6: The Square


from: ramsayburt.wordpress.com 20/05/2016

This is, I understand, the second in a trilogy of pieces coming out of Beutler’s interest in the Bauhaus. As the title suggests, there are squares in the scenography – on the floor, in the backdrop and lighting design – and square formations continually emerge in the choreography which, of course, also includes an American Square Dance section.
The idea of a square conjures up notions of robustness, stability, plain clarity, and solid predictability. In the early C20th, geometrical abstract painting, including work by artists associated with the Bauhaus, seemed to suggest an optimistic embrace of the potential of modernity to create a better life. A nice little booklet that Beutler’s company, nbprojects, has produced about 6: The Square, mentions Malevich who condensed the western painting tradition to a simple black square for a famous exhibition in Moscow in 1915. Its pure form was a portal into a purer more intense future.
In Europe in 2016 with neo-liberal austerity, the on-going migration crisis, terrorist threats, uncertainty about Brexit, and so on, the optimistic certainties about modernity that inspired artists 100 years ago seem strangely remote and unbelievable. That’s what I felt Beutler’s The Square is exploring.
The cast of dancers are diverse. Sometimes their costumes hide this; an early section has them dancing in semi darkness all in loose black hoodies. Later their differences are emphasized. Four pairs mark out geometrical transformations of the points of squares, but each pair seems paradoxical: a hippy with a man in a business suit, a sikh with a b-boy, a woman of colour all in black and a headscarf – not quite a burka – with a woman in a sort of cosplay European folk costume with flowery skirt and lacy apron. Types rather than individuals, yet somehow failing to be the kind of universal everyman and everywoman of the modernist theatre of the 1920s and 1930s. And that’s surely the point.
The American square dance sections are danced with an easy flowing precision that I imagine was not at all easy to achieve. It is a modernist version of square dance in which all the little flourishes, the whoops and individual expression are missing. They effortlessly rotate in walls of two that become four and then eight.
To one side, with a microphone, is Deborah, an English performer, who is the completely superfluous ‘caller’. The dancers need no directions and she is just offering superfluous encouragements and then a rather awkwardly pointless monologue that is sad and meaningless. At least she’s trying.
The tension between the universal, abstract geometric qualities of the dancing and the underlying problematic emptiness of the monologue seems to be at the heart of 6: The Square. Why have we lost the faith in progress that underlay the work of the Bauhaus and artists like Malevich? And how do we go on trying to make sense of things in current circumstances? In the end 6: The Square seems to have a strongly positive energy. It certainly got its first night audience on their feet applauding. Something light emerging out of the darkness of our dark times.

© Ramsay Burt