Body of Work by Daniel Linehan, which had its Dutch premiere last night at Julidans, poses an interesting question: how important is it to know someone’s earlier work when watching a piece that is, among other things, about their body of work?
Linehan examines how past dances live on in the dancer’s body, like ‘an archaeologist delving into the choreographic material he has created over the past 15 years.’
Not having seen any of his previous work, any reference to earlier choreographies was lost on me. Fortunately, most of the performance works perfectly fine on its own. Just watching Linehan move across the floor is justification enough. Jumping around, lying still with only his hands moving, pawing across the floor on all fours to kiss the shoe of an unsuspecting spectator, twirling around like a weathervane while making whistling wind sounds. (the whole soundscape is made up of the sounds created by Linehan’s own body: his voice, the repeated sound of a microphone travelling over his body). It is repetitive without ever being less than absorbing.
The middle part does lag a bit, despite featuring an intimate and delicate story about the death of his father and the complicated feelings – or the absence of any feelings – surrounding it. A scene in which Linehan desperately moves around on one leg (the other is tucked away) is a strong one, as is the image of his discarded clothes laid out on the floor as if they were shed skin, or his past self. But the ensuing musings on his trip to Disneyland and how the death of his great-great-great-great-great-uncle during a potato famine, who died instead of his great-great-great-great-grandfather, led him here, to this moment, disturbs the flow.
At such moments Body of Work feels most like a compilation, as different parts stitched together, instead of a single, organic whole.
The parts without any text – where subtext remains subtext – work the best. The final act is the strongest of all, when all the layers and clothes have been shed and Linehan stands – and moves – in front of us, naked. Every sinew, every muscle is on display, in riveting detail. It encapsulates the essence of this performance: for most artistic professions, ‘body of work’ is an expression, a figure of speech. For dancers, like Linehan, their body of work is their body at work.
Seen July 11 at International Theater Amsterdam, Julidans.