Last weekend, a motley collection of individuals gathered together under a flyover on Glasgow’s South side in a subtly clandestine manner, vaguely reminiscent of the cultish of the (literally) auto-erotic enthusiasts of JG Ballard’s Crash.
This was fitting, as they’d assembled to see a piece of contemporary dance called VOID, drawn from the second novel of JG Ballard’s Urban Disaster trilogy, Concrete Island.
I missed VOID in its first iteration, performed within the bounds of the Tramway, who commissioned the piece. To be honest, the idea of translating novels into dance doesn’t sound immediately appealing, but Ballard’s work was always more concerned with imagery and mood than plot or character, his short stories working more like paintings than conventional stories, so this one’s a goer. Its new iteration, for DiG (Dance International Glasgow) in a site-specific location worked perfectly, the lights and sounds of the real motorway blending with the staging in a manner that is ambient in the true sense of the term. This is also entirely in keeping with Ballard’s central notion of the interzone, those vague, non-specific scraps of terrain which increasingly are coming to define the lacunae in contemporary life.
Above all, perhaps, this played into the dynamic of director Bex Anson and designer Dav Bernard’s aesthetic of site-specific pieces they honed as part of the art collective 85A.
While one can see traces of their previous work here, this was the most tightly controlled and focused piece they’ve worked on – indeed, it’s the most tightly controlled and focused piece of contemporary dance I’ve ever seen, refreshingly void of longeurs or fripperies.
This is thanks in no small part to solo dancer Mel Broomes’ sinuous and subtle performance. She first appears lying prone on the stage, like a pile of detritus before twitching into movement. This parallels the novel, where an architect Maitland crashes on a piece of waste ground and attempts to reach civilization, failing and becoming marooned, like an urban inversion of Robinson Crusoe.
She attempts to attract the attention of passing motorists, signified by blocky monochrome visuals, before giving up. She then tries to escape by climbing over the walls, which are revealed to be made of wire gird mesh, previously obscured by the pleasingly glitchy projections overshadowing them, allowing her to use her heels as crampons, to literally crawl the walls. This is a superbly controlled performance; if too much contemporary dance resembles gymnastics with pretensions, Broomes’ performance is tautly honed and sighted firmly downwards, towards the abject, as she ends up crawling around the stage like some deformed insect, her arms holding out her heels like blind antennae.
While Ballard remains extremely difficult to adapt, VOID really caught the distempered, alienated chill of his work, while creating its own distinctive post-industrial land- and soundscape.
Photos - Neil Davidson