Rehearsal for death is a short (35 mins) dance performance that takes the work and life of Francesca Woodman as inspiration. Woodman’s photographs captured her own youthful body in playful repose against decaying buildings, simple props and stark interiors.
In Rehearsal for death the dancer’s bodies, Rebekah Stuart and Sophie Thompson invoke the same mood and choreography of woodman’s photographs while perhaps showcasing the playful processes that allowed the photographs to originate.
In woodman’s photographs and the dance a fascination with the fleeting beauty of youthful flesh and its inevitable death are explored. In one phrase Sophie Thompson pulls at her flesh as if discovering for the first time her own mortality. In another, Rebekah Stuart explores a ritualistic cycle, jumping from a box like coffin, each fall revelling in the drama and beautiful melancholy of what could be an act of suicide.
As the dance unfolds death proves to be a seductive plaything of those who seem young, invincible and full of life. At times a small laugh or remark from the dancers reminds the audience that this is only a ‘rehearsal for death.’ At other times the weight of death appears on the verge of consuming the dancers. A fine line is drawn between death as a provocative muse with alluring and powerful iconography, and death as an ultimate release from life, complete with loss, despair and the un reconcilable.
How this line is traversed becomes the journey of the dance. When a coffin becomes a bath with legs languid over its edge death is a calming salve. When a body leaves an imprint in scattered flour on the floor, death is absence, an outline. When chaos ensues and the dancer’s bodies thrash around in their own, ‘rage against the dying of the light,’ death becomes a challenge, to be physically confronted.
As Francesca’s own story reminds, she committed suicide in her early twenties, no matter how playful a muse, or superficially co-opted, each person’s relationship with death can be impenetrably mysterious. In dance, in art, in conversation, we try at least to find some reconciliation in our relationship with the one of the greatest mysteries of all.
Directed, Choreographed and Performed by Rebekah Stuart and Sophie Thompson