This year, the Dance Umbrella festival introduced a kind of traffic light labelling system to its programme. The more challenging work – the weird stuff, if you like – is now signposted as part of its “Out There” series. It is a smart move, allowing the organisers to pre-empt complaints if something is not considered accessible enough, while promoting experimental choreography they think is worth seeing.
It works in the case of Rosemary Butcher, a choreographer with more than 30 years’ experience, whose spare, abstract style has never been accessible, but has always drawn critical attention.
Her new piece, Episodes of Light, is a perfect example of why this is the case. Framing the stage are two screens on which strange architectural drawings (designed by Matthew Butcher and Melissa Appleton) are projected: a simple grid, a schematic diagram, a spatial plane dotted with geometric flyovers. Cathy Lane provides a reverberating soundscape, first of steamy hisses and deep-sea rumblings, and later with distant voices and city noises. Solo dancer Elena Giannotti is floor-bound throughout. In slow, crab-like scuttles, painfully hesitant walks and laborious shunts she moves around the perimeter. That is about it: 45 minutes later, the piece ends.
For half of the time, it is close to vacuous, but just as Charles Balfour’s lighting flushes the stage with subtle hues, so too does emotional colour start bleeding into the piece. By the end, Giannotti’s solitary, and apparently pointless journey is heartbreaking. She seems to have been beached on terrain to which she is ill adapted to travel, yet travel she must. Meanwhile, the audiovisual environment is suggestive both of a vast, indifferent exterior world and of an inner landscape that finds no physical expression. All in all, that is a kind of vision of life itself.