Bodies of Water
Saffy Setohy in “Bodies of Water.” Photograph by Julia Bauer

Elements

“Bodies of Water” strikes a delicate balance

Performance
“Bodies Of Water” by Saffy Setohy, Aya Kobayashi, Nicolette Macleod and Joanna Young
Place
Platform, Glasgow, Scotland, October 12, 2019
Words
Lorna Irvine

There is an ineffable poignancy, a sense of subtle melancholy even, to this immersive and moving piece, “Bodies of Water” created by Saffy Setohy, Aya Kobayashi, Nicolette Macleod and Joanna Young for family audiences. It is dancers Setohy and Young who perform, and invite the audience into a quiet, dark but cosy space for interaction and dance. Tables are festooned with little clay pots created across Scottish communities over the course of a year. As pairs, we too are invited (with eyes closed) to create little makeshift pots of clay, something to contain water. 

This is to provide context, to make us reconfigure our relationship with water, organic materials and landscape. After all, this choreography starts from the hands: it’s a contemplation of holding, carrying, making and containing water. It’s in and around us, beneath us. Some countries are experiencing death from drought, others are flooded. Climate change is drastically affecting marine life and flood levels. Yet this piece is never polemical; rather, it makes us see the elements anew, with fresh eyes.

Climate change is drastically affecting marine life and flood levels. Yet this piece is never polemical; rather, it makes us see the elements anew, with fresh eyes.

As we move deeper into the space, water containers of varying shapes and sizes are piled in a corner, half-lit. They resemble some kind of kinetic sculpture. Setohy and Young hypnotically pour water from vessel to vessel, like egg-timers, as soundscapes wrap around the room. The field recordings by Jamie McCarthy are of raindrops, the sea, and the sound of oars pounding the water. They sound soothing and soporific at times, or incredibly powerful and unsettling in stillness. 

Bodies of Water
Saffy Setohy in “Bodies of Water.” Photograph by Julia Bauer

Both women delicately circle the space, almost like spectres at times, and Young pours sea salt around the floor. It feels like protection from evil. The childish urge to bend down and lick the salt is almost unbearable, such is the satisfying sound of the crunch as Setohy feels the salt on her bare feet, moving slowly around the room, or gliding like a skater, casting shapes on the ground. She taps into an almost nostalgic impulse to explore the nearest coastline, to run free and regress into simpler times, free of adult concerns.

The beach is a safe haven, somewhere to escape to, away from the stresses and anxiety of modern living. Yet, there is a sense too, of time running out, of all things being delicate and finite.

Setohy’s moves are meditative, slow and languid, governed by instinct. Again, her hands are stretched out as though beckoning sea spirits. She rolls, curls, stretches out with care, almost closing her eyes, and starts to sway as though emulating a gently rocking boat, musing on her early experiences with water. She is sculptural in poise, then vulnerable in repose.

Bodies of Water
Picking up seashells in “Bodies of Water.” Photograph by Julia Bauer

“When my mum used to go swimming, I would hang onto her neck, almost too tightly,” she says, dreamily, morphing into her childhood self, crouching down, then curled into herself, afraid of something bigger than her. But she rises, gestures bigger now and more defiant, too, and she starts whirling like a maelstrom, as Nicolette Macleod’s haunting, effervescent musical soundtrack plays. She carries a large plastic bag of water on her shoulders, taking great care not to spill a single precious drop. As the drooping bag is placed down beside her, its bulk inhabits a space, almost like another being.

Young, shining a small torch onto a container of water, pours beach detritus onto the floor: from fossils to sponges, stones, rocks and shells. This feels akin to contemplating our evolution, of how things are formed through chaos and happenstance. Time almost stands still here, even though we are ultimately living together on borrowed time. Evocative, primal and really beautiful, “Bodies of Water” serves as a gentle reminder to us of our small place in the vast world, but also, of our sharing, care and interconnectivity.

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