Frames and Spaces
With her first professional work performed in 1972, Siobhan Davies has had a long and lauded career as a stage choreographer. Though Plants and Ghosts is her first work to tour to non-theatre venues, she had already been thinking of working outside proscenium spaces for some time, and 13 Different Keys, a commission by Artangel in 1999 for London’s Atlantis Gallery, gave her an opportunity to experiment in this direction.
What was the motive for that move outside the theatre? ‘It was about breaking moulds,’ explains Davies. ‘I have been involved in a pattern of working and touring in theatres, which has its own set of expectations and precedents. After a while I realised that I was setting myself up with the same familiar problems year after year, and I wondered what else I could achieve if I stopped relying on those particular circumstances.’
But it was not just an institutional framework that Davies wanted to shift; she was also looking for a creative challenge. ‘I feel that to some extent I have established a way of presenting work within the parameters of the proscenium,’ she says. ‘And I’ve answered some of the questions I had in that area. I needed to ask different ones of myself in order to go further.’
A different space also enables a different connection between audience and performers, Davies continues. ‘Another prime reason for working outside the proscenium is for the audience to be in the same “air” as the dancers. I want the audience to be able to concentrate on the detail of the performance, and the dancers to feel that concentration.’
In fact, this is not so much a new aspect of Davies’s work as a shift of focus. Davies has long been committed to letting movement speak for itself, and has said that she aims to use ‘the most intricate language that I can get; yet at the same trying to find the most legible way for that to be seen.’ And certainly since White Man Sleeps and Wyoming, the two pieces created when SDDC was founded in 1988, she has paid attention to small, intimate movements as a way of invoking a complex internal life.
With no specific front or frame, the space becomes an area in which the choreography unfolds rather than a stage on which to present it
Those qualities of intricacy and intimacy can draw the audience in, engage them in the interior world of the choreography – yet it is often these very details that are dissipated in a theatre auditorium, where larger and simpler movements project further across the proscenium. So Plants and Ghosts is both a departure from and an extension of Davies’s stage works. With no specific front or frame, the space becomes an area in which the choreography unfolds rather than a stage on which to present it, and invites the audience not just to watch the movement but also to experience its physical form and flux, its imagery, its inner space.
Plants and Ghosts
The body is a hybrid being, part flesh, part spirit. Plants and Ghosts is based on the reciprocal play between the finite world of blood, bone and tissue, and the unbounded realm of mind, intention and imagination. The piece is seeded with different ideas, and threaded with the theme of growth. It opens with small, embryonic actions which swell and multiply like cells; later, scattered jigsaw fragments of movement gradually mesh into tighter wholes. Another section cycles around a single moment, accumulating movement and density with each repetition, and finally the body itself is extended, costumed with projections like extrusions of bone and tendon. In each case, the development is driven by contrary, dissonant forces, rooted in physical flesh but animated by a restless spirit.