Daniel Linehan has made a lot of work that gently subverts the form of contemporary dance. His pieces, which are often rough around the edges, always reflect on dance itself, whatever their other focus might be. Linehan only agrees with this assessment to a point: “I try to reflect on the the relationship between what the dancer is doing and saying, or doing and seeing, a relationship that the audience can grasp on too. I think about the form in an expansive way so I push the limits of what I think dance can do.” Having worked in New York for several years, before relocating to Belgium and training at the prestigious P.A.R.T.S., he has been marked as a ‘rising star of contemporary dance’ more than once – and is now returning to Sadler’s Wells with his latest piece.
Zombie Aporia is an experiment which takes elements that should not work with one another and puts them together, to see how they might. Going against most people’s expectations of ‘dance’ – as a perfect flow of movement – the piece is full of collisions, voice clashes with movement and the dancers deliberately hinder each other; the audience also gets a chance to see things from the dancer’s point of view.
The piece is composed of eight distinct parts, each trying to juxtapose two different elements. To justify this episodic structure Linehan descrobes it as taking the form of a rock concert, though that statement might lessen the influence that music had on the creation of the piece: “I saw a video by Dan Graham called Rock My Religion and became interested in the physicality of rock and punk musicians in 60s and 70s, as well as the audience members at rock concerts, and how their physicality was fully embodied. I wanted to bring that into the piece – to use the full body, including the voice. I browsed some ideas and elements from a rock concert and it turned into contemporary dance with some elements of a rock concert.”
Zombie Aporia is a piece of contradictions: contrasting elements, which normally wouldn’t result in a harmonious dance sequence, are forced to work together. The end result manages to reconcile the two. “We used, for instance, the rhythm of the body and a completely different rhythm of the voice, and we found a way to make them coexist. In the end what the audience perceives is not so much a contradiction, but two normally contrasting elements that fit together. I’m hoping it gives the audience a new perspective on two things they haven’t seen fitting together before.” It might also reveal a choreography that isn’t afraid of being imperfect, and doesn’t satisfy itself with being contained in the movement alone. “I like not to think of dancing bodies as only creating design or creating movements or pathways in space. The body is a seat of so much more than just movement and rhythm, so I like to incorporate other aspects into dance, like emotion or the idea of thoughts or speech that comes from the body. I’m thinking about space and movement in space and movement in time, but not only what it looks like but also what it sounds like, and what it feels like to have proximity or distance from it. What we’re doing has a certain virtuosity in the sense that there’s a lot of difficulty and multitasking because our brains have to deal with the movements and speaking and singing, but it’s not a traditional way of thinking about virtuosity – being able to execute amazing tricks and movement.”
The constant juxtaposition and multitasking Linehan refers to the results in the piece changing slightly from one night to another. The execution is always, at least to an extent, a real struggle to perform against what the other dancers are doing. At one point in the piece the dancers are confronted with a video of a choreography they must follow – which is changed from one night to another, and is always a complete unknown. This struggle, Linehan insists, is not his main interest, and is simply a result of how the piece tries to get discrepant ideas to work together. What the audience gets to see is the tension that’s involved in making these opposing ideas “coexist and work together.” It seems to come down to not wanting to go for the safe route: “I’m interested in not making everything easy. We don’t just do things that we already know how to do, and we try to do things that we haven’t done before, and that involves a certain amount of effort and struggle.”