As a non-expert in dance, one is always grateful when presented with work which boasts clearly defined narratives or objectives. This double-bill, presented at Cardiff Dance Festival, comprises two contrasting thirty-minute pieces whose aims are readily discernible. What is presented, however, is far from simplistic.
Wrongheaded, from the Liz Roche Company, takes as its subject the political battle over women’s control over their bodies, with particular reference to the intertwined influence of church and state in Ireland. It is based on a surreal, elliptical epic poem by Elaine Feeney, which comments on centuries of subjugation and complicity in subjugation. Her dramatic reading of it forms the soundtrack to the performance, alongside a subtle electronic score by Ray Harman.
The action begins in near darkness, with video images (courtesy of Mary Wycherley) projected on the floor of the performance area. Some of these seem abstract, some from nature, and some are of the performers themselves. The two dancers, Sarah Cerneaux and Justine Cooper, begin the piece in different areas of the stage, their movements laboured, seeming to operate under some unseen weight.
Clad in leggings and pastel-coloured blouses, they soon come together as a duet, sometimes working in close contact, sometimes interacting at a distance, but almost constantly in motion, reflecting the feverish tone of the poem if not its precise, intertwined testimonies and observations.
Throughout, one is struck by the feat of memory involved in performing such a complex and intellectually rigorous piece; let alone the dancing itself, which seems flawless. A number of moments stick in the memory: the point at which one woman has to crawl from underneath the apparently lifeless body of another, for example; the vomiting (well, nearly); the section, near the conclusion of the piece, where Stephen Dodd’s lighting design sees the dancers dramatically augmented by their shadows.
Wrongheaded is angry and sad, but somehow hopeful, in its depiction of strength and solidarity.
Laïla Diallo’s In This Moment, which follows, is equally clever, but more quietly contemplative in its intentions. Derived from a larger-scale piece entitled Countless Yellow Chairs, it is a rumination on the concept of time.
Casually dressed, Diallo begins her solo performance in a chair, playing out audio which outlines the history of the “moment” as defined by the movement of a shadow on the sundial (90 seconds, give or take). We are then plunged, for a long moment, into darkness and meditative silence.
The remainder of the piece comprises clearly defined segments. Diallo dances in her chair, seemingly struggling to escape; this section performed to a beautiful neo-classical score by Jules Maxwell. She then uses masking tape to construct a clock-shaped circle on the stage, giving examples, both live and in voice-over, of the subjectivity and relativity of our experience of the passing of time, before running around it until breathless.
In the most aesthetically, traditionally balletic sequence, she dons headphones, and dances fluently to sounds only she can hear; the audience is treated to choral music which may or may not correspond with her movements. Finally she returns to the chair, her movement seemingly freer this time.
If Wrongheaded is a visualised political poem, In This Moment is a visualised phenomenological essay. Both are striking pieces of work, intellectually rewarding and boasting moments of great beauty.
Liz Roche Company
Choreography/Concept: Liz Roche
Text: Elaine Feeney
Performers: Sarah Cerneaux, Justine Cooper
In This Moment
Devised by Laïla Diallo and Jules Maxwell
Performer/Choreographer: Laïla Diallo
Cardiff Dance Festival: http://dance.wales/