Alan Cooper Reviews: Leylines

In partnership with DanceLive

Friday, 21 October 2016

In the programme for DanceLive, Scotland’s Festival of Contemporary Dance which is still going on at the same time, soundfestival is described as “an innovative festival of new music which encourages audiences to discover new sounds and expect the unexpected”. Friday’s performance entitled Leylines which was created by dancer Imogene Newland and electroacoustic composer Kim Suk-Jun certainly lived up magnificently to the promised aims and purposes of the soundfestival.

We entered the darkened auditorium upstairs in the Lemon Tree to discover that we could sit in the raked seats facing the stage area or on either side of the stage. I decided to sit on the right hand row of stage seats. The set, designed by Adam Cresser consisted of a kind of pathway running round the edges of the performance area almost like the different stations of a game where the player had to move along the sections aiming to end up at a kind of wooden square where the pathway culminated. The sections of the path had a variety of different coverings many of which would be quite uncomfortable to navigate: thin branches of spiky fir tree, seaweed, shards of slate, smoother slabs, sections of bamboo, or plastic and so on.

In the centre was what appeared to be a white ribbed cloak and within it I began to recognise a human form crouched motionless – obviously the dancer Imogene Newland. The electronic sound score controlled by Kim Suk-Jun sitting at the end of our row began almost subliminally. It grew gradually in volume and intensity. Was it water, wind, voices – a general hubbub? Sounds like buses, sand or gravel being tipped generally the sounds of a busy townscape. There was the voice of an angry mother to a recalcitrant child, “Give me your hand. I’ll take you…”

As the soundscape grew and intensified it became a mixed metallic chordal pedal note over which a humming voice could be heard. It grew louder and louder and more complex in its make-up. Towards the end it faded quite quickly into silence as the auditorium faded into darkness.

This was the musical part of the performance experienced from beginning to end over the hour of the performance. Meantime, along with the music, the dance unfolded. Imogene Newland keeping still for some considerable time began to rise very slowly up from under her cloak, eventually removing it all together. At her feet was a large rough surfaced yet perfectly round granite sphere. As the music developed, Imogene began to push the sphere forward over the various surfaces of the “path”. Progress was very slow and muscularly challenging. The impression of effort and physical strain, even pain was evident. The surfaces over which Imogene had to travel must have been uncomfortable if not actually painful. Pushing her spherical burden, sometimes with her arms or hands, then with her feet, her back or her front, as the music grew in volume and intensity Imogene, with a grunt, managed to get the sphere into the wooden square which was obviously its eventual target – and the performance was over.

After such an astonishing and mind-blowing performance it was gratifying to be allowed to retire to the Lemon Tree upstairs bar for a discussion of the performance with its creators Imogene Newland and Kim Suk-Jun.

What was it all about? There were lots of fascinating ideas. A human being’s lifetime of struggle? Contrasts between town life and nature? There were those in the audience who knew about Leylines and rocks which related to ancient funeral customs? There was someone who was interested in Zen and many more intriguing ideas too!

Imogene recalled an illness which she had suffered from when just lifting a coffee cup seemed to need as much force or energy as pushing her sphere. Kim Suk-Jun spoke about the ideas of slowing down time and even the creation of boredom.

Actually I did not find the performance in the least bit boring – so much was going on during the hour of the performance. I was reminded of when I was a schoolboy. I did not particularly like sport and cricket especially I found unbelievably boring. Between the bowling and hitting the ball were great longeurs when nothing seemed to be happening. One day however I was asked to go to a match as a scorer. I was handed a pencil and some cards and before long I just could not keep up, so much seemed to be happening. As tonight’s performance ran on I tried to note down all the changes in the music and the dancing. I found it hard to keep up – so much was going on!

I found this a fascinating performance and I will remember it for a long time. This I think is what soundfestival is really all about - being brought face to face with the unexpected and trying to work out what it all means to you personally. Thanks for the performance and especially for the rich and enlightening discussion afterwards.

To read more about the project, please visit the Leylines blog.

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