Siobhan Davies Dance: Table of Contents
8 - 19 January 2014
Review by Diana Damian Martin
Perhaps it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that discourses on the preservation, archiving and documentation of the live are oversaturated by the ephemeral-performative paradigm; that it is almost impossible to conceive of performance documentation as something removed from a politics of materiality, from a particular engagement with either an impossible capture or an independent, authored action; that there is a highly institutionalised aspect to the archive that contests our freedom to forget, weighting that of remembering. Siobhan Davies’ ‘Table of Contents’ engages with this oversaturation in a way that is beautifully candid, with minimalist sophistication and a complex understanding of the tenets that invite audiences into the archive in the first place: process and discussion.
Davies’ work has always engaged with a particular intimacy and discursiveness foregrounded through the movement language she developed. Navigating the theatrical and displacing unity and cohesion of movement, her work is characterised by a particular form of gestural expressiveness. Her dancers are invited to consider questions of distance, both internal and external; surface, texture and materiality of the body are central concerns. As much as her work effaces a particular narrative quality, it always tends towards politicising the organic, constructing a visible conflict between public and private. Although, in her own words, it was Merce Cunningham’s formal abstraction that fuelled some of her early work, Davies’ practice is a varied landscape; it both centralises and questions the body with a particularly philosophical mode of enquiry.
‘Table of Contents’ enacts this language, yet it also actualises it in the gallery space, without resorting to any distinctly documentary processes. Instead, it is the archival body, and the role of memory, that are foregrounded here. The gallery is host to 15 tasks and brief performances, enacted by five dancers and Davies herself. Two wooden tables occupy the white-box space, whilst the wooden floor brings an elegant, and necessary, context. The table is both beginning and end; it is the site where the performers plan their next piece, but also where audiences gather to discuss, intervene and question. After the fragment is sketched out and discussed, the performance is mapped out physically in the space; sometimes, dancers speak whilst they repeat or attempt to perform a task. They complicate the body language with evocative simplicity; narratives conflict with the moves themselves. Exhaustion occasionally builds in; anecdotes and careful, insightful and delicate observations provide a sense of context, a theoretical and embodied timeline.
The space fills up with dancers moving, with their weighted words and the attentive gaze of the audience. In its inviting simplicity, the gallery resembles a different kind of rehearsal room; there is no mythologisation of the body or of narrative of practice here, yet neither is the openness too broad, too unengaged. This is both an exercise in mapping and an excavation of memory, yet the words uttered by the dancers operate as two-fold strategies. There is no re-telling of movement; there is articulation of process, enactment of memories that might engage our own bodies in these tasks of tracing.
Davies’ ‘Table of Contents’ engages in a dual exercise of presentation and questioning; here, the archive is politicised through site and body. Questions of oral history, or embodied knowledge, of the role and formation of canons and the legislation and ownership of dance history are foregrounded through the iteration of these 15 moments. The occupation of the gallery itself is an apt proposition that removes dance from a paradigm of materiality, placing value on a more complex set of archival iterations, and foregrounding the role of the individual and the body to preserve.