Roberta Jean (choreographer)
Made in Scotland Showcase
Dance Base @ Edinburgh City Chambers
The five women are dressed in black, sensible clothes, sensible shoes, no frills or fripperies, in stark contrast to the setting, the impressively decorated meeting hall at Edinburgh City Chambers. They prance back and forth, around the audience, and around again, prancing foals, perfectly synchonized, yet individual too, panting from the investment of pure energy. It is a generous and vibrant dance of exuberance.
This is Brocade, a poetic response to the historical and contemporary attitudes towards crafts and physical work. It is an apt moment for reappraisal, when technology claims to be freeing us from manual labour and mechanized bodies, only to be enforcing other regimes and physical standardization. It is apt in this setting too, with the mediaeval Lawnmarket just outside, as the soundscape and movement adjusts to accommodate the rhythms of the flying shuttle and the loom. This is women’s work.
Edinburgh’s City Chambers is an imposing building, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so placing Brocade here is to place the dancers’ bodies in a space with a context, a multitude of references inscribed on the space itself, but also brought to the performance by the spectators.
It is a beautiful room, but also oppressive, with monumentally-carved wooden wainscotting, gilt and stained glass, a room that can stultify with the weight of authority. On one wall, there is an early 19th century painting of John Knox preaching in St Giles Cathedral in front of Mary Queen of Scots. This speaks volumes. Knox, the father of Scottish Presbyterianism, was the man who wrote a pamphlet entitled "The Last Trumpet Blast Against This Monstrous Regiment of Women". Prior to entering the hall, the audience waits in an area where the mayors of Edinburgh, dating back to the 13th century, are listed on the wall. This entire space is redolent of the wealth and power of patriarchy.
Perhaps this is my interpretation, based around the signs of our Scottish heritage, but certainly in this traditionally and ideologically male ambience, these five remarkable dancers weave a web of life with firm tread, forceful, joyful and compelling, dancing the threads of the fabric that connects them. It becomes a via negativa, the exertions carrying the dancers beyond fatigue to liberated awareness and spontaneity, weaving the weft and the warp with subtle smiles, small gestures, gentle touches and trust. This is women’s work. Generous, committed, connected, giving unstintingly.