Embodying Glass - Dancing with the Dark

How do you write about a dance piece? Especially a dance piece inspired by music? Especially a dance piece inspired by music created by Phillip Glass? Especially a dance piece inspired by music created by Phillip Glass inspired by Samuel Beckett’s novella “Company”?

Trying to describe dance is like trying to describe poetry or music: it just doesn’t work. These art forms were created to transcend language, to share a knowledge of the world that cannot be captured in facts. What I can describe though are sources of inspiration, the design of the piece, and my own reactions to the performance.

Embodying Glass - Dancer | GTF

Let’s start with Beckett. In “Company”, the story takes place in the dark as a man lies on his back alone contemplating existence and his own purpose in life. Already there is a fascinating contradiction between the original text and the performance, as “Embodying Glass” is a movement piece without dialogue, the camera fluidly following the dancer, Jérémie Cyr-Cooke, as he negotiates his place within the stage. He lies on the couch, he sits on the floor, he disturbs the air as his body reacts to the music. The dancer enters the stage from behind a white door, and his greatest conflict seems to come from whether he dare to return to that door and pass through it once more. Is it his birth and death that terrifies him, like the narrator from “Company”? Or is it a contemporary fear of Covid-19, the fear of contagion, the fear of commitment (like the other famous musical Company), or the fear of dangerous company. So many of us have found ourselves both sheltering and despising our home space, a space transformed into a private stage of our own design.

The idea of company, both terrifying and longed for, is physically manifested in the performance by the musicians of ConTempo Quartet. If one is to perform Phillip Glass’ String Quartet No. 2, you need at least four people to create one music piece; a quartet is both a company of musicians and a single entity. ConTempo Quartet appears in the piece both as musicians and as dancers; there are times when they appear in the same space as the dancer, yet they do not interact. They mimic each other’s movements, but do not seem to acknowledge each other’s presence. They are a company of individuals, in the same space but separated by distance.

To further enhance the isolation in the piece, throughout the show little light squares illuminate the floor in a checked pattern, guiding the dancer, trapping the dancer. One is immediately reminded of lines on the floor in the grocery store, spray paint outside schools designating “safe” spots, and arrows everywhere reminding us what two metres looks like. I don’t think we have ever spent this much time staring at the floor, searching for the little lines that designate safety. This performance uses that new habit to show us how these lines are fickle, ever changing, never really keeping us safe. One wonders if the title “Embodying Glass” means embodying the ideas of Phillip Glass, or embodying the idea of the fragility of our existence?

Embodying Glass - ConTempo Quartet | GTF

This idea of isolation is not unique to Covid-19 times, but it is certainly heightened. The dancer uses his sweater to cover his mouth and nose, slowly hiding his face behind a fabric that happens to match the fabric of the couch. Is he disappearing into the couch? Surrendering himself to the couch? There are no answers provided in this show, just as in life, only movement and reaction to space, also as in life. If Beckett’s “Company” embraces the idea of temporality, then “Embodying Glass” questions what can we do with our temporary time?

Embodying Glass is premiering at the Galway Theatre Festival on May 5th at 11:00am, 1:30pm, and 6:30pm, with a Q&A with the artists at 7:00pm. You can find tickets here and a link to the Q&A here.

Blog post written by Laura Brincat, May 5th 2021.