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“This British artist is an icon of the New Dance movement. Radically, uncompromisingly and indefatigably expanding the limits of dance”
– Suddeutsche Zeitung
In nearly four decades Rosemary Butcher has made over 50 works, presented in more that 40 countries worldwide and is internationally regarded as one of Europe’s most consistently radical and innovative choreographers.
Profoundly influenced by her time in New York from 1970-72 where she encountered the work of The Judson Group at its height, she subsequently introduced those ideas to Britain at her 1976 ground breaking concert in London’s Serpentine Gallery. Since then, Butcher has developed her own movement language and choreographic structure. By her determination to remain an independent artist, her use of cross arts collaboration in music, visual arts, film and architecture within the choreographic process and her frequent choice of non-theatrical spaces to present her work, she has forged her own place within the European contemporary dance scene. Unlike many of her British contemporaries who see their work as Dance-Theatre, Butcher’s influence has followed the ideas and concepts of the visual arts, particularly in painting and sculpture, and has engaged with the developing philosophies within those movements.
In the mid-sixties, Butcher became the first student of contemporary dance at the then radical Dartington College of Arts. An Elmgrant Scholarship took her to the USA in 1968 and over the next four years into contact with the postmodern Judson Church movement. In the studios of SoHo in New York she took daily classes, performed and attended the showings of work by Simone Forti, Meredith Monk, and Lucinda Childs. But it was the conceptual ideas of Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton’s Contact Improvisation technique and one concert in particular, Walking on the Wall, a work by Trisha Brown performed at the Whitney Museum, that was to profoundly inform her choreography.
Returning to London, in 1976 she launched her own work at a ground-breaking concert in the Serpentine Gallery. Although she was given a Royal Society of Arts award in 1977 for the duet Landings, Butcher’s choreography largely lacked institutional recognition by both critics and dance funding bodies. These years produced duets informed by contact improvisation (Space Between, Anchor Relay) and group pieces exploring her New York experiences (Dances for Different Spaces, White Field and Passage North East). Crucially, Butcher began to uncover a mature, independent vision through collaboration with international visual artists, initially with Jon Groom in Five Sided Figure but most notably with the German artist Heinz Dieter-Pietsch. The resulting Spaces 4, Traces, Imprints and seminal piece The Site were to anticipate much of the British conceptual inspired dance of the 1990s.
Critical opinion shifted following her ten-year retrospective concert in 1986 and the popular success of two works in collaboration with composer Michael Nyman (Flying Lines and Touch the Earth) resulted in a return of institutional funding that between 1985-89, enabled Butcher to make larger-scale works. This included the tripartite d1, d2, 3D, in collaboration with architects Zaha Hadid and John Lyall, and After The Crying and the Shouting with music from Belgian composer Wim Mertens and an installation by visual artist Ron Haselden. With more mainstream contemporary choreographers in vogue, revenue from conventional dance funding bodies once again dried up even as her athletic modes of movement, formal approach and artistic independence became impossible to ignore.
In supporting the creation of Body as Site, it was to be Barclays New Stages Award with the Arts Council Visual Arts Collaborations fund that enabled Butcher to continue her creative research. For this work, a graphic designer, architect and two visual artists created installation environments to challenge how, choreographically, she sited the body of a dancer. Body as Site was followed by works still more removed from British mainstream dance. Unbroken View, with German artist Sigoune Hamann, After the Last Sky, a video installation at the Royal College of Arts meditating on war and destruction, and a duet probing trust and dependency, Fractured Landscapes, Fragmented Narratives.
Following a second retrospective in 1996, Butcher was awarded one of the first three-year Arts Council of England fellowships. Aided by this period of funding, the remarkable work SCAN was made, involving collaborations with Turner Prize shortlisted visual artist Vong Phaophanit and composer Cathy Lane. It was this piece that launched her work internationally, touring around the world in 2000 through the support of the British Council and in Britain was presented in London’s Hayward Gallery in the Southbank Centre. A year later Still-Slow-Divided was made with the support of Tanzquatier Vienna, forging a continuing artistic dialogue. Two important relationships were fundamental to the development of the work from 2002 onwards. Firstly with the European promoter Walter Heun; who through his company Joint Adventures administrated and promoted the work. Secondly, the remarkable dancer Elena Giannotti who has proved a muse to Butcher’s choreography. The partnership of Butcher and Giannotti has to date produced five strikingly original works. The large scale performance work White and the short film Vanishing Point both of which were collaborations with German filmmaker Martin Otter. A series of three solos united under the collective title of Women and Memory collaborating with lighting artist Charles Balfour and composer Cathy Lane have toured internationally and were memorably presented in London’s Tate Modern.
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