“What on earth is that all about? ” is a question often asked in response to challenging works of contemporary art. When an artist dares to confound prevailing forms and trends, it appears this can be quite an affront to the sensibilities of ‘the consumer’. Fortunately, however, there are plenty of artists out there who are not driven by the relentless drive for consumption.
Dancing at Bath Festival
One of these is Rosemary Lee. I had the good fortune to meet Rosemary about this time last year When I take part in one of her dance performances. “Hold on…” you say; “dance?!”. Well yes, but not perhaps as you know it. The piece was entitled ‘Meltdown’ and it took place, coupled with ‘Rise Up’, during last year’s Bath Festival (the big, grown-up ‘main festival’ ) in Victoria Park and The Circus.
The two choreographies were reworked for the festival by Rosemary and her directors (Henrietta Hale for Meltdown), having originally been premiered in London in 2011. Local people were invited to participate. There was no requirement for experience in dance but an interest in movement and a degree of physical fitness were desirable. Originally, I was to be striking a bell for the performance but, having expressed an interest and there being a shortage of male dancers, was asked to step in at relatively short notice.
Powerful, Moving & Compelling
The piece itself comprises a group of men who appear within a designated space (in our case, surrounding a tree in Victoria Park), then – on the signal of a chiming bell – reach to the heavens. They then ‘melt’ imperceptibly down to the ground over a period of 12 minutes, each passing minute marked by a further bell chime. All end up on the ground in a variety of positions, completely submitting to gravity, before slowly standing and leaving the space.
This may not sound terribly interesting but I can tell you it had several onlookers in tears. There is something about stillness, vulnerability and physical discomfort that is both compelling and deeply moving. Although the precise movement was not proscribed, the method behind it, as well is its positioning and coordination, was very carefully drilled and meticulously rehearsed. The resultant ever-shifting tableau of contorting bodies, with only ambient sound and the haunting bell as accompaniment was immensely powerful.
I feel there are some very strong parallels between Meltdown and Think of a Song. Not least of which was that Meltdown jolted me out of my safe, accustomed role as a performer. It is easy to conform not only to one’s own expectations but also those of people who associate you with particular practices. So it is important to remain open to new challenges, even – and particularly – those that may be frightening or uncomfortable.
So now I’m breaking free from my own self-imposed constraints. It is entirely possible that I am indeed having a meltdown. But I think it is rather the case that this is a progression and a letting go. I sincerely hope you will join me in this moment of discovery. Think of a Song is as much about audience as performer, so without you it would be meaningless. One could then rightly ask “what on earth was that all about?”