Siobhan Davies is perhaps our foremost contemporary choreographer, with a career stretching back over 25 years. During that time she has forged a distinctive choreographic path and developed an unmistakeable style; yet she remains committed to constantly challenging her own creative vision.
The questions that concern her are, too, creative challenges for the viewer’s imagination. Can dance suggest stories, feelings and relationships without being literal or narrative? How rich and complex can motion be while still remaining legible? What effects are generated by the pacing and placing of movement, by different rhythms, by the interplay of sound and light and set? A Davies work casts a net of motion, music, dance and design that, by speaking directly to our senses, tugs at our imaginations.
A Davies work casts a net of motion, music, dance and design that, by speaking directly to our senses, tugs at our imaginations.
That was certainly true of last year’s Wild Air, in which stillness and silence were as vital and eloquent as action and energy. Lasting an hour, it was Davies’s longest work to date, and she was concerned to sustain and develop a set of themes and images without resorting to sequential storytelling or simple portraiture. Her new piece, Of oil and water, is also an hour long, and builds on that experience while taking a new direction.
As suggested by the title, a central idea is of substances that separate out into layers when put together. Imagine a flow of currents that mix but do not merge. Imagine the slippage of surfaces, the friction and drag created as they move across each other, now gentle, now turbulent. The dancers are like those currents, each remaining distinct and separate while interacting together, touch and skin deflecting contact even as it connects them.
The commissioned music, by Orlando Gough, adds its own disparate layers, setting synthesised sounds against the astonishing vocalisations of singer Melanie Pappenheim. As always with Davies’s work, the form and composition serve as an objective physical framework which can evoke a parallel subjective world of hidden feelings and desires. In this work the dissonant layers of movement, music and design generate a driven, unsettled image of human interaction.
Davies luxuriates in elusive, allusive imagery. She is not concerned with projecting spectacle or telegraphing messages. Yet paradoxically, at its best her work seems to address us directly, to affect us personally. Her images, like her questions, are open-ended; and she’ll be happy if she can engage our senses, and through them, awaken our own intuitive answers.