Ghostdance for One: Past is present

We never dance alone.

Dance being movement, few of our gestures are truly our own. Our expressions, ways of standing, of walking, moving, are all inherited or borrowed from those we love. We are complex mirrors reflecting our relationships.

This isn’t the old ‘nothing is new’ trope, but merely the observation that we assimilate what we like, mirror those we love, sometimes conciously, mostly unconsciously.

Alan Parker doesn’t say this directly in Ghostdance for One, it was merely what came to mind after watching him in the eerily suitable Nun’s Chapel.

Parker is a strange dancer. He doesn’t appear to have the body for it, a bit more prop than principal but he has an awkward grace that is all his own, and he knows how to employ it.

Besides, intellectually he’s as nimble as Nijinsky, inhabiting a creative space in a trilogy of performances that teeters on the edge of dance and conceptual art.

First it was Detritus for One, in which he focused on the ephemera left of the dance performance so caught in time and place, then Sacre for One, a homage to Vaslav Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du printemps) and now Ghostdance for One.

This latest work pays homage to those who have gone before, both professionally and personally.

Making use of video recordings of himself, his screen image a digital presence while he himself is hidden behind a death’s head mask, he interweaves the present and the departed. It’s as if a version of himself has left us, literally speaking from another dimension while the Parker who occupies the same time and space as we do moves, yet is hidden. The real Parker an amalgam of what we partly see and what is beyond the self.

Deconstructing his own plinth, he then uses the white-painted lengths of lumber, reminiscent of bones, to spell out the names of dancers who have left their mark. Pina (Baush), Merce (Cunningham), (Christopher) Kindo, (Miss) Thandi, (Kazuo) Ohno.

Gathering and rearranging lumber, he take his time, moving us into a meditative state in which the sole focus is the task. Then the flowers. Strelitzias and their fiery, independent beauty. A field of emblems emerges, as if each one of them represents someone who came before.

Parker them shifts to the personal, for the first time speaking to us directly, of his mother and her death. The intimacy of the moment hard to bear, words a struggle. Movement a release, he dances her eulogy. A bit clumsy, very real.

Interesting is not usually a complimentary term in theatre, or art generally, yet it applies in a complimentary sense here. Parker’s work is thoughtful. It is quiet, it is tender, it is a little bit awkward and it has many layers. It is too honest a work to dismiss, and so they reveal themselves bit by bit as the performance worms it’s way into my thoughts, the beauty and comfort of the fact gently blooming: we never dance alone.

Ghostdance for One is on at the National Arts Festival until Saturday 8 July. Book here.

Sound design: Shaun Acker; Digital art: Rat Western; Scenography: Gavin Krastin.

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