Rosemary Lee’s Common Dance was commissioned by Greenwich Dance Agency for the community slot of this year’s Dance Umbrella festival. Designed for the former Greenwich Borough Hall, it was performed by a cast of 52 mostly amateur dancers aged from eight to 82, and by the Finchley Children’s Music Group. The choir sang like angels: the supple dissonances and uneven timings of Terry Mann’s hymnal score felt unforced. But at first the choreography didn’t rise above the good intentions that can prevent community dance from becoming good theatre.
The dancers began by rising from the floor, testing the air with feeler-fingers, gathering together and turning towards the light. As the stage brightened, suggesting dawn becoming day, they ran and wove in daisy-chain and corn-dolly patterns, to the sounds of birdsong, bells and bagpipes. The somewhat hokey mix of science fiction, village green nostalgia and folksy spiritualism was nevertheless full of inventive dance ideas, suited to the performers and the building; I just wished Lee would stick with them long enough for us to register their effects.
Then she did exactly that. One by one, people lying upstage were slowly carried forward and planted upright, like living standing stones. We sensed their uniqueness and multiplicity, as well as their common humanity. It was revelatory – like being shown both a wood and its trees – and could only have worked with this mixed and motley cast. From then on, as the stage darkened, the groupings (lines of leaping flocks in flight) and gestures (grasping at shadows, listening to breath) felt charged and luminous. I left a convert: we are stardust, the body is a temple, everything is connected.