Hampton blue plaque (1) copy

There is a commemorative blue plaque at the entrance to Hampton Library which informs visitors that John Beard (1717-1791, singer) and William Ewart (1798 – 1869 promotor of public libraries) lived here.

Not only was Ewart instrumental in campaigning for The Public Libraries Act in 1850 (which allowed for communities over 10,000 to raise money through taxes for free public libraries), he also founded the scheme for commemorative blue plaques. If he now rose from the dead and popped back to his old house for a visit, he would probably be pretty pleased with what he would find here. John Beard’s connection to this house is older, and more theatrical. A contemporary of the actor David Garrick (whose house is just down the road from this building), his reputation was chiefly gained at Covent Garden for his singing of tenor parts specially written for him by Handel. He built this house, which used to be known as Rosehill. The name is older than the house.

“What is the pattern that connects the crab to the lobster and the primrose to the orchid, and all of them to me, and me to you?” Gregory Bateson.

As artists working from a background in choreography, we are very drawn to look for pattern. It could be said that pattern is one of the defining qualities of choreography (should it ever be necessary to try to define choreography). So Beard and Ewart are now connected on a blue plaque as two men who lived in this house, but what else might connect them? Both men would have presented themselves publicly, they would have been very visible and would have wanted people to take notice of them. Lucy showed me an essay about gesture by Brian Dillon called Talk to the Hand which begins…

“By the end of the nineteenth century, the gestures of the Western bourgeoisie were irretrievably lost”: so writes Giorgio Agamben in his 1992 essay, “Notes on Gesture.”1 The early years of the twentieth century were marked, the philosopher contends, by a frantic effort to reconstitute the vanished realm of meaningful movements: hence the exaggerated articulations of silent film and the mad leaps of modern dance.” (Dillon)

We find ourselves drawn to the “vanished realm of meaningful movement” that is gesture. The ways in which both Beard and Ewart would have physically presented themselves publicly would probably look very strange to us now. As a politician, Ewart’s gestures may have been as carefully studied as the gestures used by politicans today, choreographed, as they are, to present a certain impression to the outside world.

Here is an article from the “politics” section of the Evening Standard about David Cameron’s “much-critised splayed hands” and Ed Milliband’s problem with his “floppy forearm”.

And here is a short choreographic sketch using some helpful examples of gestures from A.M Bacon’s Manual of Gesture (1875).