Quad – Review by Frances Winston
The Project Arts Centre, East Essex Street, Dublin 2 as part of the Dublin Dance Festival.
This seemed an odd addition to this years Dublin Dance Festival given that it is technically a Samuel Beckett teleplay from the 80’s. However on closer inspection the precision and technicality of the piece make it a perfect performance outlet for dancers. Although, since this was being brought to the stage by the acclaimed Pan Pan Theatre Company working with John Scott’s Irish Modern Dance Theatre they were never going to simply present the piece, so instead what you get here is part maths lecture, part performance and part discussion which makes for a truly unique experience.
The piece itself involves four figures wearing different colours making their way around a quadrangle while avoiding the centre and always turning to the left. There are specific patterns and they exit and leave the space according to these patterns. Each person also has their own music and lighting which is introduced or removed according to their entrances and exits.
However, before you ever get to see this Conor Houghton, a reader in mathematical neuroscience at Bristol University explains the mathematics behind this most complex of Beckett’s work and shows how he arrived at the specific patterns for the piece. This really helps you to appreciate the performance as you find yourself looking for the patterns while focusing on the dancers to ensure that they stick to the precise instructions.
Apparently the mathematics in the piece is deliberately imperfect – something that Beckett resolved in Quad II, set 10,000 years after Quad, which is then presented. In this case all the dancers wear the same colour and by removing the colour you remove the pattern (apparently he was inspired to write the sequel having watched Quad on a black and white monitor and remarking that it looked like it was set in the future). Here the music is stripped away and the movement is more stagnant giving it a post apocalyptic feel.
Finally Houghton resolves the equation in the only way possible – by setting it in a polygon instead which makes it Quin. This of course involves the addition of another dancer and although Beckett never wrote Quin we were treated to a taster of it to see the contrast with his work in what was technically a world premiere. All of this was followed by a post show discussion.
Personally I found the explanations of the theory and math behind the piece fascinating and it gave me a greater appreciation of the performance. However, I know some people prefer to take in a production and draw their own conclusions so some may find this intrudes slightly on their enjoyment. Certainly the lecture part of the show is fascinating even for those who are not inclined towards math.
The pieces themselves are hugely contrasting. Quad is completely mesmerising with music, lights and bodies working in unison. Quad II however feels somewhat hopeless and has far less energy while Quin, in it’s pursuit of mathematical perfection, loses the tension of Quad and becomes a far less engaging prospect.
This is a truly original theatrical experience that engages an audience intellectually, visually and aurally. Although it was in the dance festival it is not a dance show as a purist would think of it and people shouldn’t let that put them off should they get a chance to see it. If lectures in college had been like this most of us probably would have paid far more attention and it is rare that you leave a show feeling so much smarter than when you entered. It’s not the kind of piece you would sit through several times but it is definitely worth a visit.
Quad finishes tonight (May 31st 2014) at the Project Arts Centre.