Artistic director and choreographer: Joanna Young
Composer: Jamie McCarthy
Dance artist: Belinda Neave
Design consultant: Gerald Tyler
The Dance Centre, Pen Y Pound, Abergavenny, 28 November 2015
I am familiar with Joanna Young’s strong choreographic language from having seen her Re-creating Pengwyn and Army of Me, and I was fascinated to see the way she has taken this into her cross-artform collaborative work with composer Jamie McCarthy. Within the installation which they have created, the compelling dance performance by Belinda Neave eventually draws all of us in the room to stillness and attention, but not before we have all participated, in whatever way we choose.
The word choice is the one which Joanna Young says she began with, in researching and developing ‘Don’t think about a purple daisy’, initially with Brussels-based artists. As a member of the audience I’m invited to enter and leave the room as I wish, to look, to listen and to interact and play with the materials in the room. It’s for me to choose, and then make another choice, and another. Presented with so many options what do you do? The central dilemma of our lives, played out in a white room.
I’m drawn to a pile of pebbles. Which of us has not spent times of happy idleness arranging and re-arranging pebbles on a beach? The flowers petals are a different matter – so delicate and so beautifully arranged, would I damage them if I touched them with my clumsy fingers? The room is at one and the same time empty and full of stimuli – objects natural and manufactured, sheets of paper with suggestions for things I might do, or not, for as long as feels comfortable, or not. I place a dried thistle on an overhead projector and marvel for a while at the clarity of its sharp little points projected on the wall. There are TV screens, showing films of small objects. Long daisy pins, fuses, seed heads. Sounds on the films and, though I can’t say now when it started or whether it was there all the time and became more insistent, sound in the room. And when did the performance begin?
Amongst the objects in the room I find a copy of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes. Only last week a friend lent me her copy of this, the first time I have ever looked at it. Without a doubt Jung would call this synchronicity, the acausal connecting principle of “meaningful co-incidence”, and one which he relates to the way the I Ching offers ways of thinking about answers to questions. John Cage used the I Ching a lot in his musical composition and to me this performance installation was distinctly Cageian, offering, in his words:
a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord. (John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings)
Here’s a question – did Jamie McCarthy’s often mesmeric soundscape influence the choices I made about what I looked at and how I moved about the room? Possibly. It may well have contributed to the feeling I had of (what I imagine to be) womb-like comfort for some of the time. It may subsequently have triggered me to focus on Belinda Neave moving through the room. Nonetheless, I felt that this was a remarkably open experience. While, in the freedom of choice it offered the audience and on its use of the body as a way of achieving understanding, it reminded me of Marina Abramović’s ‘512 Hours’ at the Serpentine Gallery last summer, it had none of the collective or individual coercive aspects of Abramović’s performance there – headphones, masks, certain people being “chosen”. Of course, even when there are explicitly no rules, no “noes”, we collectively and individually impose our own. No-one does anything destructive, no-one shouts, no-one joins in with the dance. The group acts respectfully. Would that it were so in the outside world.
This performance installation was, for me, nurturing and nourishing, food for mind and spirit. It was particularly gratifying to experience it in the beautiful dance studio which has been created in Abergavenny by the Monmouthshire community dance organisation Dance Blast. It was Dance Blast which itself nurtured Joanna Young as a young dancer, and fitting that she should bring her fine work back to show and share where she began her artistic journey.