Exploring the similarities and differences between percussion and dance: Alison Croggon on Recital
Recital, a collaboration between dancer Richard Cilli and percussionist Claire Edwardes, is a work that looks at something that we take for granted and opens it up into a delightful exploration.
It’s obvious that human bodies, working in different ways, make sound and movement. But we don’t often think about how closely these activities might be related, although we often see dancers creating percussion, using their limbs, bodies and breath to add to the sound texture of a work, and percussionists are among the most dramatic of musicians: the drummer in a rock band, for example, is a flurry of physical movement.
In Recital, directed by Gideon Obarzanek, Cilli and Edwardes play with the similarities and differences of their respective disciplines. They walk onto an empty stage dressed as if they are about to perform in a classical concert: black trousers, white shirts, both wearing spectacles. They look sober and serious.
The stage is floored with white, with a white backdrop. Around its edges are two chairs and a number of objects: a board of silver metallic domes that’s apparently called an aluphone; a waterphone, which looks like a round birdcage with the top cut off; a xylophone, an electric drum set, two metronomes. The first thing they do, to the accompaniment of Paul Mac’s electronic score, is to place all these objects onto the stage.
The music stops. Silence. They pick up the metronomes and set them ticking. Both are set to slightly different beats, which is at once annoying and interesting, because the ticks move in and out of synch. Each performer begins to move their arms in time with the metronome nearest to them. The gestures change: they sway their arms back and forth, up and down, side to side, shifting in and out of synch with the beats.
Having explored the possibilities of arm-swinging, the metronomes are put back to the side of the stage and they move to the next thing. This is the shape of the show: the two performers methodically work their way through the objects on stage, one by one, and then put them away. If the performance isn’t engaging, this kind of thing can be death – you can end up counting how many scenes there are to go. But luckily, these are two very captivating performers.
Obarzanek’s dramaturgy gradually builds up tension from a standing start. We watch Cilli and Edwardes develop a vocabulary of sound and movement together, beginning with basic movements and sounds –arm-swinging, walking, the automated rhythms of the metronomes – almost as if they’re displaying a catalogue. And as they move from sequence to sequence, we witness a relationship developing on stage.
Sometimes they each practise their own skill, as when Edwardes is bowing the waterphone accompanied by Mac’s recorded score, and Cilli is dancing to the music. Sometimes we’re just watching a solo, while they other effaces themselves into the background. Sometimes they’re in naked competition – when they’re walking, one is always pushing in front of the other, or they’re playing a slapping game, which Edwardes wins. It culminates in a grunting, writhing, all-in wrestle, for which they carefully remove their glasses, which Cilli wins.
All of this, even the wrestling, is performed po-faced, as if they really are classical violinists doing Beethoven. In the focus on their skilful bodies, there’s an incongruity between their sober demeanours and the sometimes absurd action that for me created a bubble of comedy, although it’s not the laugh-out-loud kind. There’s a lightness of touch that invites curiosity and attention.
Recital culminates in an exhilarating dance and percussion sequence (electric drums to Mac’s score again) that incorporates all the elements we’ve just witnessed. No doubt because of the haircuts, glasses and drum machines, there was more than a whiff of David Byrne’s Talking Heads in this part. Bosco Shaw’s lighting, up to now totally restrained, takes flight, pulsing between back and front lighting so we’re blinking between silhouettes and rounded figures. All the tension that has been built up through the performance is released in a cathartic blast of beats.
Both performers have found their equilibrium now, their two disciplines united into the one performance. The pay off was brilliant, but getting there was delightful.
Recital, directed by Gideon Obarzanek, performed by Richard Cilli and Claire Edwardes. Lighting design by Bosco Shaw, composition and sound design by Paul Mac and Claire Edwardes. Presented by The Substation as part of Dance Massive. Until March 22. Bookings