BY Hugh Stoddart in Reviews | 06 MAR 95
Featured in
Issue 21

After the Last Sky

BY Hugh Stoddart in Reviews | 06 MAR 95

After the Last Sky (1995), which ran continuously over a week, consisted of four large screens forming an enclosing square, on which were video-projected sequences of six dancers. The piece, choreographed by Rosemary Butcher, filmed and edited by David Jackson and accompanied by a soundtrack by Simon Fisher Turner, ran for 20 minutes but you needed to see it through more than once. Sometimes you saw the same shot of the same dancer simultaneously on more than one screen; sometimes shots from different angles of the same dancer and sometimes different dancers whose moves echoed one another. A complex rhythm was thus set up creating an interaction across the four screens. Images of spectacular sunsets marked the opening of each of the four sections of the piece and were sometimes laid in slow moving, colliding blocks over the monochrome images of the still-visible dancers. In evolving the choreography, Butcher specified that many movements executed by the dancers should last a fixed time: each enters the fixed camera's frame, carries out the movement, then leaves. The movements were simple, precise, repetitive. What you heard was sometimes voices, street sounds, bells (recorded in Israel) but mostly it was music composed to fit with the completed video sequences.

The video projectors used for After the Last Sky gave the usual rather soft images - a little inadequate both in respect of the skies and the dance sequences. Taking a sneak look at the monitors, I saw images of glowing intensity - dancers magically appearing and leaving a black box, like something from the earliest history of the cinema. It may have been because the screen images were dimmer and less defined than these that it was decided to lower the ambient light. This lent a theatricality to the piece which felt inappropriate. The intention was that the audience should move around in the space, experiencing the changes in both images and sound. The screens were suspended some three feet from the floor to encourage this; though most people just sat on the floor, generally in one of the corners, and remained in one spot. They appeared to feel they were watching a filmed performance rather than entering a created space: an environment in which it's legitimate to come and go and not to worry about standing in front of someone - nor worry about what you're doing with your shadow.

Contemporary dance has, of course, had associations with other art forms for many years - but often all a choreographer really wants from an artist is a backdrop for their dancers. Butcher is very open to what collaborators want to do and puts her own choreographer's sensibility under a kind of fruitful pressure. Her interest here seems to be the recorded, directed image and the concentration which is then possible in choreography. She is asserting the primacy of recorded material: witnessing these sounds and images is no less of an experience than going to a theatre to see a dance performance.

The title After the Last Sky comes from a book by Edward Said about Palestine, with accompanying photographs by Jean Mohr, but this was only a starting point. Said's themes of oppression, containment and exile were only perceptible if you gave the choreography a particularly close reading. Butcher eschews drama: her interest lies in a reductive attention to the most ordinary movements of the human body, the precision of them and the display of forces in equilibrium which a body can achieve and then repeat. The figures we watch going through their moves on the screens neither see us nor see each other. They are private and yet revealing - precisely because they are not trying to show us anything we cannot see.