It’s not often nowadays that I see a work from which I am so inspired, so intellectually stimulated, that I feel the need to scuttle out of my hiding place and commit some words to paper. But Tara D’Arquian’s In Situ, a Compass Commission by the Trinity Laban and Greenwich Dance partnership, has done just that.
Arriving at the majestic up-lit chapel, I already get a sense that something special is about to happen. Nestled deep in the backstreets of Peckham is Caroline Gardens; a gated residential area that looks like some kind of re-developed Victorian institution, with a small chapel housed within. We are welcomed inside, and guided through a small dark corridor which is littered with scraps of tea-stained paper - what one can only assume are old letters.
The dancing has already begun inside, and even though we had been invited to walk around the space, as audiences often do we first hung sheepishly against the surrounding walls, not wanting to disturb the action. What struck me first was the magnificence of the building within which we were standing. Expertly lit, shadows rippled and bounced against the powdering-blue façade, as it seemed to crumble under my very gaze. The building seemed neglected, yet somehow kept its once stately elegance intact, seemingly growing old with style. I think it’s what the cool kids call shabby-chic.
Dancers in burgundy dresses and faded white shirts twirled and suspended around us, floating this way and that, their eyes misted and melancholy. A compelling soundtrack flicked between heavy bass rhythms, hi-fi clicks and ticks, and a more dream-like soundscape which seemed to give shape to the piece, as the dancers became more frantically involved in their own secret narrative.
A man leaves, a woman writes, a couple wed, a man whistles, a woman sweeps, tea is served, several half-embraces linger in the air, over and over again as the jigsaw is fitted together, piece by piece by piece by piece…
They are ghosts, trapped, constantly building and fragmenting the very fabric of time and space within which they exist. An eerie breeze flows through an open door at the far side of the chapel, and unsuspecting passers-by also weave their own way through this matrix of warped time.
Occasionally, the film crew cut abruptly through these layers as they discuss shots and edits. They are a constant presence in the space, as are the lighting and technical professionals, and are more often than not indulging in some technical consultation with each other. At first I am a bit frustrated that they speak so loudly, and I find it increasingly difficult to keep out of the way of the dancer’s slicing kicks and the film crew’s enthusiastic manual panning both at the same time. However as the piece gradually fits together, it becomes obvious that this is just yet another layer to add to the already multiple faceted space-time continuum that was happening in that building. As was the audience, as a matter of fact; we were slowly then escorted out and the dancers just kept on going through the motions with that glazed-eyed look.
Clearly something happened here. The resulting emotional vibrations which pulsed through time are so tangible yet impossible to fit together, echoing a building which has been left to its past. I wonder when all the lights are taken down, the dancers pack up their belongings and all evidence of modern life is removed, are there still creaks in the floorboards? Do hands still brush longingly against the walls? Is the whistling of some forgotten soul still carried on the breeze?