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With Two Quartets, made earlier this year and seen on Thursday at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Siobhan Davies again asks herself questions about her talent and her craft, asks us questions about what we expect from her, and from dance itself. For more than 30 years, we have followed the track of her creativity, from those early, very pure works of her apprenticeship to the structures she has made, reverberant with meanings, which have been so thrilling to watch during the past decade. Two Quartets finds her travelling ever onward, and I, for one, am happy to follow her wherever she chooses to lead.
Made from collaborative work in the studio with her dancers, the quartets contrast one with another, resonate and, indeed, define each other by their very differences. The first finds its four dancers, two men and two women, in stylish black and white, broad zebra-striped outfits by Jonathan Saunders, as a group, a swarm, linked and highly conscious of their intimacy. They move, break, re-form, repeat ideas, but remain in essence a single unit because of a mysterious interdependence and awareness. Running counter to this is the soundtrack provided by Matteo Fargion of exasperating chat and electronic pings: there must be a reason for it, since nothing lacks calculation in Davies’ work, but I am perplexed by its alienating effect. The quartet is beautifully danced – Theo Clinkard a vivid newcomer to the troupe – fluent, memorable.
The bare stage that frames the first part acquires four translucent screens for the second. And how different it all is. Three women and a man (the remarkable Henry Montes) are shown to us as individuals, unconnected one to another, and if we judge by their fraught actions, barely connected with emotional ease. The screens – fine design by Sam Collins – serve to accentuate these solitary identities. The dancers play out their inner lives in a language that is dark in mood, and more explicit in speaking the demotic of human behaviour, than we have seen before with Davies. It is a notable departure, demanded by the contrast she seeks with the plotless manner of the first part, where dance is sublimation or abstraction rather than unhappy voice. Matteo Fargion provides a score of keyboard music that finds a rapport with the dance.
With these two quartets, Davies is again exploring new terrain. And the journey is fascinating.