Bringing The Thunder
Dancer Salma Ataya stands centre stage, swaying gently from side to side as the audience enters, a microphone lying on the floor before her. Presently she speaks, the microphone’s quality less than optimum, as she begins confidently moving around the space. Movements defined by snap, by flailing, by sway, by breath. Still clutching the microphone she walks from one side of the room to another, crouching low at first till she rises slowly and leads with her knees and hips. Meanwhile, dancer Mufutau Yusuf races along the balconies of Smock Alley’s Boy's School to join Ataya in the space. In John Scott’s beautifully choreographed and powerfully resonant “Cloud Study,” Scott finds himself in familiar choreographic territory; morphing and merging everyday movements into intriguing and powerfully expressive patterns full of hope and diversity. Scott’s underlying patterns in this instance being those of runners, running, and the movements of clouds. Runners less engaged in a sprint so much as a marathon, and whose studied clouds are less the fluffy, floaty kind and more storm heavy billows intent on bringing the thunder.
Commissioned by Galway International Arts Festival 2018, “Cloud Study” sees ‘dancers attempt to run 1000 kilometres in patterns through the performance space chasing dreams, memories and home.’ Yet both dancers seem as much, if not more preoccupied by what they’re running from as with what they’re chasing. ‘This is not political, not metaphysical, not about war. It’s just about running and clouds,’ Yusuf states at one point. A statement that often feels disingenuous. Even allowing for the personal, physical and spiritual exertions of running, or the often thunderous nature of clouds, there’s a violent agitation ever present in “Cloud Study” that goes beyond both. One that sees “Cloud Study” offering less of a meditative experience so much as something of a quiet riot.
Throughout, both a physical and spiritual wrestling is permanently taking place, with bodies being swung and propelled through the space. An undercurrent of violence abounds as bent bodies swing, pendulum like, battering against each other, Ataya beats her back against the wall releasing jagged breaths, or Yusuf spasm and spins, hurling himself on the floor. Individually and collectively, movement patterns often rise to crescendo, looking for but never finding release. Movements whose execution and pace articulate violent references beyond those clearly associated with the exertions of running, fashioning a restlessness from which the dancers never escape, lending greater depth to their striving.
Scott’s cloud metaphors often strike a much clearer chord with dancers occupying the same space both as duet and individual soloist, both connected and disconnected, like storm clouds sharing the same sky. Throughout, the chemistry between Yusuf and Ataya is exquisite, as is their ownership of the space, be they combative or cohering around complementary or conflicting patterns. Patterns that hint of call and response in places, like improvised reactions, often finding greater traction when repeated. The result often delivering some beautiful and powerful sequences stepped in vitality and immediacy.
Repetition plays a significant role in Scott’s subversion of the spoken. Two mini monologues find alternate dancers seated, repeating words like movement patterns, allowing multiple meanings to be released while aggravating the limits of the spoken. Limits painfully evident when, earlier on, Ataya speaks in a language other than English while Yusuf dances, the unrecognised words, soon ignored and forgotten, ceding power to the body’s physicality. Sound, however, proves to be another matter, with Ryan Vail’s superb, meditative score, replete with passing cars, serving to accentuate rather than dominate the performance, making “Cloud Study” all the more resonant for doing so.
Like the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, “Cloud Study” tries to run itself into enlightenment. If it doesn’t quite cross the finish line, it still manages to provide some divine revelations along the route. For aside from a brief, cloud gazing moment, “Cloud Study” never resolves itself into either rest or resolution, achieving at best an exhausted ease, a rest between the laps, or the rounds, following each powerful rise. The race may dissolve into a halt, but you never feel the running is over. Less a case of cloud gazing so much as cloud bursting, “Cloud Study” brings the thunder, delivering a downpour full of powerful and mesmerising moments.
“Cloud Study” by John Scott, presented by Irish Modern Dance Theatre, commissioned by Galway International Arts Festival 2018, runs at Smock Alley Theatre’s Boy’s School until November 4.
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre