COME CLOSER: MATTHEW DAY at the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam

There are many things to focus on when writing about an unconventional, site-specific contemporary dance performance, especially if it is made as a response to a sound, site-specific installation The Instrument of Troubled Dreams by Cardiff and Miller. From how people position themselves in space, to complex concepts explored through time and various locations by choreographer Matthew Day — that combined together don’t necessarily all translate into a successful performance.

I was waiting outside Oude Kerk and expecting another “immersive” dance performance, where immersion mostly stands for a few dancers touching the audience, or dancing through and around the gathered public without a designated place to sit. As we — mostly English speaking, but altogether diverse crowd of different ages — entered the beautiful church, we were greeted by a set of four tones from The Instrument of Troubled Dreams that kept repeating for the next hour. As we were slowly familiarising ourselves with the space, we occupied the central part of the church in a somewhat of a circle (people always seem to need a protected back and an open view).

The following minutes simply resembled a social event of various young dancers, greeting and chatting to each other — an event that I had mistakenly stumbled upon. Three performers stood out from the rest of the crowd due to their clothing, orange vest in some way modified into gaiters or simply cut into a shorter version of the vest. The rest of the outfit seemed to had been left to every individual’s choice, a common aesthetic issue I admittedly have with contemporary dance performances.

Freedom from traditional norms and forms, that contemporary dance tries to question and materialise, translated into an hour long performance; part of which seemed rather painful, when dancers were half crawling, half dancing, lying on the cold floor of the church. Matthew Day’s intention of distributing field recordings done by the body from previous performances was more clear in the second half. However, at this point the amount of people, and their freedom to be anywhere in the space, started to bother me — this is what happens if the traditional setting of a theatre, where everyone has a relatively equal view, is broken.

Many aspects explored through the performance did not manage to emerge until later on, or in a conversation after the performance was over. The concept of using the body as an instrument, and choreography as a technology, might benefit from exploration of actual growing technology and audio-visual media. A change in, or of, reality, an augmented reality perhaps, could be done in order to catch up with an array of these new concepts explored by a younger generation of artists.   Eva Tisnikar   16th March 2019