684: Contemporary dancers commission contemporary art (Tuesday 2 June 2009)

compiled by Slavka Sverakova
In Belfast, on 30 April, a contemporary dance company, Maiden Voyage, opened a performance inspired by TS Eliot's Four Quartets. Written between 1936 and 1943, the poems are synonymous with "the beauty of language and thought." The choreographer Jennifer Rooney, inspired by Eliot's musing on time and on "what might have been," commissioned a backdrop from Sharon Kelly, known for evocative drawings and videos. In this case, Kelly chose to re-work a photograph. Her creative editing feels as if she followed the first two lines in Burnt Norton: "Time present and time past/ Are both perhaps present in time future..."
 Sharon Kelly: Burnt Norton, video still; courtesy the artist
Sharon Kelly: Burnt Norton, video still; courtesy the artist

She wrote: "The idea for the video sequence was in response to the idea from the poem of the 'timeless moment' and the images of the garden in the poem. I looked at a normal (snapshot) photograph of Aoife touching a rose in my mother's garden when she was about 4 years old, about 12 years ago. I enlarged the image substantially and filmed very close-up, moving the camera slowly, panning across the garden scene. So, what you saw of the colour sequence at the beginning and end of that video sequence was this - part of the original sequence was slightly out of focus deliberately to obscure what the image was - making it abstract. During the editing process the blurring was intensified. However, I had intended to allow the image to come into focus at points, but this did not manifest itself in the end - if I had time I would have changed this... " (e-mail, 1 May 2009)
 Sharon Kelly: wire and paper sculpture for The Dry Salvage, 2009, life-size; courtesy the artist
Sharon Kelly: wire and paper sculpture for The Dry Salvage, 2009, life-size; courtesy the artist

For Susannah McCreight's The Dry Salvages, Kelly made a "...wire sculpture, a welded metal piece and fragments of drawings which were made directly from observation of the officer's jacket that the male dancer wore. It was, as you suggest, to do with memory and loss..." (ibidem)
The choreographer focused on the love story between a girl and a soldier, who does not return to her. The wire jacket is fragmented, full of holes, somewhat reminiscent of a decaying body.
 Sharon Kelly:  Little Gidding, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 120 x w 450 cm; courtesy the artist
Sharon Kelly:  Little Gidding, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 120 x w 450 cm; courtesy the artist

Little Gidding, powerfully choreographed by Dylan Quinn, focused on "different voices" in Eliot's poetry, especially on the variety of tempo and tone. The backdrop was formed by Kelly's canvas " painted in acrylic, based on landscape watercolours that I had made, with the 'stain' of rose petals visible." (ibidem) The beautiful and powerful image recalls such Eliot's verses as "...Reflecting in the watery mirror/ A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon/ And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier..."
The visual force of both backdrops connected the dance with the poetry even more tightly.
 Anne Gilpin: East Coker, 2009, video still; courtesy Maiden Voyage
Anne Gilpin: East Coker, 2009, video still; courtesy Maiden Voyage

Part 2 of the Four Quartets received a different treatment. Dancers were absent. Anne Gilpin made a video, In my beginning is my end, with music by Neil Martin. Her three-partite composition scrolls out from a blinding spotlight, associated with Eliot's Part V – making the hypnotic presence of "A time for the evening under the lamplight" give way to an illustration from a children book. Soon – the images revert to the sublime: a fascinating animation of red orchid (possibly) and its mirror image comes from behind light in the shape of mandorla. The flower grows into its full form and then retreats. Eliot thinks of "menaced monsters and fancy lights" and assures the reader: "I don't come too close if you do not come too close." Gilpin agrees.
The pioneering collaboration instigated by Maiden Voyage is a very welcome move. I wish it happened more often.