The Devil You Know is Better than the Devil You Don’t
Zoe Scofield dances (and choreographs) with a kind of animal ferocity – a predatory determination. Her movements are clear, chopped, controlled and precise. She uses many of these terms in describing her own work (also “clean”, “unfettered”, “simple”, “distilled”, “articulate”). Indeed, the dancing poses a tension of restrained wildness and delicate fury. It combines the poise of ballet with the distortions of butoh, recognizing that both are incredibly artificial, full of intense discipline and focused on warping the natural lines of the human body.
The costumes reinforce this quality of beautiful wildness, with strange furry belts, quilted aprons and ragged, multicolored “tails”. The group sections in The Devil… stand out with color, flamboyance and drive. A pervasive use of unison movement reveals the strict underpinnings of the choreography and enforces a feeling of compositional control. The entire group is well-tuned, breathing together, stomping together, flailing and twitching in synchronicity. It could have been interesting to see more polyphonic sections adding dense visual complexity and putting the unison sections into stronger contrast.
The music for The Devil… draws from classical traditions and instrumentation, but corrupts them with distortion, synthesizer drones and acoustic rhythms. The score by Morgan Henderson was wonderfully full, but sometimes seemed isolated from the dance, as if they were happening in two different spaces. Buzzing sonorities of cello or chiming guitars and dulcimers, the warm noise of overdriven levels and the rhythms of an off-kilter tribe or marching band formed overlapping repetitions and repetitive cycles. Occasionally the score reminded me of the rigor and quirkiness of post-minimalist composers such as Arnold Dreyblatt, and those rhythmic pieces worked best, matching the drive and energy of the dance. But then abrupt fades occasionally curtailed songs in mid-swing, making me wonder how closely the two elements were aligned.
The Devil You Know is Better than the Devil You Don’t is absorbed in the task of creating beauty. It’s a romantic piece, in the sense that passion, empathy, power and commitment are primary values. Subject matter falls away in the face of pure visual sumptuousness – the bodies behind sheer scrim, the fog machines, drifting snowflakes and falling confetti. But what a pleasure…
This clip from Scofield’s previous work displays everything that makes her work powerful – check it out.
- posted by Seth Nehil