The Life and Times by Scottish Dance Theatre
The moving camera, the experience of time, and the nuances of life all encapsulated in this hour long treat. This work has carried bitter-sweet memories of civilisation and the humour that life holds within melancholy and inevitability of passage of time, death and birth. I find it fascinating that SDT chose to pay homage to humanity by showing it through a metaphorical birth of a human figure out of kneaded dough, rather than treating the concept of life with the burden and complexity it brings forth.
There is a lot that can be said about the workshop SDT (Scottish Dance Theatre) conducted for AIB 2022, that culminated in a digital showcase followed by the screening of this exquisite film, The Life and Times. This time and experience offered layers of working with and perceiving bodily senses in a performance- touch, taste, smell, sound and establishing a relationship with the camera. The seemingly anachronistic choice of Baroque music and the medieval touch to the costume of two animated, human-like, almost jester- like characters began to make sense with the tone of the story-line. I felt elated, soulful and secretive with the choice of soundscape- grandeur of orchestra, the mischief as well as quiet mystery, of the haunting violin and the sensuality and intimacy of the piano.
As humans, we encounter something and try to play with it in all its innocence. Slowly in the film, the board partitions on wheels and seven other dancing bodies, individually and all together, seem to be embodying the passing time by juxtaposing slow, neutral walk with a staccato-like movement vocabulary. The antics of two medieval-like characters in the story add a welcoming contrast to this landscape. The quest for the duo is that of decoding the recipe for how to bake a cake as well as assembling the necessary accessories and ingredients. The dancers, the boards on wheels, their interactions with them as well as co-dependence are an adventure the man and the woman are set out on. The woman takes copious notes and cross-checks while the man goofs around and distracts her.
If there was no camera to dance along, we would not be able to perceive the visual beauty and imagination of how the dancers magically appear, disappear, and transform the idea of objects and body parts for us. They at once created universal, yet layered connections among each other simply by juxtaposing, revealing, or hiding varied elements in the frame. The sparkle of mirror, the eerie disclosure of shadows meeting flesh, up against the partitions are all presented to us by an important performer, almost the hidden protagonist. The cameraman who presents his reflection in the mirror for a glimpse, is the magician emulating light featheriness, dizziness, spinning, rolling in the symphony among dancers as well as orchestrating the changing landscapes for the narrative.
There is value to perceiving and absorbing simplicity within a complex background. Every phenomenon and action deserves time and should not exceed beyond its purpose. Curiosity is what keeps us going, in helping us solve puzzles, find meaning, or missing links. This is a long and winding road, but having a tool that urges us to pause and highlight intricacies or even seemingly contrasting things, the lens it offers and it’s confluence with time makes for a very appetising recipe in this life’s cookbook.
As I watched The Life and Times, I remembered how as a child I used to pretend my fingers and palms are biped figures that could waltz together or synchronise movements like humans are evolved to do. Adding the shadows and the camera, to this, here I attempt to lend voice to my fingers as they try to construct a narrative in response to their environment.