As the theatre falls silent and the stage lights fade, the silhouettes of a dozen dancers slowly begin to move, at first mechanically turning their heads and waving their arms, but then as the lights come on, the stage is infused with energy.
The name of the dance ‘In C’ comes from the minimalist music of the same name created by Terry Rileys in 1964. Minimalist music is characterised by the repetition of sections of the same theme, slow or unchanged to create a harmonious whole, with bars repeated over and over again, with elusive, slow changes and long periods of little or no melody change. In the music of ‘In C’ Reilly creates 53 phrases. This inspired Sasha Waltz to create 53 movements based on the music, and the dancers on stage could decide for themselves how to dance according to these 53 established movements, with both set phrases and improvisations by the dancers throughout the show.
The set is simple, with only a curtain behind it, but the vibrant colours of the costumes and the changing gradient of the backdrop make the setting and the soulful music blend harmoniously with the improvised dance.
This was the first time I had seen Sasha Waltz’s dance. But after seeing it this time I realised that fame really does come with strength. As a contemporary dance improvisation, it completely eschews storytelling, which is one of the reasons why I previously found contemporary dance difficult to get started with, but this work is like a contemporary artwork on display in a museum, only with the added dimension of movement and time, like a flowing sculpture. Coincidentally this work was performed at the entrance of the New National Gallery in Berlin when it opened last month, and I felt it echoed Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space from the museum.
Apart from the novelty of the half-fixed, half-improvised choreography, the work is also of very high quality from a traditional perspective, with slightly mechanical movements that are unobtrusive and satin-like in their mechanics, and a perspective that zooms in on the whole stage, with dancers moving in seemingly random ways, but taking the audience’s eyes with them as they change focus, without getting bored for an hour. Whereas ballet is often seen with binoculars in the front row, this production of In C shows how 15 dancers, without class or hierarchy, can present perfect harmony throughout.
As an audience who has never been a fan of contemporary dance, I went to this one entirely for Sasha Waltz’s fame and was not disappointed at all. This very spring-like piece showed me what kind of criteria to judge when enjoying similar works in the future, rather than the single-out “didn’t get it, fell asleep, not good”.
A video of Sasha Waltz Dance Company’s performance at the New Art Gallery can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eRpn5C0Nns
Terry Rileys’ music ‘In C’ can be listened to here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpYBhX0UH04