Agony Art: Enquire Within

Image credit:  Robert Benschop. Performer: Marta Reig TorresImage credit: Robert Benschop. Performer: Marta Reig Torres

Dear choreographers, dancers, and dance artists,

I’d like to take a moment to ask you a question.

Why do we include music and other sound when we make performances?

Now, there is obviously not a simple answer to this question, but I couldn’t help looking for one after Agony Art: Enquire Within.

For those who don’t know, Agony Art is a night that happens at Chisenhale Dance Space that draws together short works by like-minded artists. If you go to an Agony Art you are likely to see three pieces of dance, all of an experimental or exploratory nature. It’s always worth going. Their Open Clusters programme, which has seen a huge variety of work performed over the course of the last year, came to an end on the 26th of June.

On that night I saw Swift by Bettina Neuhaus, Ursula Sabatin and Richard Scott, One by Marta Reig Torres, and Species of Spaces initiated by Lucille Teppa and developed by Quartet Eleven Farrer House.

Species of Spaces cycles and shifts through the space. Sectional, it is divided into a strange and pleasing rhythm by use of periods of darkness. The dancers are confident, youthful, they flow across the stage, they let moments of joy touch their mouths….

One proposes a world of inversion and intensity and Marta Reig Torres delivers that with clarity and bodily power. She knots her arms to touch her face and leaves me with the strange feeling that those are my fingers stroking and probing. She shifts and twists and strips and grows and is utterly fascinating….

In Swift we see two dancers, lush and sinuous, moving round a stage in which a musician is positioned. The piece, I suspect, is built around structured improvisation. It is the engaging presence of the two dancers that carries this work …

…..Dear choreographers, dancers, and dance artists, what do you think about when you are making work? How do you piece together the elements that make your performance? Does movement sit within a vacuum?

Sometimes I suspect you might like it to. It would be so much easier. Because the truth is, as soon as you pair your carefully thought-through movement with sound and other aspects of visual presentation, it is saying something in addition to what your movement says, and it is something you may not be entirely in control of..

And that can complicate things. It is frustrating. I remember when studying being warned off pieces of music that were too strong or with lyrics, for fear it would become too dominant. I remember being guided instead towards more ‘atmospheric’ sounds. It was as if, by working with noise that has something to say in itself, the dance might be shown up as being weak.

I guess these thoughts are spurred by recently seeing SWAGGA by Project O; a work where the boldness of the music (by Verity Susman and Trash Kit, with Trash Kit live on stage) only enhances the dance and vice versa. But as I watched the performances that made up Enquire Within I felt disappointed by how bland the soundscape felt, and how much that stole from the dance I was watching. With both One and Species of Spaces the choice of sound felt arbitrary; it seemed to be there only because dance must have music and this music would interfere least. With Swift the dancers shared the space with the musician, and while dancers and music influenced each others tempo, no tonality was added to the performance through the music. The musician’s presence on stage felt otiose.

When we think about whether we are in service to the music or the music is in service to us we are creating a hierarchy that need not be there. Instead every aspect of a performance works together to create a co-operative whole. No one ever said, “Damn that Stravinsky dude makes good music. You better not use it for dance.”

Dear choreographers, dancers, and dance artists, don’t be afraid that your dance isn’t strong enough to stand alongside strong examples of other art-forms. It is.


A performance by: Ursula Sabatin & Bettina Neuhaus (dance) and Richard Scott (music)

Species of Spaces
Initiated by: Lucille Teppa
Developed by: quartet Eleven Farrer House
Performed by: Gaelin Little, Tara Silverthorn, Lucille Teppa
& Cat Westwood

Choreography & dance by: Marta Reig Torres
Advice by: Angelina Deck & Johnny Schoofs
Music composition by: Ivo Bol
Lighting design by: Ellen Knops