This double bill was either an interesting juxtaposition of a question about the nature of word, music and dance as forms of communication followed by an example of a work that uses all three to consider an idea – or just a programming coincidence.
Whatever the answer to the programming conundrum, the result of this combination of dance choreographies was that my brain was taken up during much of the second work, The Green House, applying the questions posed in the first, Profundis.
This is both interesting but in another way a pity. Interesting because it gave a particular focus or perhaps filter to my cognitive response to Caroline Finn’s The Green House. A pity, because I would also have liked to have been able to switch off that filter and let my brain fuse with that of the choreographic and design team in isolation.
Profundis is one of those intellectual, concept works: the choreographer, Roy Assaf, having abandoned his initial plan to devise a dance around the Latin poem of the same name veered over to Leonard Bernstein’s What Does Music Mean. Originally broadcast on the CBS Television Network on 18 January 1958, the talk took the form of playing music (starting with Rossini’s William Tell Overture) and asked the children what do they think the music is about. After dissing the Lone Ranger association his talk concluded: “Right now, all you have to know is that music has its own meanings, right there for you to find inside the music itself; and you don’t need any stories or any pictures to tell you what it means. If you like music at all, you’ll find out the meanings for yourselves, just by listening to it.”
In Profundis Assaf lets the individual dancers display movements that we recognise but says the dance is not about that, so it is not about a penguin, or a clown, or a princess etc while the dancer makes a movement for that thing. But he then creates a short story partly based on several of those words and movements.
There are links back to Bernstein, such as Don Quixote, which is music and movement in the form of the ballet, which features in the talk. Similarly, we have an opening solo of sensual female movement played to Egyptian music followed by a band of wrestlers. We have two men fighting and then, using similar choreography, the same two men are lovers. Just as Bernstein says, “that’s just the wonder of music….. different people have different kinds of feelings.”
In terms of the aesthetics of the movement, the solo at the opening is accessible beautiful and lithe, similarly Assaf’s other group work with the female dancers is the most pleasing while the male dancers seem to have more graceless, more mechanical vocabulary (although to be fair one of the wrestlers happens to be female). Maybe it could also be the quality/personality of the actual dancers. I am not certain without seeing more of Assaf’s work.
How many times a dance choreographer has answered my question “what is it about, what is it trying to communicate?” with the response that it is up to the audience member and it is not for he or she to tell the audience how to respond.
So back to Profundis – and by association The Green House.
I met two women at a coach station in London who were also travelling back to Wales. Somehow we quickly got on to talking about dance. They told me they used to go to see Diversions and National Dance Company Wales but hadn’t been for several years because they found the dances very variable in quality and were not sure what the company was about, what was its voice. I, of course, encouraged them to come back to the fold but, more importantly, I was taken aback in that as I have had that same thought for quite a few years and not only since the ugly regime change that eventually saw Caroline Finn appointed artistic director.
These two dances (and yes, two not three as has been the norm) made sense to me as a possible new feel, voice, direction, reason for the company. Not not just because they are zany but they are both analytical narrative dance theatre. I am not saying I always get what the choreographer is trying to analyse, to communicate, to say but there does seem to be a thread that there is a message in there; the abstract, dance for dance sake, seems to have gone.
And so to The Green House.
The Green House
A stylized and surrealistic sixties sit com in which everything is green, where the costume fabrics (a bit like The Sound of Music) are the same as the designs of the wall fabrics, where the on-set and off-set are semi permeable worlds – between which the family travel through doors, windows, around the TV set and from which are sometimes barred.
The characters look through the windows and doorway, sometimes mirroring the dance movement of the characters on the set and, are at times, liberated or compelled (who knows?) to step out of The Green House to perform what frequently seem discordant, troubled, angst-ridden and angst-driven solos.
The music similarly divides into a myriad of tableaux, schmaltzy tunes from the era, melodies that conjure up those American fatuous sitcoms, but also more driving, pulsating scores. The lighting from Joe Fletcher exemplifies these atmospheres and, dare I say, meanings. What does light mean? And off we could go again.
Again, we have dancers given scope to create their own personalized movements, gestures and also some sounds which are interlocked with slow, smooth duets and just occasionally lyrical ensemble work which acts to counterpoint some of the highly individual actions.
In her programme note and in the In My Words article elsewhere on Arts Scene in Wales, Caroline talks of her intentions with the work – with its meaning and the theme of pruning, both to discard and also to enable new growth. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why we have the green apples – always a symbol for something or other and the fact that it is a man in a dress who is obsessed with them may be a play on gender and the female association with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
I told a friend who I met in the interval that I had heard that The Green House was very zany. Referring to Profundis, he said, “More zany than what we just had?” Indeed, it is but is again a dance for those little grey cells possibly more than the emotions, intellectual as much as aesthetic. And just maybe that is the new voice, look, feel of NDCWales.
Review from Mold performance
Caroline Finn talks about The Green House