In making The Roundest Circle, the three collaborators set up a system of turn-taking that ensured equal time and opportunity to assert authority. This method of creation deals with and comments on hierarchy in performance-making, forces the artistic ego to be held in check. In this scenario, the playing field
seems level, allowing finite time and space to dictate each collaborator’s negotiations and the final work.
When the performance opens, however, it tricks us into thinking it will be a fairy-tale musical comedy, or that there will be fancy multi media throughout. The fairy-tale they dramatically narrate subverts the genre, features three witches, suggests a feminist slant. Again their political commentary is understated and sly; three women dance with their hair down, beautiful, wild, thrashing.
They make a hair monster. They comb its hair. They growl. They stack on top of each other, and they do virtuosic circus tricks. They scramble to build pyramids, the pyramids collapse. They adjust their pyjama-like costumes, a nod to postmodern dance aesthetics. They sweat a lot, grab and manipulate each other. Competition, violence, failure, intimacy – mini emotional-dramas unfolding as they run from task to task of their own creation. Perhaps Camille Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre” was more than a witty choice to create a gothic mood.
When we sit in shared darkness anticipating the next situation, their panting is audible from next to me, but also across the room. An oddly visceral experience, after a lot of madcap task-driven humour.
The ending is a fight to the death. They try to heckle each other but heckling and truly trying to win clearly not in their personalities or habits. The physicality and enjoyment of raising an arm seem more important than pronouncing victory. Wrestling after a tender moment is like tearing an open wound. Depending on how the earlier tasks unravelled, the emotional intensity could be different. It’s a risk we all have to take.
Beth Orton’s haunting voice in “Sisters of Mercy” closes the show. His sung poetry captures many things in life, crosses boundaries of genre and form. “The Roundest Circle” does the same, a performance only dancers would make but never quite just a dance.