Joe Moran’s Three Responses to What Can Dance Say Today?

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Assembly (Decommission, Obverse, Arrangement), Joe Moran/Dance Art Foundation, The Place, London, 13.5.2014 (J.O’D)

Joe Moran's Obverse: Photo Benedict Johnson
Joe Moran’s Obverse: Photo Benedict Johnson

Joe Moran

Samuel Kennedy, Christopher Owen and Hilary Stainsby

Andrew Hardwidge, Samuel Kennedy, Erik Nevin, Christopher Owen, AlexanderStandard and Yiannis Tsigkris

Choreographer: Joe Moran
Lighting Design: Beky Stoddart
Costume: Sharon Coleman (Obverse), Ksenia Vashkenko (Decommission /

Music: Obverse New sound commission by Kaffe Matthews (incorporating Handel’s Minacciami, no ho timor)


The space on which people at The Place perform had never looked so large, so flat, so well lit. The grey-covered floor stretched away to the sides and back of the auditorium, as if inviting movement to happen on it. Yet no sooner had choreographer Joe Moran gone into his dance at the start of Decommission (the first of the evening’s three works), than all the lights intentionally went out. His first steps were performed in darkness, and in silence. For a while the lights came on only intermittently to reveal the dancer in a held pose. When they did, Moran smiled enigmatically at the audience.

‘What can dance say, today?’ is, according to the programme notes, the question to which each of the three works (presented under the general title of Assembly) responds. In Decommission, Moran’s way of finding the answer is to strip dance of light, of music, and finally of movement itself. In the middle of the piece he lay immobile, his back to the audience, for what seemed like five minutes. It may have been an example of what anthropologist Nadia Seremetakis (quoted in André Lepecki’s Exhausting Dance) calls a ‘still-act’, one during which ‘the buried, the discarded, and the forgotten escape to the social surface of awareness’. Perhaps it was of the buried, the discarded and the forgotten people thought as they listened to the air-conditioning, the lights, the ice-cubes in their drinks while Moran continued to lie there, his curled up, red-clothed body coming to resemble a mound on the grey floor.

Movement and music were, by contrast, very much present in Obverse, the second work of the evening (originally produced in 2012). In the opening solo, Hilary Stainsby gave an elegant, joyous demonstration of the articulation of knees, elbows, wrists and hips. She was joined by Samuel Kennedy and Christopher Owen, who also presented the body as something supple and light, something with which to make star shapes in the air. The music, bursts of Handel and electronic hissing by Kaffe Matthews, flowed in a technically impressive, though sometimes painful, wave around the auditorium. The economically used colour in Sharon Coleman’s costumes (violet, mauve, blue) wrought subtle changes of mood as the dancers moved their bodies around each other in ways that were serious, playful, or exploratory.

The almost poignant delicacy of Obverse was swept away, after the interval, as six male dancers piled on to the stage dressed in various forms of T-shirts and shorts (costume designer Ksenia Vashchenko had chosen black and purple as the predominant colours for these) A good-humoured inspection of ‘overblown masculinity’, with no music but with a small number of words, Arrangement puts the men into a fruitless rugby scrum, layers them so that they half crawl, half slide around the stage like an armadillo, and moves them across the floor rolling over each other to form a single organism. Out of this undifferentiated and on one occasion aggressive mass, individual personalities do emerge. Some of the men later stand alone, or in pairs, at the front of the stage, ready to answer (or at least listen to) any questions the audience wants to ask. They also say their names: ‘Christopher’, ‘Andrew’, ‘Yiannis’. It is a brave and honest way of incorporating words into a dance work. It peels away one layer of ‘performance’ (though it might leave other layers underneath). In the solo that ends the piece (the only fault of which is that it goes on too long) one of the dancers adopts a pose from Joe Moran’s Decommission. One arm vertically raised, the other extended horizontally at shoulder height, an enigmatic smile directed at the audience; it is somehow the still, calm, physical expression of the evening’s opening question mark.


John O’Dwyer

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