Quick Steps

7 December 2009

The following text I wrote for the new publication What I Think About When I Think About Dancing published by Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown, Australia. Curators: Lisa Havilah, Emma Saunders, Susan Gibb.

Quick Steps
(what I think about when I think about dance)

Movements that seem ordinary – the stretching of fingers, the lifting of a glass, or a knife, the low-key meander of a walk to the shop on a Sunday morning, the sudden start of a rapid jog down the stairs to catch someone at the door, the run for the bus and the shoulder barge to the subway doors, the reach for the TV remote, the hand raised in a wave from the back of the car, the throwing back of the head and the closing of the eyes, the slump and collapse into a seat. The negotiation of a crowded bar whilst carrying drinks (glasses pressed together with tension between hands, or balanced on a tray). The pause and slight bend to listen at the door of a neighbour’s apartment when you pass it late night and hear voices from within. The unbuttoning of buttons, unzipping of zips, the thumb-dance of SMS texting. The sidestepping back and forth of polite pedestrians eager to avoid a collision. The silent and strangely punctuated dance in a hotel doorway as a visitor leaves at night. The almost frantic dance of hands and stooped body when searching for a mobile phone that’s ringing somewhere, but deep in a pocket, which pocket? or concealed in which zip-compartment of a bag? The arm thrown back for the hurling of a stone. The looser arm bent back for the throwing of a stick. The sideways tilt of the body, torqued to skim a stone across water. The soft lean back against the wall of an elevator. The movement of palms against a surface – brick, polished concrete or carpet. The movement of fingers, turning the pages of a book. The rotation of feet and ankles, stretching of calves and knees whilst seated, cramped, on a plane. The gestures of stop, come forwards, wait, go back. The gestures of yes or maybe, the gestures of now, then, yesterday, today, here, there and never. The dance of fingers on a tabletop. The dance of hands and arms explaining the route that someone must take to reach a building somewhere in the neighbourhood. The dance of hands and arms that seek to describe the architecture of a courtyard on the other side of the world, the turn from the crowded main street, the sudden and unexpected opening out of the interior space, the six trees within, the brilliant rectangle of sky. The dance of arms and hands describing a fight between sisters, or a fight in a taxi rank late night. The semaphore pantomime of hands making gestures as part of a bellowed conversation that traverses traffic in the street. The dance of lips talking. The dance of eyes reading. The dance of hands demonstrating a touch that once a departing lover made, with his hand, or her hand, on yours – not a caress and not a handshake, not a blow, not an assertion and yet neither a question. Flicking crumbs from your lap, brushing dandruff from your shoulders. Scratching the arse. Precise movements made with a key in an awkward lock, the various twists and lifts, pulls and pushes (with hands and shoulders, even knees) needed to open up the door. Scratching the back of the left calf with the upper side of the right foot. Itching the nose just by moving it – a wriggle. More scratches, itches, tics, gasps, sighs, yawns turning to small shivers, minor shakes. Blinks, twitches, hesitant gestures to no particular end. Movements that seem pretty much unplaceable – hardly a part of discourse, scarcely part of any kind of behaviour, system or code. Vague gestures. Amorphous shifts, shivers, shrugs, glitches. Undulating forms, flows, tensions and extensions. Dances of musculatures, tendons, and interlocking bones. Movements that are scarcely, in some sense, recognisable as human. Or movements that are on the edge of what you might think of as human. Body as invertebrate, as canine, as aquatic, as simian, as reptilian, body as machine, as robot, android, cyborg, body as ghost, as spectre, as wraith, as demon, as flesh in the grip of possession. Body taut and stretched in orgasm. Body open. Leaping running jumping stretching. As if a kind of temporary war on gravity has been declared. Body closed – folded in on itself. Body knotted. Body fighting itself. Bodies in configurations that you only see in pictures from the killing fields. Bodies impossibly twisted, dislocated. Knotted, piled, stacked, hung, thrown, crumpled like so many rags. Scarecrows. Broken forms. Slides. Glides. Quick steps. Dazzling feet. Electrified. Pure joy. Delight. Surprise. Sweat. Joy again. The crush of bodies in a mosh pit. The movement of eyes around an unfamiliar space. The movement of eyes around the body of a sleeping lover. The movement of eyes across the screen of a laptop. Taste of blueberries. Stumbles. Trips. Misses. Shapes written on the ground – lines, circles, spirals, zigzags. Fingers on skin. Walks with purpose and intention. Crawls. Runs. Drags. Meanders. Feet or hands moving vaguely with indecision and uncertainty. Movements that feels more like sketching, or searching for something. Movements that feel like incomplete memories. Movements as attempts to peel back some layer of the present to get to the past. Butterflies. Movements that feel like they are attempts to be something. Attempts at something. Versions of something. Provisional. Small steps. Small gestures. Moves that make you think of other dancers and other dances. The way this one holds her head, the way this one moves his leg, the long back of this one, the grace of the other one, the energy of that move, all of these things pointing you elsewhere – into your own past, into the many times you sat somewhere or stood somewhere and watched others move. Sounds. Breathing. Occasional exclamations of breath, slight and unintended sounds of exertion, effort, stress and strain. The sound of feet moving on the floor, pounding, squeaking and always the breathing. Ballroom dancing. Tango. Waltzes. Line dances. Disco dances. Ballet dances. Mosh pit again. Solos. Duets. Enormous and complex sequences of perfect unison. Meg morphing. Wendy ghosting, fighting. Fumiyo shimmering and cutting and melting. Kate tangled in Las Vegas sequins and knots. Vlatka’s hands on a table top, turning and shifting – there and then gone and then there again. Jerome’s lines. Jonathan’s arms. Seth’s feet. The big guy from Pina Bausch. Raimund Hoghe. Bez. Prince. Ian Curtis. A class of school kids dance the sea – appearing not only as the sea creatures themselves, but as the floating seaweeds, the plankton, the bubbles of air. Another group of school kids dance the stars and the planets, the meteors and comets, all of them with tinsel tied to their wrists. A dance of skeletons. A dance of sparkling jewels look, Aladdin’s cave. Drug dances. Drunk dances. Fight dances. Weeping dances. Dawn dances. Pavement dances. Burning dances. Trembling. Penetrating. Order. Disorder. Order again. Lost shoes and kicked-off shoes. An ex-lover dances in her apartment, there amongst the kitchen things, the furniture, the coffee cups and strewn clothes, she dances, showing the moves she must dance on a stage in some weeks time, marking and naming the moves one by one as she marks them: ‘the fall’, ‘the wave goodnight’, ‘the kiss the air’, ‘the swivel hips’, ‘the not now’, ‘the cripple bend’, ‘the wave goodnight’.

Tim Etchells at 23.01 on 21 October 2009, Sheffield.