by Nicholas Minns
Review of Time has Fallen Asleep in the Afternoon Sunshine, Dance Umbrella, Central Islington Library, 9 October 2012, London
In Ray Bradbury's book, Farenheit 451, firemen do not put out fires; they start them in order to rid society of books, which are considered subversive because they carry insidious thoughts and ideas that may run counter to authority (451farenheit is the temperature, Bradbury believed, at which book paper burns). Learning from books is like an infectious virus that transforms the victim into a carrier. In our present society, Health authorities marshal their forces at this time of year to eradicate flu by offering immunisation jabs. In Bradbury's world the social health authorities were trying to stamp out books. Any that were found were burned, and owners prosecuted. Of course there were defiant readers who hid their books, but one of the most effective ways - one that went under the fire brigades' radar - was to commit the books to memory. Mette Edvardsen started a group that does just that, and Dance Umbrella had the good sense to invite her to perform in the Central Islington Library.
As a former dancer, Edvardsen realised there are parallels between the way books are memorised and the way dance is passed on. You can't destroy a dance because it lives in the muscle memory of a dancer, who can then pass it on to another. The act of reading to somebody else is also similar to a performance, and in the same way a dance takes on something of the life and character of the dancer, the book is subject to the mind of the person memorising it. For her Dance Umbrella project, Edvardsen gathered a wonderful group of readers to give a series of readings from memory of selected books, be it a story or a collection of poems. You reserve a time and when you arrive at the library your reader is waiting for you. `So you have come to read me,' said Edvardsen. She was, for this performance, Natsume Soseki's I am a Cat, a satirical view of the human condition through feline eyes. We search for an empty corner of the library with a couple of comfortable chairs, and settle in like a couple of cats on a sunny afternoon ready for a nap, but only time falls asleep. When Edvardsen begins to perform her book, she sets aside her own identity for the voice of the author. It is as if Soseki himself is present.
Edvardsen's first language is Norwegian, but her English is faultless. I am a Cat is a translation into English from the original Japanese, so the ideas of Soseki have taken a circuitous route to Edvardsen's memory. However, the images she passes on through the spoken word are clear, colourful and full of satirical humour. I was so taken with the experience that I booked the last available spot for Michael Donaghy's Collected Poems read by Rosemary Lee. Lee knew Donaghy, who died in 2004, so there is another very personal connection that colours her performance. She says she can hear Donaghy's inflections and rhythms as she recites. Lee has chosen the poems in no particular order, taken from the three volumes of Donaghy's collected poems. She reads a poem twice to allow it to sink in, but if you don't want her to repeat it, that's fine, and if you want her to go back to one you particularly like, that is fine too. It's a performance like no other, a discovery of a beautiful state of mind in a transmission of life to life. Donaghy's life, Lee's life, and now mine.
Seeing a performance in a theatre, of course, should be just like this. Any dance performance is in effect the transmission of an idea or ideas from the choreographer to the audience through the medium of dance. The transmission also requires, on behalf of the audience, the conscious desire to receive, and not simply to be entertained. It is, after all, a performance not a production (with all the overtones and undertones of a product to be sold, to be marketed, to be consumed). Edvardsen's project has returned to the very core of dance.
Article published in "Writing about dance" blog, 12 October 2012: http://writingaboutdance.com/2012/10/12/time-has-fallen-asleep-in-the-afternoon-sunshine/