Friday, 7 July 2017

Review: Available Light, Manchester International Festival

Someone once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, to convey the absurdity of arbitrarily juxtaposing two very different forms of creative expression. Available Light is not quite dancing about architecture, but it shows what can happen when an architect, a composer and a choreographer collaborate outside of their unusual comfort zones.

In Available Light Frank Gehry’s sparse, architectural stage design sets the scene for Lucinda Childs’ choreography and John Adams’ modern classical score. Dominated by a huge chainlink fence and raised platform, the setting brings to mind several places familiar from American pop culture: the sidewalk, the bleachers of a sports event, or a seaside pier, sitting atop exposed, crisscrossed supports. Though simple, it plays a key part in the performance, bathed with stark light and silhouetting the stage.
It’s hard not to think of bathers when viewing Childs’ lithe dancers, in their skimpy, figure-hugging costumes; their regimented movements recall synchronised swimmers or the discipline of early morning communal exercisers. At times, they stand still, resembling Antony Gormley’s rows of figures looking out to sea at Crosby beach. At other times they swarm, reminiscent of a flock of birds. One of the best moments comes after a brief caesura suggesting nightfall; the dancers are lit as if by moonlight, drawing the eye to follow their flitting shadows rather than the movements themselves.

John Adams’ effervescent, multilayered soundtrack steals the show. It swells and ebbs, sometimes muffled and distant as if emerging from underwater and at other times crowded with bright bursts and silvery toots. It suggests found sounds collaged from technology, work and nature, from radio broadcasts and typing to trilling telephones to the creaking of gates, the rumble of industry, the passage of boats, the murmuring of owls and the whining of the wind.
Like much of the best American art of the twentieth century (it was originally performed in 1983), Available Light takes its inspiration from life. It sounds and looks like the city. Though small in numbers, Childs’ performers suggest a crowd, incorporating everyday movements such as stretches, twirls and kicks. The dancers move towards each other and pass by, around and through, yet never meet, appearing to follow some unspoken but long-established rules of the street. 

Available Light is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday 8 July. To book visit

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