Dancers on Par Beach

Pip Bryson reflects on Rosemary Lee’s Passage For Par

I had the privilege of volunteering at the Saturday evening and Sunday morning performances of Rosemary Lee’s  Passage for Par and to meet the artist and her husband, who were both very warm and gracious. Here are some thoughts on the evening event, which was particularly spellbinding.

A first time visitor to Par beach, I was grateful to be introduced to its charms. It has a backdrop of scrubland, busy with insect life and birdsong. At its east end is a bucolic scene of hedged hay fields gently rolling down to the shore; in contrast, at its west end rises the China Clay drying works, a working factory, and the now-disused Par Docks. Between lies the beach itself, silver sands giving way to banks of bleached seaweed and then tidal flats, green with weed leading to the distant sea.

There is a sense of anticipation in the bank of picnic-hamper-toting spectators.

And then, at the allotted time, a line of figures materialises in the gloaming at the far end of the beach. It glides a little closer and we start to marvel at the synchronicity of the dancers’ legs: the line seems like one creature and my brain has to work hard to perceive it as a group of individuals.

They snake towards us, curling in on themselves and stretching out in a line again, silent but for the march  of boots on wet sand and the occasional shout out from the lead dancer.

The leg movements are a pared back, rhythmic, reminiscent of folk dance, yet made other-worldly by the perfectly timed steps of sixty feet.

As they move towards the sea, a rolling wave of wheeling pale hands, starkly visible against the dark clothing. By the water’s edge the silhouetted line moves, partially reflected in the tidal pools on the sand; along the row, arms are raised in a Y shape and heads seem disembodied, floating in space.

And then the sun sets in an incredible simultaneous display and the dancers weave and undulate before us, feet leaving a shining, silver trail in the wet sand.

After their two hour, physically and mentally strenuous performance, the dancers seem to disappear into the black void cast by the factory, leaving a sense of wonder behind them.”

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