Culture > Exhibition review: Siobhan Davies Dance: material / rearranged / to / be

Posted on January 24, 2017
Loop Atlas by Matthias Sperling part of material/rearranged/to/be (2017) by Siobhan Davies Dance. Photo by Pari Nadei

Loop Atlas by Matthias Sperling part of material/rearranged/to/be (2017) by Siobhan Davies Dance. Photo by Pari Nadei

Joe Marshall attempts to get to grips with the avant-garde

At material / rearranged / to / be, everything seems a bit up in the air. It takes a while to engage with and understand what’s going on. Am I missing a piece of the puzzle? Is this it? After a bit of probing and walking around, my powers of deduction told me that Siobhan Davies Dance have produced a performance installation, which looks at action and gesture.

The show, devised by the contemporary dance company for the Barbican’s Curve space, involves a lot of live dance. A man makes droopy movements in front of a screen, like an angular willow tree blowing in the wind. Every so often he presses a foot pedal, which causes a loop of the steps he has just taken to appear behind him. After a while he is effectively dancing with four versions of himself. He repeats the same movements over and over, making subtle, almost imperceptible changes. The piece deals with the cyclical nature of time, and how everything is growing into something else.

Another performance sees two women pulling shapes, using chairs as props. They interact fluidly with each other, slopping around like octopuses. Its almost as if they have no bones. A bit difficult to access is a pendulum swinging in the first section of The Curve, and a dancer who can be heard mumbling a sort of narration of each movement she makes, under her breath.

Around the bend there are ceiling hangings made from material. Written on them are bizarre things like “There is a bowl of strawberries in the middle of the table. All tongues stick out”. I couldn’t make head nor tail of this, but it did look pretty. Elsewhere, headphones hang from the ceiling too. Those curious enough to have a listen will experience half of an argument. It seems to be about the visitors place in the show – again, exploring the theme of action and gesture. At the same time it’s funny and uncanny how the voice talks about what was already on your mind in relation to Davies’ offering. It’s as if you are speaking without knowing it.

In Tension by Andrea Buckley part of material rearranged to be (2017) by Siobhan Davies Dance. Photo by Pari Nadei

In Tension by Andrea Buckley part of material rearranged to be (2017) by Siobhan Davies Dance. Photo by Pari Nadei

The company took part in Station to Station: A 30-day Happening, back in 2015. It was there the idea for material / rearranged was born. The final product involved collaborating with various types of professionals not from the dance world, including a neuroscientist and a cognitive psychologist. They brought to the table an understanding of the connection between mind and body. The final exhibit has been executed by a range of people, including choreographers, visual artists and designers.

Material is influenced by the work of art historian Aby Warburg, which is projected onto a screen. He created the Mnemosyne Atlas. This is a collection of thousands of images which show people from different historical periods, making different gestures. The similarities and variations in the way the subjects express themselves, inspired dance pieces that are constantly developing and changing.

Siobhan Davies Dance have unleashed something challenging into the world. The written explanations of the work aren’t a great deal of help in illuminating things, because it’s very much open to interpretation. The dance pieces in particular are open ended. They shift around the room and the choreography isn’t set in stone, ensuring no two visits are the same.

With experimental art, it always occurs to me that something which is more colourful, more of a spectacle, more mind blowing is missing. Why create art which is difficult when there is so much room for the accessible? That said, the ideas explored in the Barbican showcase are food for thought, and will stay with me for a long time.

material / rearranged / to / be is free to view. Its on at the Barbican’s Curve space until 28th January.

After that it will tour Tramway, Glasgow; Bluecoat, Liverpool; The Whitworth, The University of Manchester.


There are a variety of events surrounding it, including a panel discussion on 26th January.

Joe Marshall
Joe Marshall is Exposure’s Arts & Culture Editor. With his written content he endeavours to raid the full remit of arts and culture in London, if he doesn’t drown in it first. He aspires to make a career out of journalism like his heroes Tom Wolfe, Hunter S Thompson and Jon Ronson before him.

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