Dan Canham’s Wild Card at Sadler’s Wells meandered through an interesting progression of folk dancing, artistic musings and charming traditions, and I came away with a smile and a lot to think about. This evening was part of a series of three performances in the Lillian Baylis Studio Theatre, which aims to give chosen artists a night to share their work, inspirations and ambitions. Canham’s show culminated in his eloquently easy solo 30 Cecil Street, a work that found its soul in the memories of a vibrant theatre, now closed and crumbling.

30 Cecil Street - Forest - © John Hunter at RULER
30 Cecil Street - Forest -
© John Hunter at RULER

Canham’s storytelling was so meticulous – so unequivocally placed and timed that I felt immediately sewn into the patchwork story of this small-town theatre. The audio score was comprised mostly of interview audio clips overlaid with textured sound that correlated with the interviews, and sometimes articulated Canham’s movement exactly. Along the floor Canham taped out a floor plan of the old Limerick Theatre Royal. He moved from “room” to “room”, finding movement vocabulary unique to each space and clearly specifically chosen for each moment in the work.

The interviews paint a picture of the theatre as a pulsing hub of activity. You can hear each person’s attachment to the theatre clinging to each syllable, despite its fondly admitted faults. They loved its rough club nights, loud music and dripping walls. Canham captures this attachment, and passes it on to us, so as an audience member I grew to love the theatre too. But ever present was the dull cast of the theatre’s current abandoned state, providing a strong contrast to the lively stories and memories. This complexity was greatly aided by Canham’s movement choice and quality, so that the piece surpassed a rehashing of interviews and became a deeper artistic exploration. Smooth and refined, I greatly enjoyed the journey.

In the first half of the evening, Canham invited performance artist and writer Augusto Corrieri to give a lecture entitled In Place of a Show. The lecture was in itself a performance, though had the exoskeleton and format of a presentation. These little bits of performance were my favourite part of the lecture – a performative incline of the head, the artistic use of words projected and the graceful cadence of the speech.

Essentially Corrieri describes seeing a swallow in the Teatro Olimpico, his study of this specific swallow and the discord created by the live outside finding its way inside the controlled theatrical inside. The content itself began very hard to digest, with abstract concepts I felt my mind slip around. However, by mid-presentation Corrieri hit an easy stride, and gave me ideas to ponder on the bus ride home.

Bookending these two in-theatre performances were the cheerfully odd dance group Pig Dyke Molly, who filled the foyer with their lively music, interesting costume and delightful idiosyncrasies. I filed in with other audience members around the edge of the room, and honestly was overwhelmed but pleasantly surprised. The dance is Molly (similar to Morris), the clothes and painted faces are black and white, and the humour is distinctly British. Pig Dyke Molly’s rollicking attitudes display the underlying reason to dance: namely, to have fun. However, they also closely guard the tradition of Molly dancing, originating from the Fens, and do it with plenty of attitude.

The underlying tones of tradition, memories and the theatre space were subtlety sounded throughout Dan Canham’s Wild Card, to create an evening that was eccentric but thoughtful. Prompting reflection, the night was very enjoyable.