Dane Hurst and dancers
Prud’hon: The Moving Body
A site specific work to link in with the Pierre-Paul Prud’hon gallery exhibition
London, Dulwich Picture Gallery
16 October 2015
Interview with Dane Hurst about these performances
Gallery of rehearsal pictures by Stephen Wright
This was an unusual and magical event. I’m normally wary of site-specific shows with their limitations on what can be danced but this event at Dulwich Picture Gallery, directed by Dane Hurst, seemed to weave dance into the very fabric of the building and what it’s about. Of course there were still some frustrations at times in not being able to see the full sweep of it all, but the compensations of seeing dancers so close to, plus some live music and singing, all in one of the sweetest and most beautiful galleries in London, proved a delicious thing. And just to cap it all was the experience of an audience all furiously drawing and trying to capture those moving bodies. In all, an interesting addition to the gallery’s Pierre-Paul Prud’hon drawing exhibition and one which made you appreciate his skill and the wonders of the human body all the more.
There were 5 pieces of dance in all, topped and tailed by the live singing of soprano Sarah Gabriel, accompanied initially (as was the dance at times) by violinist Satoko Fukuda. The performance space was both main wings of the gallery and we the audience stood, or sat, some on the floor, near the walls, giving a through run for the dancers. Some in the centre might have seen the most of the action but I doubt very much that anybody could see it all – certainly if you were in a wing you saw just what came near. On the other hand I’d trade that, any day, to see dancers do their amazing thing literally an arm’s length away. At the start of the evening there was an opportunity to see the Prud’hon exhibition. The drawings are masterful – neither low key nor overly majestic – they celebrate the bodies as they are, often in interestingly different poses. As drawings, though, they are not overly large, but the dancers, seen up close, seem to magnify what Prud’hon was about, looking unconsciously wonderful collections of skin, bone and mechanical excellence. It’s at such times the words of Einstein always come to mind: “Dancers are the athletes of God”.
Given the circumstances it’s not really appropriate, or possible, to review the individual dances but rather to convey the sweep of it, and hopefully the pictures will also give an impression of the event overall. What I liked was that, despite the absence of a dance floor, the dancers really went for it when the work called for it – some huge jumps and, at one point, stripped to the waist, Dane Hurst did some forward rolls on what seemed a very unyielding wooden floor. The dance varied between a solo for Dane, Dane dancing with fellow Rambert dancer Liam Francis (they opened the show in Archangel), with the Royal Ballet’s Romany Pajdak (which closed the show) and 2 female-only pieces for 8 dancers: Kym Sojourna Alexander, Brenda Lee Grech, Phoebe Hart, Florence Pope, Manuela Sarcone, Amy Louise Thake, Seren Williams and Laura Wood. Their first piece was Of Dust and Air and my eye was particularly drawn to Rambert’s Brenda Lee Grech, as it usually was when she danced with Scottish Ballet, but they proved a good and cohesive group that well showed the strength of dancers available to choreographers in London. The music was sometimes classical and sometimes soundscape – usually with an emotional resonance. Pleasingly supportive is generally what I’d say.
After 2 of the dances there was a brief introduction to the night and the work of Prud’hon before drawing tutor Jo Lewis beseeched us all to grab a scroll of paper, drawing board and some pencils to record the next 2 pieces of dance. Lewis is a talented communicator with lots of tips for those who haven’t picked up a pencil since primary school, but above all emphasised it should be fun and instinctual. Sadly (not!) I won’t be regaling you with any of my pictures – luckily there were not quite enough drawing materials to go around. Besides the normal audience of dance fans, friends of the gallery and the generally interested, there were many professional artists there and while the circumstances were very different to what they are used to, one saw some interesting work emerging. The event was also photographed by Tom Rowland, who had free run of the dancers’ performance space and introduced yet another dynamic to the evening as he rapidly set up interesting angles.
The first piece sketched was a Dane Hurst solo (O’dabo) and the second (The Moving Body) used the 8 female dancers who entered in pairs to each of the 2 wings to stand and move in contemporary versions of classical posses on small podiums at each end. There was an element of the catwalk in it, perhaps magnified by Micol Ragni’s costumes of transparently stiff fabrics, cut ‘oddly’ to produce rather ungainly bumps and protrusions – they seemed unusefully at odds with the bodies they covered. Perhaps more a reminder that clothes, fashion and art ever move on. That seemed to be echoed in the closing out of the evening in which Romany Pajdak and Dane Hurst performed Finding Freedom – an intense and beautifully-controlled duet, here were bodies and dance evolved furthest away from Prud’hon’s inspiration – these were bodies with the most free will. My goodness, they make powerful and heady movement and you wished everybody could observe them and dance this close. All up, I thought this was a terrific night and I hope that Dulwich are inspired to do more with dance in their jewel of a building. And Dane Hurst and his dancers should feel very happy indeed at creating such an unusual and successful event. It’s to be hoped they all do more – together.