Every so often I become temporarily paralysed by the idea my husband is about to die. Or has died. I’ll be, for instance, at work and I’ll suddenly get hit by the fear my phone is just about to ring and there will be someone on the other end telling me a terrible accident has occurred and my husband is dead. Or, we’ll be sitting next to each other on a train and a huge fog of awareness will descend on me that one day he will die and I have no idea what I will do if that happens when I am still alive. On the occasions when he is out late and I am the one waiting at home, I become hugely paranoid if he’s even a tiny bit later than expected. I instantly imagine tube explosions and car crashes and start calculating forwards in my head, trying to work out which hour is the hour you’re meant to contact someone else, even though it has so far been only ten minutes.
I know this is ridiculous. But I think maybe it’s just what you do when you really love someone. You become acutely, absurdly aware of their mortality.
Company Chordelia’s The Chosen by Kally Lloyd-Jones is about this hyper-awareness of impending death, both our own and of those we love. It’s also about the way people react to each other when they know someone is dying – either imminently or just in the sense that everyone is, to an extent, in the process of dying.
Inspired by The Rite of Spring – the title refers to the youthful sacrificial victim who is nigh on worshipped – Lloyd-Jones’s work uses six dancers who perform almost as one body. Interestingly, despite the title, there is often no obvious ‘chosen one’. Rather, the dancers frequently breathe, beat, move and quake as one entity.
The work opens with no music playing, just the sound of waves intermittently swooshing against invisible shingle. The dancers move in syncopation with the watery push and pull, the sound of their feet and breathing merging with the sea swell. Soon after, they sit on mirrored boxes shaking with visible anxiety, biting fingernails, rubbing at arms, bothering random bits of skin. They look like they’ve suddenly been grasped with the absolute fear of realising the precarious nature of the human body (what my friend beautifully calls her ‘flesh prison’). The feeling of being on the edge of cliff/train platform/zebra crossing and realising: all it would take is one step…
At other times, the dancers cease moving energetically to pose in all-smiling formations, as though in a cheesy family photograph. I recently saw a film in an exhibition about dogs in art that suggested humans fundamentally differed to their animal companions via their constant need to document. This urge, the film suggested, came from the desire to preserve memories which, in turn, was born from an awareness of death. So, for example, the dog owner constantly documents the dog because they know – subconsciously, most likely – the dog will one day be gone and all they’ll have left will be the photos. I remember feeling really fucking sad when I watched that film.
The Chosen plays on a very similar idea. The need to keep monitoring the passing seconds and the attempt to remember them. But not, ideally, to the extent that it paralyses a person in skin-picking anxiety. As a whole, it’s arguably a little over-long and the same ideas, a bit like the waves, keep on returning. But throughout, gorgeous images appear from nowhere. The one that remains in my mind is when one of the dancers makes her way across to a shaking, sweaty companion, wraps her arms around them and, in one gesture, stops their vibrating, stress-filled movement. Loving someone induces worry about their non-existence, but it also causes complete calmness.
The Chosen is on at Dance Base at 5pm until 25th August. More info and tickets here.