November 18 &
19, 2003 -- Sadler's Wells, London
Image: Miki Orihara
in "Satyric Festival Song"
Photo by John Deane
up and down she
moves her torso
hair flowing like whips
a spiralling smile
produces a giggle
Stripes, stripes of different colours, black, pea green, lemon yellow,
sripes all over the dancer's body, be her the blond Erica Dankmeyer or
the dark Blakeley White McGuire. The costume, an elastic tube of stripy
textures sewed together, pieces of the self, pieces of movements intertwined
with the woman's body, be her the blond or the dark one. Shoulders left
exposed to the hair's whipping and beating. The dancer's hair is as part
of the piece as the costume and the movements. This is Graham; it is never
only an isolated thing we are asked to focus upon, but rather a seires
of aspects that together make her sense of dance.
And maybe arrogantly, maybe satirically,
this brief solo opens with a dancer showing her back in jumping stripes,
one leg vertical to the ground and the other pointing diagonally and stretching
the stripy dress. Why is she turning her back to us, the audience? Her
loose hair floats in effective waves; it embodies the only curves in this
up-and-down movement of lines: horizontal in the dress, vertical and diagonal
via her arms (pointing upwards) and legs.
What would have happened if her hair had been curly instead of straight?
Relatively short instead of profusely long? Can we think of Graham with
other body figures? It could be a proficuous territory to explore her
sense of dynamics -- it could be. But let us return to our satyric figure.
When she finally turns her face towards us, the audience, a wierd relationship
is established. Her focus was away from us, the energy emanating from
her body still well preserved within the theatre box, where the stage
is, where movement happens at a safe distance for us to appreciate it.
She repetitively looks at us, straight in our direction, breaking the
fiction of her performance, alluding to it as it 'really' is: a fiction!
The sacred wall between performance and watchers of the performance is
altered; she goes beyond it and that is where the satire springs. That
is what metadance is about. "Look at me! Pay attention to my next
move/ment!" she seems to say. And here we go; she bends her torso
forward and frames her face with her cupped hands, playing games? Playing
faces? A partly displaced, parltly amused audience is called to take part
to the dance; our reaction is to smile, to giggle, well some of us remain
quietly silent, some other ask themselves "is this supposed to be
Here we go again; she walks, she runs, stops, bends her torso on one side
looks at us, looks at her right foot and the right foot answers back curling
its toes. Laughs burst among most of us, the now totally involved audience.
Yes she is playing with us! The flute highlights the moving lines of the
dress-movements-hair. Dankmeyer is totally gripping in this sublte game
of give-and-take. Perhaps it is the colour of her hair, a stricking
blond, which allows us to detach her dance from that of Graham and let
it have a force of its own. Perhaps it is her effervescent approach to
the piece to make it function so well. McGuire, on the other hand, has
a quickness lacking in her colleague. The way she passes from one
section to the other seems more effective and lucidly played, though she
spoils the toe curling phrase a bit.
"Satyric Festival Song" is a small masterpiece, a jewel created
by Graham in 1932. It is a bi-dimensional piece that goes far beyong its
time. The disruptive mode of what I like calling metadance belongs more
to a postmodern approach than to a modernist one. But Graham has always
been a problem in terms of definitions and classifications. Is she
a symbolist? Is she a modernist? Is she a feminist? Again the answer is
open for each of us to decide and choose the option that most fits our
understanding of her creative universe. In this solo she constantly keeps
us aware that the dancer is performing a dance; that it is a performance.
It is similar to what happens with Singing in the Rain, a musical
on the making of musicals. Or Orlando by Sally Potter, in which
the protagonist often looks straight at the camera, breaking the illusion
of the story, going beyond its structure of characters and events. In
the same way our satyrical figure plays with us at the game of dancing,
moving her bottom in front of our faces, simulating a fall for a presumed
lack of balance and so on and so forth. To have it performed in both programmes
at the Sadler's Wells performances is yet a further chance to unveil its
multiple layers of messages, lines, stripes, smiles….
Edited by Holly
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