Choreographer: Alexander Whitley
Our relationship with the sun is not quite what it was, and while most of us can only watch the glorious spring weather from behind our windows, in 2017 Alexander Whitley choreographed a 60-minute show called 8 Minutes which sits at the intersection of arts and sciences. The sun has come up again on this intriguing piece and it has been given a second life on the Sadler’s Wells Digital Stage for one week only.
Working with RAL Space, Whitley’s show takes a broad approach to our engagement with the sun, considering its structure and chemical behaviour, as well as its role in creating landscapes, celestial activity and ritualistic devotion. In fact, the worship of the sun feeds through the piece, opening with the birth of the star in which the dancers move in a pagan form while acting as individual particles drawn together. Later, a whole segment is devoted to celebrating its symbolic power as devotees in yoga and praise poses adopt a slow, Zen-like clam before the performers erupt in a rave of music and movement.
But much of Whitley’s attention is on the scientific, creating chapters to explore the magnetism of particles that attract and balance one another, either in creating the sun or as solar flares and chemical reactions that bubble from the surface. The dance reflects this by creating a chain of bodies moving at a connected but slightly different pace; performers are lifted continuously, spin, roll and stretch in clusters to replicate these natural phenomena.
One of the most accomplished elements uses the concept of time-lapse imagery that records the activity of the sun over several days. And Whitley choreographs on fast-forward, the dancers moving with astonishingly quick hand and leg coordination to give the impression of hours passing and designed to make the audience believe it has been sped-up. It is quite a physical feat without losing the tone and rhythm of the overall dance
Watching the premiere with around 200 hundred people on the Digital Stage Facebook stream, it is noticeable how rarely the film uses close-ups to really depict the specificity of the dancer’s movements or the intricacy of Whitley’s choreography. Although sometimes frustrating, this also seems deliberate, not only replicating how the auditorium would have seen the show, but using the wide-shot of the full stage to prevent any sense of intimacy between the dancers – this show isn’t telling a story but reflecting a scientific process.
The camera decisions also give Tal Rosner’s LED wall a central position in the show, providing an ever-changing backdrop to the dancers’ movements. Taking footage from satellite images and RAL Space’s data, Rosner’s design sets the mood of each section of the dance, from the almost exclusively monochromatic marbling of the formative beginning creating kaleidoscopic patterns, to the twinkly burst of orange and red that blow down the backdrop. Towards the end, these transform into more organised blocks of colour, depicts the earth itself and finally the crawling surface of the sun. It is impressive work and so fascinating you sometimes forget to watch the dancers.
Interspersed with voice-over segments from a physics lecture by Alan Watts and a pounding, relentless score by Daniel Wohl, 8 Minutes is a meaningful collaboration between dance and astrophysics, creating a modern piece that has an unusual resonance. It may yet be some time before we can enjoy the sun again, but Whitley’s piece is a timely reminder of the various ways in which this star is at the centre of our universe.
Streaming here until 15 May 2020