The Porcelain Project
Tramway, Glasgow, Fri 3 & Sat 4 Oct
In the normal run of things, dancers rehearse, set-makers build and eventually the two elements come together. Not so with The Porcelain Project. The latest offering from Belgium’s Needcompany started life as an artwork by choreographer, Grace Ellen Barkey and artist, Lot Lemm.
‘Lot and I created an installation with porcelain objects hung on moving strings,’ explains Barkey. ‘And because we liked it so much, I decided to create a new performance piece and enlarge the installation to fill a full stage. So the start of the Porcelain Project was the porcelain itself.’
Surrounded by literally hundreds of pieces of porcelain, rehearsing without the set was clearly not an option for the performers. Instead, Barkey treated the ceramic shapes ‘like a landscape; a world where six dancers live and the movement gels together with the porcelain.’ Barkey’s inspiration for the piece was not confined to the original installation, however – two other key elements played their parts.
Firstly the music of British composer, Thomas Adès, and in particular his 1999 piece, Asyla which Barkey found held a fairytale quality. Secondly, the mental health issues of some rather famous royals. ‘I wanted to do something about kings,’ says Indonesian-born Barkey. ‘And there are a lot of crazy kings in history – like your George III – and I was fascinated by the almost ridiculous poetry that’s used to describe them. I felt that the poetry and Thomas Adès’ colourful music both worked well against the fragility of the porcelain.’
That fragility is evident at each performance, with Lemm’s handmade objects suffering inevitable breakages. So much so, that Needcompany has now invested in its own kiln to keep up with the demand for fresh porcelain. It’s not just broken china that Barkey deals in, however, but broken hearts.
‘My work is about the failure of love and loving,’ she says. ‘And the absurdness of longing for something perfect, when you know that you always fail. When you have a perfect moment, it will always collapse and be destroyed by another thought or event. That’s something I think can be very comical in humanity and it’s underlying in all my work.’