HOW TO CATCH A DANCE
Hattie Morrison, daughter of
Mum, who is Helen Booth
Dad, who is Craig Morrison
Pam, who is Pam Adams, designer and wife of
Marcus, who is Marcus Adams
who sometimes danced with
Nigel, who is Nigel Charnock,
whose movements were photographed by
Chris, who is Chris Nash
who was asked to capture a rehearsal of
My Sex, Our Dance
the first production by
Lloyd, who is Lloyd Newson,
DV8 Physical Theatre Company.
Be as ignorant of what you are going to catch
as the fisherman is of what is at the end of his fishing line
– DV8’s Strange Fish, 1992 Programme
I have been carrying these bodies from my own body, and risk snagging their skin with my clumsy gestures if I make the claim that a movement can be read at all, or that a movement can tell us anything. This is not a place for me to walk to 1986, stand on the Battersea Art Centre stage to point at Lloyd or Nigel as they writhe and run to My Sex, Our Dance and say to you, the audience, the reader
that move meant violence
that gesture changed it all.
If DV8’s first performance, My Sex, Our Dance, were a fossil, it would be expected for me, the one with the shovel, to place it on display all bright and gleaming, and say look how important this fossil was. It was the first of its maker’s kind. But what about the hole where it came? Whose hands made it? From what earth did it come? With my shovel, unearthing from the X I myself have drawn, all that I can say with a point and any certainty is
this fossil is important to me. It is the first that I have found. I have been digging, and my body can feel the pull of time that I have pulled through.
What I see and how I see tells you more about me than anything else. I have been a body hunched over on all fours, hunting. Arms tugging at something below me, rummaging through. Dipping limbs, my elbows sink down and I have thrown some things out. The hair on my head has hung low across my face as I scavenge. This is my dance as I look for something without a name but with a pull that means I can’t stop digging. It is an abstract drive that keeps me on.
About me are other trunks and troves, other places to look, but I am set here.
An upright body in a black suit enters and asks –
why are you here?
It’s Richard, joining my dead night search once again after I read his words and liked them. I didn’t realise they would lead me like a light in the way they have.
He is asking me what drives a body to leave the lip of a river without a fish after hours at the line.
Just one more try. Just one more.
My computer is my river. Most nights I stay at the line. I stay online with no bite.
Why are you here?
Richard asks again.
I freeze still each time. The you like a dancer looking through the dust straight at me, this question I have been mulling for months, now materialised in front of me.
I am trying to track influence. I want to know how important DV8’s first performance, My Sex, Our Dance is. Was. I want to know all of the ways it changed or affected people. I am trying to map influence but it’s like herding smoke. This is why I am here.
He continues –
but, the why you might cross downstage is answered by a larger why –
why you decided to step on stage in the first place.
Another way of phrasing the question for yourself is,
‘what really matters to me?’
In any case, turn the question into a sentence with a verb that you choose.
‘I want to _______’
Richard, is it wrong to draw writing and performing with the same pen? It’s so clear that there are more places for me to hide than there are for you – your body on stage so exposed while mine doesn’t exist if I don’t want it to. No one can see me fall or feel the thud my feet make when I miss something important. I’m hidden from my audience. I’m separate.
Imagine you are the audience member. You look at me on stage. You see or perceive my body and imagine a history. Some of it may be true, for the body has a shape and it has contours that my life has brought that are mine. Some of it is false, for the body also conceals… You don’t see what I have seen, yet somehow you know me. How is transference from my unseen life still palpable to you?
You combine my words and experience with your history while you watch me.
You invent something different from the person sitting next to you.
You see the human body in its entirety and your eye does the edits.
You cut for an idea, you cut against it.
So, reader, these are my editing eyes. My sweating arms shovelling the dirt or my calloused hands reeling the rod –
When I was a little girl, I would go with Mum and Dad to visit Pam and Marcus, who lived on the west side of London. When we arrived, there would be bowls of Burmese curry and rice cooked deftly by Pam and laid beside these little silver dishes of chilli on the table, dried by her Mum in the sun, and the heat would make Dad and Marcus’ faces glimmer as their plates emptied. I’d sit and wait with my shoulders touching the tabletop for the talk of now and last week to finish, so that my favourite part of the night would arrive when wine would slicken Marcus into talking about movement, talking about dance and springing into spins. The words DV8 and Battersea Arts Centre were passed around like a heavy jug of water I couldn’t lift yet but grew to with time and hold now, precariously, uneasily. If the wine was just right, the food was just right, the music was just right, Marcus would become a dancer again. Or maybe he always was a dancer. Still is.
With curry and spinach and boiled eggs settled inside ourselves, and the empty wine bottles lined at the door, Marcus would spin. His body leaving his own head, flicking back into place, detaching again with eyes to the wall clock. He would spin and spin and spin. It was magic, and the smell of the home and the wine and the way his body went back in time was magic too.
This is what I bring with me.
Why are you here?
I am here because I want to see bodies remember movement again.
Archeologists wait, fishermen wait, audiences wait for reasons that are often hidden or unheard. This is me offering mine. A collection of shards, of ideas and memories from bodies who carry My Sex, Our Dance inside of their own in a way that is close to Marcus in the kitchen in the heat.
I come to know this dance in separate parts, slowly building sense as time introduces itself in a knotted net. To me, to begin, deviate was spoken through sweat as an abstract word, gleaned from late night dinners when I was accidentally left to stay up and listen to the stories. To others, its name was halfway between a pun and an acronym – an immediate statement of intent from Lloyd. A dance company formed in 1986, DV8 was said to challenge both the ingrained ideas in dance and the moral standards in society that Lloyd found oppressive. It was a radical theatre.
My questions, mouth hidden under the tabletop, remain unanswered –
How was DV8 radical?
What did it do?
What did it change?
To begin, I brush the soil at the stem to find the bulb. I hope to clean it off and turn the answer in my hand. On the surface, I find that the dance was physically competitive, masculine, angry and that it tackled the dangers of vulnerability and the emergence of AIDS by showing two male bodies touching, catching and falling. I find that DV8 was founded in response to a frustration with the disconnect between what Lloyd was being asked to do on stage and the complications of the world beyond the dance studio. I find that Lloyd felt as though dancers were conning audiences about the depth of what they were presenting.
A duet for two men, My Sex, Our Dance showed a physical danger in hurling and throwing that paralleled the emotional danger of lovers attempting to make contact at the time. It was considered a vital affirmation.
Since My Sex, Our Dance, DV8’s moving bodies have been easy to watch in flight. Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men. Strange Fish. MSM. Cost of Living. Can We Talk About This are available to watch in Video-8 footage, at rehearsals to catch their flailing, pointing, flexing, falling. My Sex, Our Dance, however, has a hole where a film should be. It's a film lost from the archive, or intentionally left out. This means that I choreograph my own version of it in my living room, tracing back through elimination and guess work to learn about it and find out why it mattered. I begin to notice repeat motions and repeat gestures in the dances that came after and I whittle them into something new on my limbs. I plod the carpet, lamp bright, legs bare, socks on – my body remembering shapes I have never seen. They probably did something like this. I dance with the archive. I dance through the gap where My Sex, Our Dance would be.
Then, a little glimmer at the lip of the river, I find a photograph Chris took of Lloyd and Nigel still in grey, still in black, still in white. Two hands hang. Loose fists. One before a black linen shirt. Other before white. Their faces turned from us, from Chris. Nigel is folded. Head down and arms up, nose to the ground. Front leg. Still cartwheel. A dark stripe of black. Cutting. His neck. His waist. Two parts. With a hand on the nape of Nigel’s neck. Lloyd leads him down. Spreading. Two arms. Out. The shirts on their bodies. Away. Moulded. A fall. Collapse. Fight. Embrace. Repel – all at once. A piece of My Sex, Our Dance in pixel.
There’s a black and white one of Dad in a leather jacket with the dog lying over his shoulder, all furry, back when we were squatting on Wimbledon High Street says Mum as she slicks lettuce with lemon, dijon and oil from the blue jug. I think someone called Chris took that.
I find him, and we speak on the phone about what it means to make the only lasting document of Nigel and Lloyd in those positions.
The way I consider that photograph is similar to the way I consider the performance when I saw it as an audience member – it took place in my imagination. That’s where it happened, not in front of me. All of my thoughts and emotions were colouring what I was seeing. When I look at that photograph it’s a trigger point that I make to trigger reactions.
When you watch a show, it triggers reactions in you and that's what makes the show.
Once you said this to me, Chris, I couldn’t help but think that the food I ate before I sat at the computer was just as important as my findings from looking at the computer. Chris, what did you eat before you sat in Battersea Arts Centre on July 14th, 1986 to watch My Sex, Our Dance? What did the taxi driver tell you on the way home? Who were your friends? What did you read in the papers that morning? What was around you? What were you seeing through?
That one looks like your Dad, says Mum, at the table. We look at the only proof I have of My Sex, Our Dance– the photograph I expected to be the first of many, but remains the only proof I have. Maybe it’s the only one at all. Lloyd’s features turn away from Chris, away from us, and the back of his bald head is eclipsed. Chris catches the two bodies forever falling – or are they floating?– and one of them does look like Dad. This both feels completely unimportant and absolutely important, because no one is alone when they look.
Exactly, none of us went to My Sex, Our Dance alone – says Chris. Accompanying us were all of our invisible histories.
Asked to photograph Lloyd and Nigel’s bodies rehearsing My Sex, Our Dance before the show, Chris caught them in this moment – falling or flying. Also before the show, there were bodies in hospital beds. Bodies in cells. Bodies in the papers. Bodies on the streets holding signs, yelling.
After photographing their rehearsal, Chris went to see the performance. He watched Lloyd shake hands with Nigel and reach out to touch him, later. See Nigel flinch away from Lloyd and see their interactions develop into a fight, followed by a brooding truce and then more combat. See the audience cry. See one of them hurl themself through the air backwards for the other one to catch. See the audience still, planted. See one of them get caught or dropped. See them trip one another up. See the audience shiver. See one hurl themself onto a mattress where the other was lying, so that the latter had to roll out of the way.
I remember Lloyd running up to Nigel over and over, and Nigel catching him over and over until Nigel lost his strength and ability to keep catching him, so Lloyd just slid off Nigel’s chest onto the floor, but kept going and it was so aggressive and tender and it changed how I saw myself and my own relationships with men and it made me think about bodies being hidden and revealed and it made me realise how new it was to see men move together in that way.
Abraham and Albert are on one of their daily lunchtime strolls through a flowered woodland when Albert stops, turns to Abraham and asks –
do you really believe that the moon only exists if you look at it?
or, in a new woodland, another asks–
if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
It’s not the sort of thing you saw at the time – what were you seeing at the time? – and that’s why it felt new – has touch ever been new? – that’s why it felt important.
They walk to the front of the stage. All of the bodies in the room react to the touch. At the steady end, Nigel and Lloyd look from the stage through the dust to the bodies that are looking and feeling like they have just seen something new. The moon, maybe, or a fallen tree.
You didn’t really see it.
Who is this you?
Is this what it means to be important? To be seen by certain eyes? The stage is a good place to write here because the lights, the seats or the tickets pose as frames to see from and ask what it means to become visible. To ask who casts the shadow, to hand over a torch and say – look here.
What dance does best is personal politics – says Lloyd.
I wanted to play with the relationship between movement and text, body and language. Between the rules of language and of bodies. I was frustrated with the way someone lifts their leg in the air and points their foot every five seconds in a dance piece – what is that about other than showing off?
The way that you say that though
you clearly understand it more than you’re letting on
because you’re a provocateur
you clearly understand it more than you’re letting on
because you’re a provocateur
I don’t think I’m a provocateur at all
– says Lloyd.
With a bending finger and a smirk, the provocateur coaxes. Dipping a line into the water with delicious hanging bait, the provocateur flicks it in, then out, then in. The provocateur says – come here, come on, come down, don’t come, yes, no, maybe... The provocateur stirs purposefully, causes a writhing. Jabs.
Gay Sex Orgy on TV!
blurts The Sunday Mirror, after DV8’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men – the dance after My Sex, Our Dance, was aired on ITV.
I had just come back from the studio and I sat eating something from the chippy down the road watching our fat TV that made a rustling sound when we turned it on. It must have been around three in the morning and I saw these bodies on the screen and it was all blue and black. I remember it because that week someone walked up to one of my friends outside our studio because he was wearing make up, asked if he was gay, and punched him right in the middle of his face. I remember watching these bodies and recognising them. The way they were moving with one another wasn’t new, I was living that life, but the fact I was watching it with my chips at three in in the morning on ITV – that’s what was new. You have to remember, this is when the prime minister had passed the Clause. To be us was a dangerous thing. This was the 80’s.
I am sitting at the table, beside a black and white photograph of two men I know well who are also sitting at the table. They both look at me. One of them rests on the chest of the other and takes a drag from his thin cigarette. The other rests his hand on the table with his fingers separated and flat. They are planted in the space. It is 1986, and we can see them touching.
I go upstairs and sit at the table to eat dinner – marinara sauce, spaghetti, soft courgette, other things. I ask Dad and Mum about this other photograph – the one that has nothing and everything to do with My Sex, Our Dance because neither of the men are dancers, but both move in similar ways to Lloyd and Nigel. It is similar because one of the men, not long after, lay in a hospital bed and listened to a priest give his last rites. I ask Mum and Dad about the men and then about the friends of those men, and then about the rooms, and the dancing, and the fighting, and they way they look the same sometimes and very, very different at other times. I ask them about what it meant to be seen, and about seeing terrible things and the screaming. I ask them for the names of the men I never met and the way they left their lives. Then Dad says the names of the men I know only by name. Then there is a silence as we eat and think. I can feel the gap. Then Dad talks about the street, and the streets full of strikes and the strikes on the faces of the friends he had, we have, and about the way their heads hit the hard floor, and the way that I cannot feel the hit of history, even with all of the shards of information I have gathered. I say to Mum
I get it
and she says
no, you don’t
and I say
that’s what I mean
and Dad says
no, you don’t, how could you?
and then, after another gap, Mum says
life is for every body
sex is for every body
one person’s sex is another person’s dance
or perhaps she doesn’t say that but I start to think about this idea of eyes and lights and attention on the two bodies at that table, with their cigarettes and their touch. The other bodies on the stage, with their moon bright heads. The bodies at the protests. The bodies in the hospital beds and all of the people who said
this is new, this is different
when they saw them in the light. To these people I say with a hindsight I have not earned
no, it wasn’t new or different, because sex and dance has been happening always
and they reply
the bulb you are turning in your hand looks different when it’s out of this ground we come from
and I think about whether I should put it back or keep turning. I ask Dad
what do I know about digging up the start of something and telling anyone why it mattered?
And Dad says
you know nothing
and I say
I get it
and he says
no, you don’t and neither do I. Not really, even though I was there with the bodies. It is too big for a page.
Lloyd and Nigel’s bodies on the stage at Battersea Art Centre performing My Sex, Our Dance were two of many others, falling and fighting and feeling the light of attention from eyes of crowds at that time. These men had a mass about their movements that existed on and offstage – but no body is clean of context. It is impossible to gather all of the dust and sweat from that room, glue it together and make My Sex, Our Dance into something that can be neatly described as culturally influential.
How can we catch a dance? With a camera? With a story? With a telephone?
I think My Sex, Our Dance was important because it said look, I exist in all of these ways. I am here and I have been here this whole time, for all time, and though your eyes have been on me and my sex, scrutinising it, questioning it, forbidding it, this is all of our dance, this thing called life, and it is what we share, like the dust in this room. It isn’t new, it isn’t different, it’s just as it is. It’s violent and ugly and painful and difficult. It’s a theatre of blood and bruises.
As Lloyd and Nigel threw themselves from ladders and ledges, through space and at each other, they gave physical expression to the pain and confusion of the 1980’s. They showed that life is not secure; that nothing is fixed or certain. That they fall; we fail.
I failed to gather all of it. I failed to reach the people in the credits, in the conversations. Phil, Peter, Emilyn, Liz, Michelle, John, Scott, Fiona, Bob, Wendy, David, Keith. I failed to find the cleaner of the sweat, the usher of the audience, the ticket clerk of the theatre, the doorman on the street, the taxi driver from the borough, the protestor on the road, the lighter of the stage, the friend of the dead, the dancer of the lover, the complainer in the papers. They are impossible to catch, like My Sex, Our Dance itself.
Through these failings and these people, I imagine the performance. I piece it together with impressions and collaged movements from all of the videos of all of the performances that came since. It is my own My Sex, Our Dance.
This morning, I danced to My Sex by Ultravox, one of the two songs attributed to DV8’s first performance. As I drift, I notice these words like a glimmering bead of sweat under hot light; my sex is an image lost in faded films.
It makes me think of the only photograph I have of My Sex, Our Dance – the only proof I have of these bodies beginning DV8’s bright trajectory. A trajectory spanning over thirty years and over fifty awards. The photograph is an image lost in a fading film of dust and time, of topsoil.
Now. I mime wash dirt from my hands and clothes. I dry them with a throw of my limbs, back and forward. I look at the dust as it flies to the wind like Nigel and Lloyd’s shirts do in Chris’ photograph. I step across, through the light and gather all of the notes, letters, email addresses and phone numbers I have about me. I gesture a box, and pack it tightly. Legs planted to lift it up. I carry them tenderly. Out of my sight, I walk from them and leave them behind me, but they still, somehow, are inside of my body. They come out in the way I walk now. They are dragging at my heels. I walk through them like the dust lit from the lights. They become my own dance. They make me into something different. Something new.