Basing a whole performance around the concept of time is a pretty ballsy move. The last thing you want the audience to think about during said performance is how much time has passed, or what time it is. But, when it’s done well, it can be magnificent.
Take, for example, the first piece choreographer Amos Ben-Tal made about time: Seconds, a fifteen-minute performance for twenty people. The catch: only four people at a time could actually see the performance, which was danced inside a small cube made of cloth. The outsiders were the ones who decided how long the people inside could keep watching, while a digital clock counted down the minutes.
Full disclosure: I haven’t seen/experienced Seconds– or it’s runner up, 30– first-hand, but it sounds pretty brilliant. It makes the question, and our experience, of time tangible. Does time feel slower for the people waiting outside, than for the ones watching within? And what about the dancers themselves? Einstein once – correctly – concluded that the faster you move through space, the slower you move through time. So, does time move slower when you dance?
The whole dancing, waiting and watching routine is also a recurring element in 60, which had its world premiere at Julidans last Tuesday, although this time the nine dancers cover all three stages by themselves. The performance starts with one woman (Milena Twiehaus), standing by the side of the stage, waiting, watching. More dancers follow shortly after. Even during most of the group choreographies, at least one dancer is the outlier, looking in from the outside, or looking away in the distance.
More than about the experience of time, the beginning of 60 seems to be about the mechanics of time. To be even more precise: about the mechanics of a time piece. When the first five dancers start moving, it’s not so much moving as glitching. It’s like they are all cogs inside a wound-up clock that’s not working, stuck in place, stuck in time. Slowly but surely, the small, staccato movements become more pronounced. And just as a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day, sometimes the seemingly erratic movements come together into something resembling a consistent choreography.
It’s a fascinating scene, and a good platform for Ben-Tal’s singular dance moves: graceful yet sharp, unpredictable yet coherent. Another good example takes place in the second half of the performance, where all the dancers start neatly in line and in sync, but end up all over the place, from order to entropy.
The evolution of these separate scenes brings to mind a totally different type of performance about the passage of time: Sideways Rain by Cie Alias, where the dancers kept being pulled forward in the stream of time.
Keeping in line with the idea of the mechanics of time, there is also an actual digital countdown clock, although this time its function is less apparent, apart from, you know, counting down. Three times the clock appears to count down from a minute – or a really, really fast hour – seemingly at random moments. Each time the countdown is slightly different. It lacks the urgency of the clock in Seconds, or the inevitability of the clock in a recent version of Macbeth (directed by Polly Findlay), which starts counting down from the moment Macbeth (Christopher Eccleston) kills the king and reaches zero the moment Macbeth dies.
In 60, it’s just…there. Unless it’s not.
It’s not the only element that comes back in slightly different iterations, like a dancer running laps on stage, or a returning mantra (“It is not the ___ but the___we fear/hope for”) recited over the speakers or by the dancers themselves. Milena Twiehaus ends up as she started, alone, on stage. But despite the variations, these recurrences don’t really seem to add more layers.
60 certainly has some intriguing ideas, a good number of great dancers (Twiehaus and Genevieve Osborne deserve a special shout-out), and deceptively simple, yet very elegant and timeless costumes (by Min Li). Not that many shows can claim they will make you think about Relativity, Entropy and Time Dilation.
Yet, in the end, 60 is a collection of interesting moving parts that don’t quite make a satisfying whole.