Royal Academy Magazine – September 2021

Three artists on Dance

‘I approach dance with a musician’s sensibility,’ says vocalist, composer and movement artist Elaine Mitchener, whose work appears in ‘British Art Show 9’, a major group exhibition that takes the temperature of contemporary art every five years (touring nationally until 23 Dec 2022).

Mitchener often works with the choreographer Dam Van Huynh on visceral performances in which bodily movement and vocal projection become indivisible. ‘I’m searching for a totality of expression’, she says.

In one of her best-known pieces, Sweet Tooth (2017; 3), a harrowing rumination on the enslavement of Africans in the sugar trade, this bond between sound and movement sits at the work’s core, with Mitchener’s guttural cries convulsing through her body as if controlling it. It makes for difficult viewing, one’s own body clenched to mirror hers, but this discomfort is the point. The work is an exploration, in Mitchener’s words, of ‘the sound and smell of fear… [and] the essential activity of song and dance as a reminder of one’s own humanity, history, tradition’.

6 September 2021

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