhythms of the dancers, and beginning to creep over the dancers’ bodies (reminding me of the ‘dementors’ that torment Harry Potter!).

 

My initial anxiety was overcome as I was drawn into the circular and mesmeric qualities of the gestures. Tanja Råman has evolved a surprising choreography which draws on Eastern structures of movement, derived from Tai Chi and in particular qigong; she also uses repetition, fluidity and non-predictable forms of contact. The dynamic use of yoga poses and the constant interplay of surface images, digital projections and sound engage the spectator in an unusual combination of scenography, dance and movement; and once the spectator has begun to recognise and enjoy the company’s starting points, Beyond the Body begins its dialogue.

 

Taikabox fuse the ancient and modern and use the poetics of both to create a futuristic place that feels playful, complicating and strong. Paul Wigens and Pete Judge played an impressive soundscape of electronically modified drums, violin and trumpet. The sound, image and light design created a symbiotic relationship with the movement, and the eye and ear were challenged to change focus continually.

 

I remain interested by the inference contained within the title: that we may want to go ‘beyond the body’. I enjoyed seeing dancers freely expressing their bodies  and sharing their presence. Can you just be ‘with’ your body? Why are there so many ways devised to help us go beyond it? What importance does our culture place on dialogue, awareness and interaction with the body? Does the imagination, or a sense of the spiritual, take us outside the body; or are we located more deeply inside it? Does training for access to realms ‘beyond the body’ ultimately indicate a distrust concerning the role, place and potential of the body? So many attitudes towards the body are negative and are about ‘getting out of it’, or of ignoring its most basic needs in order to fulfil daily tasks and demands. Beyond the Body made me think a lot about how necessary it is to be ‘in the body’. The last sequence of the performance certainly focused on the possibilities and limits of the body, with a testing and vertiginous sequence of jumping performed on a continually changing, circular kaleidoscope of beautiful projected floor patterns. The dancers seemed to challenge themselves durationally in this section, which demonstrated their impressive training in breath control and physical precision, techniques with which to exhilarate and enliven both themselves and their audience. However, I’m still wondering about what it means to go ‘beyond the body’; and whether that is where I want to be.

Charmian Savill

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