Friday, 16 October 2015

Ride, baby, ride

Of Riders and Running Horses is a performance for five female dancers (the marketing copy says six so I don't know what happened to the other one but at this Dance Umbrella showing it was definitely five) and two male musicians.

Of Riders and Running Horses is getting to the club early, before most people have arrived, and the few who are already there are just standing around having drinks, and the DJ plays a song that is a bit slow so it wouldn't work at midnight but it just so happens to be one of your favourites so you dance and the floor is basically empty, smooth but not slippery, not soused in spilled drinks, so you can really travel across it, exult in all that space, and maybe one of your friends joins you and she's dancing different but the same, and every time you catch each other's eyes you sing along and laugh.

Of Riders and Running Horses is that flick of the wrist or that toss of the head or that curve of the body that hits the beat just right, that sink of the knees, that quick step back, that spin, that pause, that jitterbug jump.

It's seeing someone else on the dance floor who somehow has every muscle coordinated just so, stepping with and across the grain of the music so effortlessly, so exquisitely, so unlike anyone else around her, that you spend the rest of the evening – the rest of your life – shaping your body to that memory.

Of Riders and Running Horses is dancing until your knickers and bra are soaked with sweat, dancing until your muscles ache, still dancing because the music is there and it's yours, and even when you pause for a drink, even if you're on the way to the toilet and quite in need of a pee, if the right song comes on, a song that has a rope tied round your heart, then it will yank you back to the dance floor no matter what, and you will dance until you're breathless, because who needs breath when the music is pulsing through you: who needs energy when the song is there to feed you.

And maybe, in its moments of synchronicity that are also individuated, because each of the women do the same moves, but in their own charismatic way, Of Riders and Running Horses is all the best nights I've had with my dance group, not just performing but out for a social, when one of our songs plays and we fall into a routine, and it doesn't matter if we fuck up because we're a gang, we're together, but still inclusive, because on the best nights, the really special nights, the strangers around us catch the pattern of what we're doing and cheerfully join in.

But Of Rider and Running Horses isn't just dancing at dance nights: it's dancing in the kitchen in the midst of washing up, peeling off rubber gloves and whirling around in the space between the counters, however tight, and singing, singing at the top of your voice, not caring how wonky the notes are. It's dancing at the bus stop because the sun is shining and the air is light, a lift of the heel, a tap of the toes, hands drumming a rhythm on your stomach or your thighs.

It's not walking but running, not for exercise, or to get somewhere faster, running just because, because the wind is blowing through you like you were made of gauze, because the air is charged with the coming of spring, because walking won't answer this rush of blood through your veins, so you run, pounding along the pavement, peeling off into back streets for a clearer path, run to the river so you can stand, breath ragged, gazing at the oily blue of the water and its glimmering lights, and look up into the sky and imagine it full of stars. It's running down hills and almost losing control, and doing cartwheels in the park even though you haven't done a cartwheel in years, and doing them makes you pull a fucking thigh muscle, but who cares, because that surge of elation inside needs this movement to honour it. It's being young, or it's remembering what it was to be young, and doing that in a way that isn't mournful but celebratory, that remembers you don't have to stop being young, or dancing, or running, or behaving with abandon, just because the years are ticking on.

And because it's directed by Dan Canham, Of Riders and Running Horses is also the memory of 30 Cecil Street, and the communities that form around and through dancing, and the charge that those spaces for dancing carry; it has moments of stillness and reflection like that show had, moments when four of the women peel away and a single body remains, contemplative, wondering, gathering resources, and those moments of calm make the return of the group more vibrant, more rapturous and alive.

And because Dan's associate director is Laura Dannequin, Of Riders and Running Horses is watching Action Hero's Hoke's Bluff for the second time, and realising that the tight-lipped person playing the football referee, so sharp with the whistle, hands slicing the air like scythes, was the same person who had performed a solo piece called Hardy Animal, about experiencing chronic back pain, that was so quiet and so beautiful, not a trace of self-pity in it, just a matter-of-fact discussion of what it is to live with pain, and how blundering most people's questions and sympathies and expectations around that are (I winced a lot watching it, remembering occasions when I had blundered the same way), its movements carefully weighted, warm and generous in its manipulations of the spine. And it's watching Hoke's Bluff for the third time, and properly appreciating how taut and precise Dannequin's movements, her referee not quite emotionless but outside the story in a way that allows Gemma and James to embrace wholeheartedly its longing for a better way of living together, a better way of dreaming, a better way of being young.

And because one of the two musicians is Sam Halmarack, Of Riders and Running Horses is those two blissful, heart-bursting nights watching him play with the Miserablites – the absolute fucking wonder of the Miserablites being us, the audience – all making the show together, playing songs together like it's the simplest thing in the world. I love Sam's voice: there's something unearthly about it, a note of such sadness harmonised with a note of such hope. As he sang the first song tonight, there was a bit of my brain back in Edinburgh with Tassos Stevens, singing the inexplicably euphoric chorus to the Miserablites' finale: “Three in the back, two in the front, this is how we drive when we're going to the concert”. And at the end, Of Riders and Running Horses does exactly what Sam does in that show: it invites everyone on to the dance floor, and the release of that is exhilarating.

Of Riders and Running Horses is all of these things and none of them. It's the first time I ever saw a video of people breakdancing, the hours I've spent watching dancers from the 60s on youtube, the dreams I once had of moving to New York. It's X every time I've danced lindy with a partner so brilliant I forgot I can't actually do it. Of Riders and Running Horses is the best fun I've had dancing while not actually dancing. It is nothing that I think it is and everything you think it is. One thing, definitely: it is a thing of total joy. 

[And in case you're wondering, the soundtrack to this post is:

and now I have to make myself go to bed and not dance until dawn.] 

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