Rosemary Butcher in Conversation: An Eye-Opening Event

Ruby Rosa Daley

On Saturday 7th March the Bohunk Institute hosted a free talk in conjunction with Dance4’s Nottdance festival. Chairing the conversation was Vida Midgelow, a Professor in Dance at Middlesex University, who was also joined by Joe Moran and Florence Peake, both dance artists who had previously worked with Rosemary. And of course, to complete the panel, there was Rosemary Butcher herself. They began by talking about the meaning of archive in dance. I have to admit I knew little about this aspect of dance, however this conversation completely enthralled me. Their conceptualism and interpretation of this one word “dance” was incredible.

First Joe offered the idea that a dancer’s own body acts as their personal archive. And Florence added that in her new solo piece she aimed to concentrate on the body as a storehouse. She spoke about channelling the seemingly unknown or unreachable through her body, describing it as becoming highly sensitized and tuned: ‘a vibrational space.’ Rosemary spoke to this by explaining how much a dancer’s interpretation can affect the formation of a work. Her philosophical perspective of dance was intriguing, and really opened up my preconceptions about dance being simply a theatrical production.

The conversation then evolved to discuss the process of making a dance piece, and how important types of processes chosen during creation are too. On this topic, Rosemary was generous with her opinion and experiences. And she described the making of a piece as consisting of two aspects or stages: The first was her creation of original ideas and plans for the outcome; the other was reaching a place of new inspiration after seeing the way the dancers react to her instruction. Rosemary described this way of working as finding an, ‘open void of receiving information that’s not too direct.’

Florence responded to this by sharing her experience of being in one of Rosemary’s classes. She said that Rosemary’s directions were often very open to interpretation and understanding, adding that she personally, ‘had an almost non-linear response to her instructions.’ By which she meant that the outcomes of Rosemary’s directions were very much up to the dancer. I think this proved to be an inspiring way of evolving a piece of art, in that it becomes not just a vision of one artist but of many.

After about a 40 minute discussion, the conversation then opened up to the audience, which lead to a dialogue about the difference between dance and visual arts, and where dance fits on this spectrum. This debate sparked passion in the panellists. Florence Peake in particular voiced that, ‘dance doesn’t need a home,’ and in a sort of defence of dance, she talked of how it is often an underrated art. But Rosemary expanded on the original point, and spoke of how recently she aspired to become more of a visual artist. She expressed a belief that galleries made, ‘beautiful performance spaces,’ and by performing dance in such an area, it naturally becomes a visual art.

Lastly Vida thanked us for attending, and I was amazed how time had flown. What’s more I felt as though I had learnt about a completely new dimension of dance. The philosophical thinking and attitude the panellists had to their work surprised me and made me feel almost foolish for not totally acknowledging dance as an art form. I think we all walked out the Bohunk Institute with a new feeling of open-mindedness and enthusiasm to experience one of Rosemary’s pieces in reality.

At this talk, the audience was sat in rows beneath the Bohunk Institute’s trendy deconstructed ceiling, all made up of exposed wiring and metal beams. This contrasted starkly with the immaculate white walls and solid concrete floor. On each wall there were photographs from Rosemary’s personal archive. The audience had time, both before and after the talk, to wander round the space and marvel at Rosemary’s incredible achievements from over 35 years in dance. Bohunk really did prove to be a ‘beautiful’ space for this to take place, and I would recommend it for others looking to host events.

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