String Section by Reckless Sleepers, at DanceLive Aberdeen.

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DanceLive Aberdeen, Scotland

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String Section by Reckless Sleepers, at DanceLive Aberdeen. Photo © Sid Scott, www.seeimaginedefine.com
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As winter itches to get going, Aberdeen sees a festival solely dedicated to contemporary dance take over its granite landscape. Spanning three weekends in October, DanceLive organised by Citymoves, the regional dance agency for North East Scotland, is now in its thirteenth year.

The line up includes local and international artists, as well as the behemoth that is Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. I speak to Kathryn Spence, one of the organisers, about the line-up. Two strands emerge: Citymove’s emphasis on programming work a non-dance audience will want to see, alongside her commitment to making DanceLive a productive platform for artists.

In terms of audience, DanceLive wants to ‘take pieces that might push people out of their comfort zone but also pieces that they might like… so it pushes them out comfortably,’ she explains.

An excellent example is Reckless SleepersA String Section, an outdoor performance in the newly developed Marischal Square (surrounded by mostly empty office blocks and sheltered by a transparent ceiling in the likely event of rain). Five vacant chairs wait, before five female performers march ceremoniously in, each holding a saw. They appraise their audience as they sit, allowing the tension of expectation and incongruity of setting to play out.

Eventually, they start sawing their chairs. Their resigned and determined expressions, and frequent, silent questioning glances to each other and the audience means the sawing seems enforced, not voluntary. The performers appear trapped together, but disconnected.

Visually and temporally, the piece suits a space that people pass through casually. Audiences are momentarily pulled in, emphasising the odd inevitability of the piece: yes, they are sawing until only stumps remain. For Spence, ‘I think it’s really important to make sure the pieces you are putting outside for people to engage with that aren’t always engaged with dance are appropriate. Reckless Sleepers are perfect… because they’re not dancing all the time. They are dancers, and they end up in wonderful positions… but there’s something unusual, which means people’s attention is grabbed.’


Oona Doherty’s Hope Hunt at DanceLive Aberdeen
Oona Doherty’s Hope Hunt at DanceLive Aberdeen. Photo © Sid Scott, www.seeimaginedefine.com

One of Citymoves’ outreach projects is Project Strive, funded by National Lottery and the Scottish government’s CashBack for Creativity Scheme. The scheme sees money recovered through the Proceeds of Crime Act reinvested back into communities to benefit Scotland’s young people. Speaking of Oona Doherty’s Hope Hunt (and the Ascension into Lazarus), Spence explains the piece ‘is about representing disadvantaged young males and finding a voice for them in society… As soon as I saw that piece, and started working on Project Strive, I thought – this is the same thing, we really need to try get that happening.’

Citymoves organised a private showing for the 45 community participants of Hope Hunt on Thursday at their central studio (Spence was wary of holding it in a community space which might accidentally exclude participants from other areas or communities), and after the performance the participants enthusiastically stay on to dance to a set from the show’s DJ.

The following evening, I see Hope Hunt for the second time, and it easily rewards re-watching. Doherty seamlessly transitions between different states, between anger and fear, joy and overdose. Movement morphs into dialects, accusations and poetry. While the intimacy of the studio means some of the lighting’s grander aspects are dimmed slightly, it allows a closeness to Doherty’s expression that is captivating.


Katie Milroy’s Curated Moments, at Marischal Square Aberdeen.
Katie Milroy’s Curated Moments, at Marischal Square Aberdeen. Photo © Sid Scott, www.seeimaginedefine.com

Professionally, for Spence, having a festival focused just on contemporary dance ‘validates the art form’. DanceLive includes workshops from performing artists, and Spence highlights the festival’s term-time scheduling: ‘as a freelancer, holiday times can mean freedom’. In the future, she is keen to have an open call; currently ‘it depends on what work we have seen… we just weren’t at capacity this year’.

Local acts include a tender duet from Curated Moments by Katie Milroy. Building outward from a closely wrapped embrace, the piece avoids a soft-focus filter because of the dancers’ strength when lifting each other and the breaks in tempo that see the dancers brace against each other until, neatly in sync, they fall through and disengage. Watching a duet in this public setting, I am reminded of ‘POP-UP Duets’, a piece from Scottish-based choreographer Janis Claxton who sadly passed away this year, which was and is a great loss to the Scottish dance community.

I also catch Claricia Parinussa’s alien, bendy, and swaying solo, Untitled (labyrinth). Uncertain, yet open and curious, Parinussa’s searching gaze maps out Marischal Square’s reflective, unseeing glassy environment. Her body caves in, hands swim across the floor, and knees warp into sinewy bends, in a solo that nicely counterpoints Milroy’s duet.

The closing party takes place at the Anatomy Rooms, a building previously used by the university and recently acquired by Citymoves. ‘It was lying derelict, but… it’s a listed building, so they’ve had to look after it and make sure the temperature is correct, which is perfect for us,’ enthuses Spence. She hopes the Anatomy Rooms will increase the opportunities that Citymoves can offer, and attract a new audience.

It’s a glowing final evening, with many of the weekend’s pieces performed again and adapted to the space. A String Section appears oddly faster, as if the officialdom of the performance space exacts a different impetus from its performers. As the dancers fall still, one audience member claps but her declaration is not taken up. She laughs, nervously. A few happily strained minutes later, the dancers unchanged, the audience finds the collective courage to applaud. It’s a closing moment that embodies a festival of testing, openness, and a willingness to share. 


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Aberdeen, Scotland
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