If you’re familiar with Senate House then you’ll appreciate William Beveridge’s description of “a great architectural feature in swirling tides of traffic.” You may know that its austere grandeur inspired George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty Four, and you may have heard the urban myth that Hitler had his eye on it as a possible post-invasion HQ. It’s certainly imposing, but what does all this metal and travertine mean for the human body? How does human scale interface with the monumental?
If you’ve visited Senate House recently you may have been surprised to see silent performers dressed in black, moving in corners, stairwells, lifts and lobbies - seemingly dancing with areas of the building as partner.
Movement/Architecture is the brainchild of Becka McFadden, alumna of Goldsmiths University of London, and artistic director of Beautiful Confusion Collective. Emerging from a period of research and development in another great Art Deco building, the semi-derelict Hornsey Town Hall, during its reopening in 2014-2018 as a home to artists and creative start-ups, Movement/Architecture is both a dance with architectural space and what McFadden describes as “a choreographic technology for storing and mapping spaces in flux”. Rooms, corridors, stairs and other spaces are physically mapped and stored in the body, which has the capacity to evoke those spaces in performance for spectators who have never seen them.
The nature of Beautiful Confusion’s work is improvisational. Performers choose a single architectural space where work may be undertaken alone, or observed by users of the building. You may have seen them around the Ceremonial Staircase, in the remote recesses of staircase no. 3, and even under the glass ceiling of the Deller Hall.
Interaction with spaces is followed by a period of writing and drawing, in which the performer creates a record of the space as she experienced it, both architecturally and at a subjective level, encompassing any memories or associations that the process evoked. The unconventional blueprints that emerge from this process form the basis of a repeatable score that the performer builds from this material.
Although there is no expectation of repetition in this process, at Senate House and previously at Hornsey Town Hall motifs often return as spaces are visited again and again. And there are connections between two such monumental examples of the Art Deco, which have informed Beautiful Confusion’s continuing research within these stylistically related environments - such as the interplay between curves and straight lines repeated to vertiginous effect in Senate House Staircase No. 1.
As performer Sílvia Almeida describes it, “in this journey I feel the pure sensation of a duet between the body, our bodies and a building with everything in it, our memories, the history of a particular place. The building is my partner in this dance. When we do it - Movement and Architecture - it is as if nothing else matters, the time stops, all the clocks stop to live this encounter.”