Bouncing ideas

VISUAL ARTS Tight Roaring Circle Roundhouse, London

John O'Reilly
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:53

When you are contacted about a work commisioned by Artangel, who brought us Rachel Whiteread's House, and they suggest that you "make sure your socks don't have holes in them", you start to get a little worried. Tight Roaring Circle is at the Camden Roundhouse, which was originally designed in the Victorian era as a machine to channel railway engines into their berths. Now situated clumsily at the edge of Chalk Farm Road in Camden, and with a conical roof and opaque facade, it resembles nothing more than a space-ship that has been dumped haphazardly by passing aliens too drunk to drive home.

As you wander inside, this initial impression is confirmed. You are immediately engulfed by the booming, dissonant sounds of futuristic horns that blare, blast and soothe in a series of peaks and troughs. Scary. And then, like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters looking over the top of the mountain, you finally see it in its vast, wondrous, grandeur - a huge, white bouncy castle. This is the Tight Roaring Circle. The name is derived from the original Greek meaning of choreography - "the drawing of movements for a chorus; an inscription of circles".

It is the result of a collaboration between composer Joel Ryan and the choreographers Dana Caspersen and William Forsythe. They were commissioned by Artangel to produce something site-specific. As Caspersen and Forsythe explained: "There were lots of different versions. At one stage, we were going to fill the space with 10,000 narcissi. We had lots of different ideas for dramatic rooms and evocative spaces. We did auditions, readings and had engineers and experts on railway turntables in there. And, sure enough, we ended up with a white bouncy castle." It will surprise people who are familiar with their work. One newspaper critic, after viewing one of their previous minimalist choreographies, was moved to write apocalyptically that they were ushering in the new dark ages of the arts. Both seem to relish the fact that, given their reputation as evil stark minimalists, they have produced something that is unexpected and yet retains a simple aesthetic. It's as if Walt Disney had been locked in a room with Carl Andre and come up with a compromise.

Having taken off your shoes and wandered through the entrance to the castle, the surface appears as a densely packed range of bobbing, white buttocks. I hopped in like a bunny, dodging the other dancers. You are surrounded by whiteness and the booming sounds of Joel Ryan's horn music, which he says attempts to "avoid the alienating aspect of electronic music. The sound is of something inhuman and on earth." The castle pulsates with movement and the bursts of crescendos. The overall effect is what you imagine walking on the moon might be like. As you bounce, there is a barely distiguishable moment of zero gravity. And then, in mid-air, you see the writing on the walls of the castle. "Each passing year never failing to exact its toll keeps altering what was sublime into the stuff of comedy." Boinggg.

"The exterior is eaten away... is it true then that the sublime pertains by nature only to an exterior which conceals a core of nonsense." Boinggg. They are quotations from a Yukio Mishima novel about the loss of the innocent idealism of childhood. You are in the world of Sublime 'R' Us. Imagine the crusty old philosopher of the sublime, Immanuel Kant, writing the Critique of Judgement on a Space Hopper.

It split the critics. I passed one who commented sniffily: "Of course, it's completely meaningless." He had his shoes on and perhaps he hadn't experienced that moment of zero gravity. On the other hand, The Big Breakfast wanted to broadcast their show from inside the castle. When Caspersen and Forsythe were asked "but is it art?" they replied, "How the hell would we know?" So I decided to ask the sweaty, red-faced experts, Celine, Joss, Frankie and Edith aged between six and 10. "It's ginormous. You can only go on for a while and then you have to take a break. The castle is more bouncy than normal castles and you have to dance in a certain way." And who said the sublime wasn't fun?

Camden Roundhouse, London NW1 (0171-336 6803). To 27 April

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