Dan Canham’s Wild Card was a beauty; a gentle and delicately woven thread of outside and inside; things that are lost or on the edge of being lost; a sense of death and an attempt to reanimate, revive. Canham shows his own work 30 Cecil Street alongside works by others, the connections between which are so numerous and yet tangibly, pleasingly specific.
Theatre can attempt to recreate the whole world and everything in it, but as Augusto Corrieri reminds us in his lecture, In Place of a Show, it is an inside space, a carefully contained space in which only that which we put there is allowed. I enter the Lilian Baylis early and catch the Pig Dyke Molly Dancers in their final rehearsal in the Garden Court Café. “This is not a performance!” declares the caller with his fine ear-to-ear black painted moustache. The non-performance becomes a performance at 7.30, when people are encouraged to shuffle in and watch. Canham refers to the Molly Dancers as looking like “the love-child of the Addams family and Tim Burton’s best nightmare”, but for me their make-up reminded me of Kiss. Take your pick of references. Molly, from the Fens of East-Anglia is a lively dead cousin of Morris dancing, or any number of folk dances in which everyone dances together in patterns and swing each other around by the elbows. For Pig Dyke Molly the dance is a dead cousin that has recently been revived with irreverent joy and a belief in the importance of creating new traditions in an old spirit. There is no pedantic piecing together of old skeletons here. The dance looks like the outside, or at least, the rural: village halls and pubs, walls keeping out large expanses of green. It looks like a festival. It looks like fun.
Outside, inside. Theatre spaces. The piecing together of something passed. Augusto Corrieri sits in the theatre with a screen and a microphone and a table. He has been visiting theatres. Old theatres. The oldest indoor theatre in the world: The Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy. Inside, it is painted to look like you are outside, with archways and blue skies and climbing plants. Corrieri asks us, if a theatre is a place you go "to see something”, what is a theatre when there is nothing happening? I hear the saliva in his mouth as he speaks. I watch the rhythm of the words on the giant screen next to him.
He looks: up and down. Around and down, and up. A dance to bring us the tourists with their books, the high painted roof, the swallow who nests there – an interloper from the outside in. The bird an image of air, that invisible thing, an image of soaring space and the outside. Creating something out of nothing with his words, his gaze, his images on a screen. As he finishes he goes to the edge of the wingless stage and gropes momentarily for the gap in the curtain that will bring him to the door and out.
We go out. Interval. Tucked unobtrusively in the Kahn Studio are two short films. Films from the Fens about the lost or nearly lost arts of Norfolk – Step Dancing and Eel Catching. The outside, in. There are yellow daffodils on the tables where we sit. Norfolk, that place that is famous for being weird, “normal for Norfolk”, as the not so complimentary phrase goes. Yet this lends the films something particular and fascinating, like peering at a miniature whilst at the same time aware of the large-flatness of Fen landscape. All that water. Arts that have been passed down, dances and steps and actions not made for theatres, but for pubs and boats. A different pace, different faces. Something both strange and familiar… We go out.
And then we come to Canham’s own work, 30 Cecil Street, read now in the context of all of these things that he has chosen to surround it with. The Fens, the dances, the old theatres, the outside-in. It is lovely. He builds another theatre inside the one we are in now. He builds it with masking tape – an old tape-recorder filled with the sounds of the voices of those who were there, snatches of music from gigs gone by, rain on the roof. He shapes it with his body, populating it with people through himself, moving his body through the thick air that I can see as he dances across the floor I know is a little sticky, around the green room that I am certain has a low ceiling and slightly peeling walls. I recognise Corrieri’s ‘head dance of the tourist’ as Canham looks up, around, sees the ceiling of this new/old space he sits in.
Like the night Canham has curated, his performance in, 30 Cecil Street is subtle, somewhat understated but specific, decided. I am reminded briefly of Charlie Chaplin. Canham reanimates The Limerick Athenaeum, now closed for the last 14 years. He inhabits it; it inhabits him. His very aloneness on the stage conjours ghosts. We hear the voices of those who worked there, who danced there and went to gigs there. They talk of what was, of the cultural changes in Limerick. I think of the man dancing in a pub in Norfolk in 1979 and the marks the outdoors have left on his face. I think of the eel catcher and the way in which he sounded so decided; decided upon a way of life that is evaporating, dwindling like the number of eels in his hand-woven baskets; decided upon a life with no financial security, on a profession that is instead about a sense of time and a relationship with place. We are aware of the time passing from one wheel of tape to the next. And with all those ghosts, and with that empty visible/invisible space resting hollowly in the auditorium, we get up to leave.
I now watch the Molly dancers a second time with a touch more death in my eyes. Their costumes now reminding me of the Mexican day of the dead: a raucous and joyful reanimating, a celebration of ancestors.
Pig Dyke Molly Dancers: Cindy Grant, Glen Dawkins, Helen Chew, Holly Dawkins-Hirst, Kit Vincent, Mandy Chasney, Philippa Spencer, Rose Taylor, Sadie Dean, Sarah Sennet, Sharon Woodward, Tim Jenkins, Tony Forster, Serena Day
Pig Dyke Molly Musicians: Anahata, Mary Humphreys, Chris Kempton, Kai Jenkins, Dave Parker
Production Manager: Antony Hateley
Project Manager: Emily Jameson