Sasha Milavic Davies
Everything that Rises Must Dance
London, Somerset House
13 Oct 2019
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
One of the highlights of Dance Umbrella’s 40th anniversary was watching 200 women perform Everything that Rises Must Dance, which took place in three different locations on three different Saturdays. I saw Sasha Milavic Davies’ work in the courtyard of Somerset House on a hot, windy and unseasonal October day.
It’s a busy Saturday. There’s lots going on in central London: helicopters buzzing around, tourists swarm everywhere and people are out enjoying the weather. In Somerset House, anticipation rises as audience members, friends and families gather to watch the women in their lives perform.
— JiaXuan Hon (@idanceinbetween) October 13, 2018
Produced by Complicité as part of Dance Umbrella, Everything that Rises Must Dance is a celebration of women’s relationships and dancing together. One woman enters the large circle formed by spectators with a number on her back, (for identification purposes – can you imagine directing 200 participants!) She performs some slow, minimal movements in silence before beckoning to others who join her from around the courtyard. It feels ritualistic but the women walk into the circle with a real sense of purpose and spirited gaits, rather than religious fervour.
As loud blasts of trumpets are heard in Lucy Railton’s crescendoing, meditative musical composition, more and more women assemble in the courtyard – all numbered – like a mass audition, except this gathering is not about competition, virtuosity or selection. In this movement choir, to refer to Rudolf von Laban’s “assemblage of large numbers of people moving together in a choreographed manner” each woman’s individual input is of vital importance to the collective whole. Every woman wears her favourite, most expressive clothes; glimpses of personal stories and experiences of the world appear through choreographed action and gesture. Sometimes these are neurotic, twitching private gestures, at other times expansive, confident public ones but regardless of how diminutive or expansive the action, they all contribute to the accumulative power of Davies’ piece.
The women collectively repeat movements which are both quotidian, (smoking, eating, typing on a computer) and stylised dance moves, (freestyle boogying, skipping or technical steps from contemporary dance and folk). These physical narratives which are simple and articulate mesh together like a satisfying jigsaw as they are delivered in different combinations – solos, duets, small groups sometimes in synch, sometimes not.
Davies draws from a varied choreographic palette which creates a multitude of styles, tempos and dynamics and is enriched by the rousing choruses of voices from around the world audible in the music and the energy of the performers. At times the women are still, sitting on the ground watching other groups perform: there’s a satisfying ripple of commotion as movement is passed along one row of women. In their lines they constantly change direction, facing every side of the courtyard as well as one other – in a strong display of mutual appreciation and comradery. Then they break out of their ordered phalanx, huddling together in the centre with hands waving in the air or running and skipping energetically around the circle. It’s a movement choir that combines fluidity and self-expression with mechanics and unity. As they all dance together but in their own unique, idiosyncratic styles, singing along to “All I need is some sunshine in my life” by the Dixie Nightingales, I wish I could this spectacle from that helicopter hovering nosily above us. But the experience of standing amongst the audience who watch them so lovingly and admiringly, comes close to a utopian one.
As with most large-scale dance works, when the women move in unison they make the greatest impact and appear to have the most fun. While Everything Which Rises… lacks the grit of politicised or activist feminist work, Davies’ big, bold piece is about embracing community and celebrating women. At a time when there seems so much in the world that is making women unhappy, this space to play, enjoy and dance together is vital.