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A woman sitting at her kitchen table asks the question: ‘why does everyone go round and round without stopping’? A man, set amongst the mess of his grungy bedroom, asks: ‘why do I get so easily distracted from work’? Just some of life’s eternal questions that members of the public ask Marcus Coates’ in his latest film, A Question of Movement; a collaboration with dancer Henry Montes, commissioned by Siobhan Davies Dance.

Responding to the questioner in their domestic setting, Coates closes his eyes as if tuning-in; his body trance-like very gradually comes to life, as if guided from within or channelling from beyond. His movements are not that of a trained dancer, but of a new-born, sensing the world through tentative exploration, reaching out beyond self. As-if possessed, the pace rhythmically builds up with jazz-like syncopation: manic thrashing about, arms flaying in all directions, pigeon-toe inching in circles like a Kathak dancer, pivoting on his head with spidery legs air-bound – gradually coming to stillness on the front-edge of the cooker or sandwiched inbetween the bookshelf and radiator on the brown carpet-tiled office floor.

The camera negotiates between the questioner and Coates’ performance. On coming to rest, the questioner interprets Coates’ ‘performance’, in relation to their question, using their own words, mediated by Montes (unseen but heard):

‘Yes, that’s exactly how I feel, restless and anguished, tossing and turning.’ Or:

‘He needs to search upwards for the answer, it’s not down there’.

This three-way dialogue, a tender collaboration, comes-across as sincere, unguarded and trusting. Using their own language, the questioner somehow sees what they need to in the dance, and amazingly makes meaning for themselves with disturbing clarity. In our secular society it’s easy to be sceptical or write this off as new-age shite. But experiencing the sensitive revelation unfold before you, as a viewer immersed in the cosy gallery set-up with quality headphones, is captivating, a heartwarming leveller.

Coates’ approach as a modern-day shaman (and knowledgeable twitcher), a humble Joseph Beuys perhaps, is based on his idea of unconscious reasoning; trusting the creative capacity of his imagination to guide the process. Operating as ‘mediator’, he’s performed ‘consultations’ with a variety of clients: Ikebukuru Council, Tokyo, Japan; The Mayor of Holon, Israel; A Residents Housing Association in Liverpool, UK; City Council of Stavanger in Norway. Their ‘problems’ range from illegal cycle parking, prostitution and the Israeli/Palestinian crisis.

For this 2015 commission with Siobhan Davies Dance, Coates wanted to ‘test’ contemporary dance:

‘Traditional and folk dances all come from functional sources – to attract a mate, prepare for war or for fertility rites – and we wanted to tap into what performance can be in our society today’.

For me, this beautiful collaboration speaks a humanising truth that provides a space for people to find their own language and come to realise that they already have the answers. As the title of the film suggests, this is an open-ended exploration of the magic of movement.

A Question of Movement: A film by Marcus Coates and Henry Montes (2015), 17 September-24 October, Kate MacGarry, London.

Manjinder Sidhu


Manjinder Sidhu is an artist working democratically with The Everyday and sensitive attention to the human experience. Being in relation to the changing world, she collaborates with people, materials and spaces at: InIVA, Tate Britain/Modern, Jerwood Space, The Drawing Room, Walthamstow Marsh, The Maudsley Hospital, Eastside Educational Trust, Peckham Space. Current projects include interactive gallery interpretation at Tate (Art into Life) and CPG Café Gallery, London (Seniors Art School). Interested in collective action and appreciative enquiry, Manjinder is a London Area Rep for engage and was selected for a-n’s Writer Development Programme (2015).

Manjinder has an MA in Museums and Galleries in Education (Distinction), BA Fine Art (First), PGCE (secondary) and PhD in Environmental Studies.


Feature Image: Marcus Coates, A Question of Movement 2015. courtesy of Kate MacGarry

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