Dance is music in another form and vice versa. Music can help you visualize things but is not necessarily an image in another form. Dance is also text and ideas in another form, as is music. Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Marcel Duchamp and Maya Deren are just a few artists that have touched on these concepts through multimedia experimentation.’Animals of Distinction’ and before them ‘The Holy Body Tattoo’ that originally performed the piece presented at Barbican Centre last week, tap on these same ideas. ‘Monumental’, with live score by post rock, experimental and long time favourite band Godspeed You!Black Emperor created an immersive experience and provided intellectual and emotional triggers for a variety of topics pertaining to everything from dance to political discourse.

The more recent dance performances that have stayed with me and which had live score, was ‘Rian’ presented at Sadler’s Wells by Fabulous Beast Dance with live music from Liam O’Maonlai and Hofesh Shechter’s ‘Grand Finale’ presented at ‘Athens Epidaurus festival’ last year. On both occasions, the band was part of the dance performance in a way, as musicians were placed among the dancers, establishing a ‘conversation’ between them. ‘Monumental‘ had a different structure as musicians and dancers had distinct areas on stage and did not seem to establish a communication throughout the performance. A week has passed and I still find it difficult to decide whether this was more than I could take or not.

Pedestals as mini stages within the stage

Eleven white cubes of different height, eleven points of view (as it was proved to be) both in geometric and conceptual sense, eleven bodies who transmitted anguish, agony, desperation, eagerness, compassion, surrender, anger, sadness and psychotic joy, were placed on stage. The space reserved for the band, was an area with less light at the very back of the stage. As Dana Gingras has explained, this revised version of ‘Monumental’ that we watched, “…seeks to use an extreme form of dance matched to Godspeed’s epic compositions, to illustrate the issues at stake for individuals and communities in a culture of constant acceleration…“.

The performance at times proved to be visually and emotionally challenging as there was movement from the dancers accompanied by the equally multidimensional soundscapes of GYBE, layered with visuals at the background that , at times, even incorporated text. This, demanded a considerable effort in order for someone to be able to take all of this in. The video projections, abstract yet powerful were the work of William Morrison while the text was the work of famous multimedia artist Jenny Holzer and their combination with the emotionally intense movement of the dancers, highlighted the existential, post apocalyptic, social and experiential aspects of GYBE’s music. Until now, these aspects, were implied or given another dimension, through the titles that the band has given to its different tracks throughout the years and through the notes that have accompanied their albums from time to time. I have always perceived their music as a synthesis of energies that transcend the conflicting or even converging ideas that created them. In the context of this performance, the music was charged further, mostly with negative and agonising feelings. The dancers’ repeating ‘brushing’ of their bodies, the expressive ‘bursts’ of two female dancers at different moments and the strong emotional ‘collapse’ of the collective and individual self as was represented by the multiple ‘falls’ from the pedestals, painted a dark image of the future, a tunnel with no light and apparently, no exit.  Jenny Holzer’s text, also stressed both the social decline and that of the individual and provided context to the agonising (to the point of emotional exhaustion) movement of the dancers.

As the days pass, I think that this performance was a sort of a kinetic sculpture in action, a ‘whole’ made up of individual parts that ‘fight’ for expression of individuality and collapse under the weight of their surrounding environment. The soundtrack of this process, made it look like a grandiose ‘fight’, transforming the movement of the dancers on stage into a ‘struggle’ of monumental proportions indeed!

Structuring a choreography around pedestals, is a very ambitious and challenging endeavour but this choice, gave additional gravitas to the ideas described by the text and the emotions triggered by GYBE’s melodic and tonal transitions. The synergy of all the different elements of this performance was absolute and overwhelming at the same time for one more reason.

The collective is a ‘breathing’ organism that responds to triggers and is the proof of a successful osmosis of its individual parts

I have always admired projects that manage to communicate in one way or another, the unparalleled strength of a ‘collective’, as a ‘body’ that carries with it the accumulation of all the energies of each individual part at a certain point in time. Not all ensembles or groups, display the qualities of a collective body but those who do, give to the rest of us a glimpse of a utopian structure. This performance aimed at presenting complicated, multidimensional ideas using multiple media and multidimensional music. The movement of the dancers succeeded in ‘painting’ the image of a dynamic ‘whole’ as a complete shape and at the same time articulating the coherence and completeness of the existential concerns of Jenny Holzer’s text. Even when brief solo pieces were performed, all dancers were present on stage, creating the impression that these solos were a kind of flickering light within the post apocalyptic darkness. As if suddenly, areas of the ‘whole’ were animated, trying to escape, trying to resist, only to be ‘crushed’ or even get attracted back to the ‘whole’ in its last attempt to remain exactly that…a whole. When the cubes were illuminated in the darkness while the dancers were on them , I perceived it as a symbolic way of reminding us about the fact that the  ‘whole’ is always a living and breathing organism.

But if your mind was momentarily ‘trapped’ in this ‘loop’ created by movement, it was GYBE’s grand, built-up loudness that was bigger than Barbican Hall, that provided an outlet, an escape route for the mind and an ‘excuse’ to focus on the ‘bigger’ picture, beyond the dystopic text, beyond the tense movement. The musicians, always humble, even more so in the context of this performance, did everything to almost ‘erase’ their presence from the stage. Their compositions

‘spoke’ loudly however, while they were also transformed as a result of the choreography.Now that I have put all of my experience down to words, I think I have made up my mind.

The music was translated using a different vocabulary than when it was first composed and was put into different context, while the choreography met and transcended its original aims under the influence of the visuals, the text and the soundtrack. This performance was a rare witnessing of an osmotic process, symbiosis in action and I feel privileged to have been able to experience it. Congratulations to all!

Find more photos from this performance here:

Blaue Rosen box

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