Thoughts and findings on a Visit to the National Gallery – 12th November – Residency 7 for Dancing Museums project.
I visited the National Gallery to catch the last of the project today. I saw 4 performances in rooms 30-34 in the space of two hours. What made them different from traditional dance performances is that they were improvised and performed in the gallery space. What interested me the most was how the crowd behaved in response to this and how experimental the concept was. Lucy Suggate stepped into a pose and focused her eyes on the painting on the back wall, slowly morphing and flickering into different shapes and forms.
After speaking to people involved in the group I found out that the dancing that took place was only pre-organised by space and costume – the movement that came out of the piece was improvisation and response to the environment. A big room full of paintings. I guess the differences are the actual dimensions, light and of course the painting themselves. The dance vocabulary aimed to document the shapes and mannerisms of the people in the paintings – what they were doing or not doing before and after the paintings had taken place and also, seeing how this related to the people already in the room. It was essentially documentation of the paintings through movement which was then further documented through a woman watching Lucy closely, making abstract charcoal and crayon drawings in response to the dynamics and linear qualities of the movement.
Also I’ve always been interested in the fact that a painting seems to exist as a frozen moment but in, for example, a battle scene, it is interesting to explore the before and after. The kinetic flow of the drawing really linked art making with improvised movement… the drawing artist was vigorous and got through around 10 pages of sketches and expressive lines and smudges. Her costume was very interesting – it wasn’t making reference to the paintings in the space in an obvious way, it was an oversized almost tracksuit-like royal blue 2 piece that drew out all of the blue parts of the paintings in the space which I wouldn’t have paid such close attention to if she hadn’t have performed there. I found the best view-points occurred when the dancer was directly in front of the large painting but the great thing about this idea is that the audience can view the dancer in the round. I found myself moving around to see how this influenced the combination of the two elements.
I also found that there was a playful element to the performance, people were allowed to join in if they wanted to… not that anyone would dare (by our schemas of what a performance should be) and the performer didn’t acknowledge the audience really, she was in her own zone of documentation and her focus was more about embodying the space than anything else. This changes the ratio of performer to audience participation>> the performance isn’t made directly for the audience, the audience just happen to be there witnessing and are therefore participants in the situation. The performer was so comfortable to the point where she would start a conversation for example she asked how long she had left to the person drawing, coming out of her role as a dancer performing which I think was the most charming thing about the whole experience. Suddenly we’re not seeing performers as icons and figures but as people sharing the space with us.
Connor the second dancer dressed in black and white then performed shortly after Lucy. It was great how informal the change-over was. The dancers came out of their zone and just asked, how long have I got left or I’m going in now. We didn’t feel that on-stage to audience separation. Their role here was to be seen as people the same as the spectators. Interestingly Connor’s solo didn’t capture such a crowd as Lucy did. I think it may have been because of his costume – it wasn’t as eye-catching as Lucy’s. Also I found out later that it was made for the Louvre residency originally and that they were testing it out in the National Gallery.
Also, Connor usually performs in mime make up which I would’ve found very interesting to see in that space. Both Connor and Lucy had different flows of movement which is why I think both performances worked together – the link was the paintings but their movement documented different elements, details and rhythms highlighting their individual interpretations. Also it should be noted that the dancers did not really acknowledge the audience – the dance wasn’t for them, they just happened to be there at the time. They were more concerned in responding to the room and atmosphere as a whole. Otherwise do it after the gallery has shut. In which case if the dancer wanted to go to a corner they would have to break through the audience somehow. There are issues of basic logistics here. I’m sure they thought about them but I’d be interested in finding out what the constraints really were. Also, another reason why the audience moved on is because they assumed the dancers would be occupying the space for long periods of time – durational dance pieces – people were almost treating it like they were passing by a painting… there was a confusion and a realisation process in the audience.
The two dancers in the background of the photo on the left, contributed to a more interactive element of the gallery space. They lent on each other and moved around the space using each other’s weight. What was great about them is the male dancer was directing the female and talking through the different movements which gave the viewers insight into the process. Again making them think about movement and choreography which is related to the still paintings that they are contemplating. The dancers were very casual, saying hi to all the spectators as they went around. Another interactive piece was that of a male dancer in room 30. He was challenging the way in which people spectate art by imitating spectators, taking up their positions and seeing how they reacted. He would then have a conversation with them and end up in a different position. For example, when I entered the room he was sat on the floor with a spectator with their backs up against the bench looking at the painting from floor level as opposed to standing.