Three women dance in unison, dressed in black with bright floral embroidery. They maintain a neat distance as they step, lunge and turn with a gentle insistence across Sneinton Market. They look small in the big square, but they don’t get swallowed up. Their seemingly-minor dancing instead anchors the public space; orienting themselves, and us, within the complex movements of the individuals and energies that pass through here. Sometimes they sing, which beautifully moves in and out of hearing as they turn. They work alongside the sounds of the square’s fountain, the passing cars (with the occasional loud stereo), and the clattering of skateboards.
With an unashamed lyricism and studied indifference, the three skaters cut arcs through the other side of the square. They reshape space with a poetic masculinity: virtuosic in their tricks, relaxed in their embrace of failure. They pull out smartphones and expensive-looking cameras to film each other, and occasionally the three dancers. There’s no competition: the two groups carry on with their diverse choreographies. My attention shifts between them; each returning and rewriting my perception of the square as a whole. A couple nearby quietly comment that the young men could have come back another day; but I suspect most people watching are happy to appreciate the contrasting kinds of movement at play, and the radically different ways the groups organise themselves.
A fourth skater arrives. And then a bit later, ten or so dancers turn up: local participants who’ve responded to an open call. They tie colourful sashes around their waists and begin to walk parallel and perpendicular lines, describing a grid across the space. The simplicity of this choreography is powerful – the irregular rhythms of pause and movement resist any quick comprehension of the spacial dynamics. The three original dancers continue their theme, but they’re now surrounded by a geometric web that shifts and grows around them. And as a result (although with a bit more space and ambiguity than this word count can convey) the skateboarders are pushed out to the edges. They gather to take a break and smoke, and then restart their tricks and filming behind the audience.
I’m sort of ok with this; but then there’s this moment where the performers take out tennis balls and throw them to each other, and a big skipping rope. The balls are thrown to and from the audience, inviting little kids to start wandering further into the square. In contrast to the poetry and balance of everything before this, it feels a bit crass, like it’s trying to convince me of something. These gestures of playfulness feel overplayed; a very photogenic activity (organised by a publicly funded institution) that sits it poor contrast to the more antagonistic and self-organised practice of the skateboarders it has replaced. I’m all for kids having a nice time, but there’s a clear difference in what Nottingham City Council might do with the documentation of happy participation, versus the skateboarders with the footage of their own activities; how each might be able to stake a claim in this space’s future. I become very grateful for the aggressive reminders of what’s just taken place, as the skaters undertake occasional and seemingly oblivious journeys directly in front of and across where the audience has gathered to watch.
We’re right beside the glass-walled units recently built by Nottingham City Council as part of their Creative Quarter initiative, which in the last couple of months have half-filled with design studios, assorted retail, and a shiny hipster café. Throughout the festival’s discussions and debates, the role of artists and institutions within processes of gentrification were frequently raised; Jonathan Burrows spoke from his past complicity, and one of the founding members of Backlit (an extremely successful gallery and set of studios across the road from Dance4, established by graduates of Nottingham Trent) described recent projects to welcome in and support the local community.
Without wishing to be facetious, I can’t help but notice how the careful balance of public space in the simple dancing at the start of Odori-Dawns-Dance was disrupted at the point of introducing the project’s participant group. But it would be unfair to reduce the wider and more intangible flows of gentrification with the particular encounter of these two social groups. These questions could equally be applied to the works happening across the festival, both in and out the studios. Dance4, with their International Centre for Choreography situated around the corner, is no doubt aware of the changes in the area, and and is in no way indifferent to these questions; and Odori-Dawns-Dance (intentionally or otherwise) became a platform in which they were brought forward in sharp focus.
To find out more about Odori-Dawns-Dance, click here.