Thoughts on Ros Warby’s ‘Monumental’

Another Dance Umbrella season, another chance to witness the world’s most renowned dance artists packed into a month-long festival. It’s easy to get lost in this dance maker’s heaven. Whilst I’m still mesmerized by Trisha Brown’s repertory evening and still laughing from Matteo Fargion and Jonathan Burrow’s ‘Cow Piece’, one work that struck a deep sounding chord for me was Ros Warby’s performance of ‘Monumental’ last night.

I say “last night” with a specific intention. The performance tonight will be different. It’s an indeterminate work. Warby’s association with the American choreographer Deborah Hay resounds strongly in her creative practice. Like Hay, Warby refuses to fix material. Instead she works through the piece, generating material as she goes along. To do this she says she is constantly reading the layers of elements that inform the present moment: the space, the audience feedback, the projected images (birds in flight, birds crashing into the sea, birds dying) as well as the thematic elements. She uses the structure (lighting cues, costume changes, visuals and sound) to frame her performance explorations. The piece retains its identity through these fixed markers but it also remains open to differences capturing the vulnerability of the moment of making, its rawness and the hightened performance presence that this brings to the work.

I was particularly interested in the way she classified this work. This, she says, is not the same as improvisation. For Warby, an improvisation is a tool for searching material from the body. The awareness is more open to anything. Whereas, her performance practice has a more channelled focus. She doesn’t call herself a choreographer either. She says that choreography is what results from the interplay of the elements of the work, in which her collaborators play an important role.

Warby’s approach to making work is one to envy. She never starts from a concept. In her own words, themes “arise from the floor”. One member of the audience asked very poignantly how she is able to secure funding for a work that has no definite starting point. Her reply was that her applications talked about the basis of her approach and the importance of her collaborators.

I spent some time trying to work out how my own work fits in against that of Warby and Hay. This is what I think: Whereas Warby’s work is clearly indeterminate, it is not about indeterminacy. Like Swan Lake, for example, is not about the ballet technique, but about the tragic love story, so Warby’s ‘Monumental’ conveys the themes of strength and vulnerability in the imagery of soldiers and swans, through the medium of an indeterminate performance practice. Does our knowledge that the work is not fixed affect our appreciation of it? Would the work resound as strongly if it were all set? Rhetorical questions perhaps. In TV solo I am trying to draw out the indeterminacy as a key feature of the work. It would be like making a ballet piece about the process of making a ballet piece, to use the same comparison. The question I can’t help asking myself is: am I just years behind Warby, or am I simply on another track?

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