This year is the tenth anniversary of the Siobhan Davies Dance Company, and to mark the occasion the company has been specially expanded to ten dancers. On this programme they perform Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues (1992) and Eighty Eight (1998), set to keyboard works by American composers Frederic Rzewski and Conlon Nancarrow, both of whom integrated popular styles of music into avant-garde compositions.
Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, originally made for Rambert Dance Company in 1992 and here reworked for Davies’s own dancers, is set to Frederic Rzewski’s score of the same title, prefaced by a soundscape of industrial noises. In this piece Rzewski treats the piano as both an operational mechanism and an expressive medium, the pianist as technician as well as musician. At times the music seems pummelled out of the keyboard so that we almost hear the leverage of hammers pounding at strings. From these repetitive sounds emerge more bluesy chords and melodies, intimating a more personal mood.
the choreography takes the theme of manual labour, and treats the body as both a mode of production and a means of expression
Echoing this tension, the choreography takes the theme of manual labour, and treats the body as both a mode of production and a means of expression. At its centre are the rhythms of work, with its cyclical procedures and relayed sequences of action. The dancers adjust themselves to this framework, or take time out for smaller, more personable interactions and moments of seclusion.
Eighty Eight takes its cue from Conlon Nancarrow’s startlingly idiosyncratic writing for player-piano. Nancarrow uses punched piano rolls to expand the scope of the instrument beyond the range of human fingers, making full use of all the keys. The music, with its tangled textures and shifts of style and tempo, is rigorously composed yet bristling with odd irregularities, splashes of sound oscillating with tuneful fragments.
The dance too is wilfully dense. In the opening sections different groupings occur simultaneously, generating patterns of interference as they move in and out of phase. There is also an intricate detail of movement in the body, sometimes performed at precipitous speed, the dancers tripping on their own limbs in abrupt changes of direction, as if animated by a turbulent energy. That intensity remains present at different levels throughout the piece – more contained in slower solos and duets full of sensual interplay, or compressed still further as the dancers hover close to stillness.