PORTABLE DANCE SERIES - Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2016



Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2016


Touch Compass dance company

at Cloud Court, Hamilton Gardens, Hamilton

From 19 Feb 2016 to 20 Feb 2016 

[45 mins]

Reviewed by Debbie Bright, 22 Feb 2016

This work has clearly evolved to fit in with the atmosphere and features of several of the gardens in the Hamilton Gardens, rather than be limited by the single garden – Cloud Court – that was advertised in the Arts Festival Programme. This change of focus leads to audience members moving around various garden areas, looking and asking, to try and find out where the dance is to begin. I trust that all have found the right place in the end, because the venue decisions made by Touch Compass are good ones. Besides, I find it friendly and homely when I, as an audience member, am directed by friendly people, rather than by notices and officials. Unusually, audience members are forced to talk with each other before the work even begins, as they share information on the starting location. It is all worth it! In the Piazza, Touch Compass Director Catherine Chappell welcomes the audience and explains how we will be directed to new garden areas as the dance work progresses.

In the Piazza, the performers dance on, in and around chairs placed between columns, the columns themselves and the circular colonnade they create, metal poles supporting the canopy-style roof, and the sides and contents of the central pool. Red for the women and plain red and black for the men – colour, practicality and individuality within uniformity. Three men and two women explore the chairs and the spaces, sometimes slowly and thoughtfully, sometimes quickly and riskily, alone or interacting with each other, to the sound of light-hearted songs. In locomotion, four on legs and one in a wheel chair; all pushing at times to the extremes of balance and trust and at other times dancing within more comfortable boundaries. It is still full daylight; at 6.30pm at this time of the year, there is no need for artificial lighting. I am made particularly aware of the levels of dance. At some points, dancers stand on chairs and use the columns for added scope and support, at others they are seated or interacting with the wheeled dancer, at others, the ground is the focus. This first section is often solemn, showing quiet enjoyment of each other, an exploration of architectural space, personal space and body, and the spaces and shapes of another body, with sudden breaks into high energy, fast changes and interactions, and the fun elements of playing with chairs, spaces, each other and the water. I imagine the fun turning into games of tag, hide and seek, and full-scale water battles which end with sodden bodies and laughter.

The exploration of shapes and spaces between and within is continued by two women performing on a single large rock in the first section of the Japanese Garden: beige rocks and raked beige gravel, surrounded by green. I see caring contemplation, weight-bearing of self and other, supporting of self and other, the simplicity of the natural setting of the garden and the beige colour of costume that could be an undergarment – an undressing, a revelation of the body and how it moves, and how it can interact with another body, how two people can meet and harmonise with each other, and the two harmonise with their surroundings. If these two dancers hadn't walked out of the space at the end of the piece, I could imagine that this is their home, that they will still be here when I next visit this garden. Mesmerising, contemplative, slow-moving, accompanied by contemplative, slow-moving music. Beautiful.

The other half of the Japanese Garden: a wooden floored pavilion with low wooden parapet overlooking quiet waters, rocks, trees and green ground, where ducks and doves land and fly and linger a while, moving smoothly across the water. We sit or stand in the pavilion and look out towards the water. In the pavilion, two dancers, also in neutral beige, interact quietly, their focus on each other, exploring movements that are slow, movements that are faster, and moments of stillness, that can be achieved with a wheelchair, a floor space, a wooden parapet, two bodies of differing sizes and areas of strength, a man and a woman. I find myself thinking about how the body organises itself to move. Slow-moving contemplative music floats out over the water. Beautiful.

We move on, pausing in Cloud Court to watch a single dancer in similar beige costume, on a single chair placed in the middle of the cloud pool, balancing, reaching, swivelling and pausing. Her movements are reflected in the still water beneath her. Silence, balance, control. Risk apparent but discounted. An individual at peace with, in harmony with, herself and her surroundings. Beautiful.

Our final destination, the American Modernist Garden. For us, the audience, a backdrop of trees and greenery before us, and the curved pool edge behind. We see again the five dancers from the first section, this time without wheel chair, dressed in bright multi-colours, and focused on and around a white performance mat secured to a raised terrace. Meeting and greeting, smiling, enjoyment, fun. A light-hearted exploration of bodies in movement, singly and in pairs, abilities, possibilities, sometimes standing or jumping, often focussed at floor level, tumbling, balancing, leaning, lifting, reaching, contracting. Colourful interaction, caring, laughter, beauty, fun.

As a site-responsive dance piece, this works for me. The company has created dance vignettes that match and interact well with the chosen garden spaces, and we, the audience are gently and clearly directed along its pathway. I am left with a sense of hope, of positivity, of warmth and caring for the environment and other people, of the beauty of our bodies and how they move, of the potential for dance in any body, in any space. My sense of enjoyment in movement and dance is renewed. Thank you. 

Monday, 22 February, 2016