There’s a knowingness and articulacy about what is constructed in Figure Stuck, Stuck that allows me to settle into it and trust the performers. I had not warmed to Claire Barclay’s installation on first impression. Large black intersecting frames belittle bird-cages with leather glove fingers tied to them; glinting keys are juxtaposed with soil, phallic golden tubes and fabric hangings of a cartoon-like pattern of brickwork. Shadow Spans felt alien but also curious, triggering memories of Rebecca Horn’s potent and mythical kinetic sculptures (Hayward Gallery Retrospective, 2005) more than associations with the architecture of the East End.
The presence of the dancers in the space seemed to lift a veil. Their affinity with the sculpture and the gallery space as a whole was reassuring. In practical terms, the audience was grouped into three separate seated areas in the gallery and given permission to move freely if it wished to. Thus the issue of sightlines, masked views and peaking were in place from the beginning.
The dancers (and dancers makers) Ben Ash, Henrietta Hale and Rachel Lopez de la Nieta seemed to implicitly acknowledge everything there and react to what was ‘hot’ for them. This made for a very rich and evocative concoction. Movement material varied from static a-rhythmic foot stomping to bodies cascading to the floor. The character of movement was changeable – formal, sexual, maternal – and spoken text ranged from dry instructions to the titillating question: “If I touch myself, will you touch yourself?” to the poetry of one repeated word morphing into another before jumping to another word altogether: “Mum, mum, mum, weight” (or was it “wait”? – Hale had all her weight on top of Nieta at that moment so both made sense, it was open).
The choreography was subtle and surprising, understated yet theatrical. Dog Kennel Hill Project (DKHP) has a manner of performing that is fresh and nuanced. They create the rare opportunity to behold movement as conscious thought by not overloading themselves or us (movement can so easily wash itself out). Less is more; DKHP said a lot in twenty minutes. I want to say it was sparse, but then I remember it was full. I think that means it was well pitched – thanks in good part, I believe, to Jules Maxwell’s spacious and transportive sound score on the vibraphone.
Dramaturgically there was a powerful sense of through-line and purpose. The dance illuminated the sense of wanting and absence that Barclay’s installation exudes by moving amidst it. I detected a certain reverence for the sculpture and wondered about the distinction between it being okay to lean on the walls of the gallery and fall on the floor but not okay/right/desirable to touch ‘the work’ itself? But I realised this call was not a bad one – you do not have to step through a frame to make people notice its presence.
People Working seems to be fertile territory. It does not push for physical extremity or appear to feel a need to do so. Instead this work deals with exploring ideas, embodying thought. It is direct and humorous, kind of ‘trans-modern’ in identity. I was touched. Figure Stuck, Stuck lent Shadow Spans some soul.