Architecture Generated From The Hip

BUILDING DESIGN  – the weekly newspaper for the design team (September 1995)

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights last week the most recent attempt at that elusive goal, the fusion of architecture and dance was made by Bunty Matthias and Juliette Howay Milner with their dance piece Point of View at the Design Museum in London.

The Design Museum has become a sort of outpost of the South Bank – a colony, with all the faults of the mother country, only amplified.  It is even harder to get to and less exciting when you do.

The building is magnificent but the setting calls out for it to be the centre of a throbbing riverside Soho, just like the artists’ impressions promised.  On Friday night, however, things were different.  The Design Museum was bathed in the light of the new automatic colour-change technology from Irideon; first it was violet, then it changed to yellow, to white, to blue, to pink and back to violet again. From Tower Bridge it looked as if all the dreams of an exciting cultural focus out in the docks, where people would want to go, might be coming true.  Howay Milner a diploma student at the AA, explained the rationale behind her architectural objectives: ‘A city  is as much a series of memories and associations as it is buildings and roads, and an architectural intervention which changes the perception of an area may invoke its transformation into something else.’

There were already signs of such a transformation as people stopped and stared at the light show and drifted over to the building.  If Howay Milner wants to invigorate a neglected area of the city, Matthias wants to breathe life into the world of contemporary dance and open it up to a larger audience, as she proved last year in her piece You Want My Wont at the South Bank Centre with designers Tom Dixon and Andre Walker.  It was at a performance of You Want My Wont that Howay Milner first saw contemporary dance shortly afterwards invited Matthias to the AA to give an exhibition of her work, ultimately leading to the creation of Point of View.

Inside the Design Museum, further transformations were in evidence:  the bar and foyer were bursting with a young, fashionable, hip crowd quaffing free Sapporo beer, and the constantly changing lightshow coming through the glass block wall of the stairwell gave an impression of nightclub glamour.  Only this was no ordinary club, as the first port of call was the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition to which entry was free before the performance.  The coincidence of the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition and Point of View was not deliberate.  The piece was  not inspired by his work or life.  ‘Point of View is definitely about contemporary architecture’ says Matthias, leaving you with no illusions where her architectural preferences lie.

On the top floor a performance space had been extracted from among the looming museum cases and, lit by Howay Milner’s ingenious form of space lighting, the dancers performed against a projection of X-ray images.  These ethereal after-images made from the cross-sections of the human body were closely linked to the movement of the dancers and mood of the music.  More material architectural effects were achieved with large hanging structures made from Lycra and aluminium, whose forms, derived from Howay Milner’s observations of the dancers in rehearsal, appeared like sculptures based on the trace lines of the dancers’ limbs.

The performance itself was on essay in restriction both of space and – lasting only twenty minutes- most frustratingly, of time.  The movement echoed Michael Clark’s pioneering technique generated from the hip; it was elegantly spare and controlled with slow rhythmic movements as a back drop to faster jumps and running sequences.  However, at times, the dancers appeared too aware of the closeness of the audience to break up the space and travel.

The design and choreography were most certainly a delight for the eyes and Noel Watson’s pulsing score of over laid rhythm and choral tracks added to an atmosphere of a very nineties type of ‘minimal’ chic.  As a fusion of architecture and dance it may not have been wholly convincing, but the project was successful in its main aims, to broaden the audience for contemporary dance and to enliven a neglected building in London that has, in its siting and brief, a lot of unfulfilled potential.

‘I want to transform the building into a delicious treat to look at’ Matthias said.  And in this, she and Howay Milner succeeded.  The two promise another delicious treat when they take their transformers to Hopkins’ Inland Revenue Building in Nottingham for performances on November 3 and 4 as part of the Notts Now Festival.  Book your tickets!  Architecture was never more fun.


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