Intimacy in open air

On the third day of Spring Forward 2022, Hiroaki Umeda introduced himself not as a choreographer of a piece, but a curator of a platform. Movers Platform #3 united the unique movement vocabularies of seven dancers in a culmination of improvisations, all unfolding before a glittering stretch of ocean. It wasn’t obvious that this was their first meeting. Umeda had set certain cues, the framework. But a passing ship in the sea highlighted the inimitability of the moment; the framework will never be filled in quite the same way again.

The platform began with a conveyor belt of solos, which felt like a series of introductions. The mover in blue tasted the air with her supple, stretching limbs, the nerves of her finger and toe tips alive. Another pulsed and popped, another was boneless and insectile. One woman moved like a wind chime in the coastal breeze.

Witnessing these dancers delve into their movement felt as intimate as a conversation in which only the sound of their voices was missing. We were in fact watching them have their own conversations with their bodies, manifested into unique forms of physical dynamic and quality. It’s the exposure of the body that makes dance a fierce but fragile dimension of intimacy. The body as messenger of the thought and emotion that feed it, but also as the message itself.

The intimacy also comes from the dancers’ honesty. So I should be honest with myself, and admit that it felt wrong to review it. To review the movement – for there was no ‘piece’ as such to critique – felt like reviewing the person, and reminded me of certain toxic pressures I feel to be consistently ‘original’ as a dancer. Improvisation, for me, is patience, the breaking-in of my body and breaking down of awareness of ‘performance’ and ‘audience’. It was curious to watch how other movers find self-immersion in a staged setting.

I wonder what the experience was for the general audience. A dancer’s sense of their body renders incomparable empathy when watching fellow movers, but what benefits are there to not having that sensitivity: is movement viewed more objectively, for its effects, without the influence of a personal relationship to dance? Is the vulnerability of the moment still recognised?

To a general watcher, improvisation could appear as choreography. The depth those dancers knew their bodies allowed familiar patterns to arise. In this sense, perhaps pure spontaneity is elusive. One dancer, however, ended his solo in a very different state to how he begun. Visibly, he shed the consciousness of being watched, until his movement became less governed by thought than by instinct. He stumbled, almost fell – a surrender to authentic messiness that anyone who is human can engage with. The state of unrefined, uninhibited immersion, where dancers surprise themselves as well as us; that’s when things get really interesting.

Dance in this form doesn’t rely on an audience, and perhaps that’s why some viewers were disengaged: they didn’t feel necessary. I was taught two ways of performing: perform for the people, projecting to them as a way of acknowledgment, or perform as if the people just happen to be there, witnessing. Extroversion and introversion, in a way, and both are valuable. This platform was a hybrid. Umeda took something intrinsically personal and put it on a stage where, inevitably, it’s scrutinised for its entertainment qualities, despite his prior rejection of the notion of ‘choreography’.

In our post-show Springback discussions, Movers Platform #3 seemed to fall through the cracks, accumulated audience reflections blending into the ocean that framed it. Held against thematic or mixed medium pieces, often intending to spread a message, the Platform was met with tepid response, implying that dance in its most natural state, being workshopped, and undressed of concept, does not engage in the same way. What does that say, when movement language is the fabric of a choreography, sometimes even the muse? To me, the Platform was a contemplative experience, soothed by its setting, with a reciprocal curiosity between myself and new movement logics. It asked us to soften into observation without judgment, just as the dancers themselves were seeking in their bodily explorations. A different type of viewing that brought not concept, effect or choreography to the forefront, but people, in their most honest forms.

Georgia Howlett