A new home

"In Plain Clothes"
Siobhan Davies Dance
Siobhan Davies Studios,
London, England
May 2 - 18, 2006, and touring

by John Percival
copyright 2006 by John Percival

I have written before now that when the late, great enthusiast and philanthropist Robin Howard set out to introduce contemporary dance to Britain and founded the London Contemporary Dance School with Robert Cohan some forty years ago, their first great female graduate was Sue Davies, and that she remains the best of them: formerly a performer of exceptional gifts and individuality, and subsequently a fine choreographer too.

But she has had to wait until now to acquire a home for the company she has run for the last two decades. And now that she has her Siobhan Davies Studios, characteristically they are not only for her and her troupe. The project, in an artistically deprived area of south London known as Elephant and Castle, consists of a refurbished and extended school building erected in 1898 and now redundant from its original purpose. The development has provided two large dance rehearsal spaces, changing and therapy rooms, a kitchen and relaxation area, a large foyer, administration offices, meeting and function rooms.

Besides Siobhan Davies Dance, the new facility will provide a resource for Independent Dance, an artist-led organisation for the professional development of dance artists through classes, workshops, laboratories and discussions. The premises are available to small dance companies in the independent sector, and will provide a base for the International Workshop Festival. I notice that three prices are quoted for hiring the studios, depending on whether the user is commercial, revenue funded or independent. The building will also be used by the local community and by children from neighbouring schools. All parts are fully accessible to people with disabilities.

The smaller studio is intended as a research space for experimentation and exercise. The larger studio is designed by the project architect, Sarah Wigglesworth, as a working studio and flexible event space for dance, music and the spoken word and can accommodate an audience of 60 people on benches along one side. Constructed on the roof of the old school, it has an attractive curved wave-like timber ceiling and huge windows in curved frames; the opening show, Davies's new "In Plain Clothes", begins in natural light with artificial lighting taking over later.

The score is by Matteo Fargion, who has written "tons of music" for choreographers also including Jeremy James, Russell Maliphant and Jonathan Burrows, besides performing the (silent) dance piece "Both Sitting Duet" with Burrows which lately won a Bessie Award in New York. His new score for Davies comprises piano and spoken word; it has been described as inspired by the simplicity of Italian songs but I was amused to recognise a slow-motion treatment of what you may call the Christmas carol "Tannenbaum" but I think of as "The Red Flag".

The cast comprises five women and three men who enter walking in procession and line up along one end wall. Throughout the piece they repeatedly walk, casually but together, across to the opposite end. As they do so, one or more will drop out and strike a pose or indulge in a dance; these range in mood and manner from a rather formal virtuosity for Tammy Arjona and Mariusz Raczynski to an affectionately relaxed sequence for Deborah Saxon and Henry Montes. Much of the choreography looks so natural that you could almost imagine it as improvised, yet everything hangs perfectly together. Video sequences by Sam Collins are shown intermittently on tiny screens across the back floor. Lasting a little under an hour, the work is able, in Davies's words, to just "walk" into a studio or theatre with a minimum of rehearsal time as a clear and complete event, leaving time for the company to spend with professionals, students and the public, teaching and sharing information.

Photo of Siobhan Davie's new studio by Robert Bryant.

Volume 4, No. 18
May 8, 2006

copyright ©2006 John Percival



©2006 DanceView