THE CRITICS DANCE: Bach, and this time it's personal
Sunday 26 May 1996
Bach's Musical Offering, a set of 13 instrumental variations, is a piece of baroque polyphony with a formal rigour that leaves mathematicians dizzy with delight. It has what Brown calls "a preponderance of exquisite structure", yet typically of Bach it's also immediately accessible as ravishing music. Other fine choreographers have foundered on Bach. Trisha Brown responds with a playful intelligence that pays profound homage to the score yet also allows her to joke with it, work around and through it, and even to claim her piece could be danced without it.
It comes as no surprise to learn that her initial preparation for MO was to learn to compose baroque counterpoint. She knows how it works. Yet she avoids dogma by using a different tactic for each of the Offering's parts. Sometimes she goes for a strict visualisation of the notes. The dancers become voices in the canon, each cueing in with the same movement phrase and spiralling off as the theme elaborates, bunching into running pairs and threes and fours as the instruments divide and rejoin in working out the fugue. In Bach's contrary-motion number, two male dancers converge from opposite corners, then retrace their intricate steps in a perfect palindrome. A fast fugue has a string of dancers repeatedly careering across the stage in a frenziedly comic follow- my-leader.
The dancing itself is superb. Almost casual in its basis of loose-limbed, natural human motion (standing, leaning, falling, running), it has a fluid elegance that belies its compositional rigour and a dazzling precision that puts other companies in the shade. Brown claims that she reinvents her vocabulary for each new work, but the same crystalline qualities appear in Set and Reset, a groovy celebration of life on the sidewalk, and in a solo performed by Brown herself. Eloquent, challenging, uplifting and gloriously life-enhancing, the Trisha Brown Company offers the best contemporary dance I've seen this year.
Siobhan Davies is another mature dance-maker not content to sit on her laurels. On Tuesday I caught her latest piece, Trespass, twinned with the hit of 1995, The Art of Touch, in Colchester on a brief tour. Whereas in Touch, Davies's starting point was the music - Scarlatti's harpsichord sonatas - the new work starts from a blank page. She asked her composer and designers of costume, stage and lighting to come up with dynamically contrasting elements which might alter the other components in the work - trespassing on the others' domain.
It was a tall order. For a start, it's hard to see how Gerald Barry's score - tender, brooding monody alternating with fierce hammerings from a piano trio - did anything more than music normally does for dance. Nor is it obvious how Sacha Keir's grey outfits could have any influence unless by their very drabness. Stage designer David Buckland, however, came up with a striking, neon-edged gauze screen, which effectively splices the action in two whenever it descends, and an illuminated parchment globe which, rolled slowly about the stage, becomes an eerily beautiful partner in a dance. A gangling, 12ft praying-mantis puppet, devised by Buckland and Keir, glowers over the opening of the piece to no apparent purpose.
Davies's dancers are, as ever, infinitely watchable in their myriad permutations of swivelling, stretching, gliding and striding steps. Yet Trespass, for all its interest, remains an experiment - one that, like its components, fails to bring much to bear on anything else.
Trisha Brown Company: Newcastle Theatre Royal (0191 232 2061), Tues & Wed; Blackpool Grand (01253 28372), 3 & 4 Jun. Siobhan Davies: Newcastle Theatre Royal (0191 232 2061), Fri & Sat; Sheffield Crucible (0114 276 9922), 4 & 5 Jun.
First full-length look is finally here
World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'
Life & Style blogs
Snapchat removed the Best Friends list feature and 'stalkers' are upset
Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
Eight-year-old girl Camilla Lisant suggests possible cancer treatment to her scientist father over the dinner table
Lack of medically trained staff leaves NHS 111 phone service struggling to cope, insider claims
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: At Tradewind Recruitment we are currently l...
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment is currently working ...
£28000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...