Leylines by Imogene Newland and Kim Suk-Jun

The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
October 21, 2016

Róisín O’Brien

Dance is so often the disguise of effort and the illusion of ease, at least in classical styles. Leylines is, by contrast, a physical exploration of effort that is cognitively challenging for its audience. A dance and sound collaboration, Leylines bleeds more into installation and performance art territory.

The scenography of Leylines speaks of the history of our changing and oft-abused earth. A carefully selected cartography of materials ranging from slate to lichen, to urban pavements and plastic tubes, forms a strictly delineated path that circles around the stage.

Sound designer Suk-Jun Kim provides a compelling, semi-improvised live soundscape. Often initiated with humming, the sound mediates between traffic noises, distorted pulses and organic-sounding drones. The sound creates most of the drama and tension, often more so than what is physically on stage.

Performer Imogen Newland is guardian, mother and traveller of this space. Her costume initially consists of a beautifully crafted origami cape, while the body drawing on Imogen by Rebecca Westguard is eerily metallic, adding another lived material to the stage.

LeylinesPhoto Sid Scott/seeimaginedefine for DanceLive16
Photo Sid Scott/seeimaginedefine for DanceLive16

Affecting a butoh-like slowness, Imogen impressively commits to a fifty-minute exercise of strenuously moving a round rock across the different materials, all of which add to Kim’s soundscape.

As such, Leylines is not easy to watch. While as a viewer you anticipate the new sounds and rustlings each material will make under the weight of the rock, you also look at the as yet un-traversed path and wilt slightly at the monotony to come. Imogen’s movements lack dynamic variety, and while her intimacy with the rock is boldly constant, such intimacy stunts other interactions with her environment, and condenses body shapes and positions to a bare, often repetitive, minimum.

It becomes clear, however, that Imogen has very precisely chosen to enact a strained effort with the rock. One moment in particular, where it falls out of her grasp, shows that momentum is possible, but has been denied. Rather than failing to explore variety, Leylines obstinately refuses to gather speed.

Two questions then arise: why make this creative decision? And, critically, is this a ‘good’ decision to make? The former relates to artistic intention, and whether this comes through is sometimes irrelevant. Nonetheless, the piece’s ideas and images prompt reflections on our history with nature and the artificial. I was personally very struck when violins entered Kim’s soundtrack; a contrast to the more inhuman sounds, this cultural entity added to a rich exploration of humanity’s response to the natural environment.

Is Leylines, then, enjoyable? Is the enacting of struggle, while valid, ultimately boring? While at times in the piece I strained to retain full attention, I happily remained in the theatre at the end, quietly reflecting. Leylines is visually and aurally intricate, but innately mental taxing. It can easily lose its audience, but its attempt to provoke self-reflection is a feat worthy of discussion, even if that feat is not always easily digestible.

Leylines was part of DanceLive16.

For more great dance photography by Sid Scott, visit www.seeimaginedefine.com/dance.