Dancers behaving complexly

Eleanor Brickhill, DW98, Dance Works

It’s time again for pause at Dance Works, DW98 being their last season at the Wesleyan Hall, Albert Park, a space which has been integral to a number of the company’s works. For me, it’s reminiscent of an earlier Dance Works closing season, 1987’s Last Legs at the Y, then under the directorship of Nannette Hassall, with so many of those dancers having been the teachers and choreographers for members of this current company. So (it seems from my sporadic vantage) this program marks not only another change of venue, but yet another generation of dancers and choreographers. And it seems appropriate too that the season features prominently in the MAP program which is itself a new-generation Greenmill. So what are they up to now?

Sandra Parker, the current artistic director of Dance Works, has created the first piece in a triple bill, Waiting. She sets the scene with a program note, a quote from Romeo and Juliet which describes that condition of intolerable impatience, the infinitely prolonged expectation before a promise is fulfilled. We see 5 dancers in the hall, the oddly angled walls and vaulted ceilings, the decorous light. These women are sparsely placed, reclining, but not settled, leaning in torpor; they shift weight and place with small, almost purposeless gestures—vacant, somniferous, distanced too, as if by a glitch in time, or a video freeze-frame function. The actions never quite stop, but also seem never to run properly to speed. Forward-stop-forward, stop, back for a moment, fast forward, pause—as if the audience might be moved to think the obsessive thoughts of these women who wait, over and over.
Another scene comes to mind—a speedy solo, under a low ceiling far to the side of the main floor. It’s as if we happen to glance through a high window, and catch sight of this dancer, waiting under a railway lamp to meet a train. Matched with another simultaneous, almost languid unison trio, there’s that same stop-start, fast-slow, forward-back juxtaposition.

But Waiting struck me also with its clean and immaculately rehearsed quality, with its strong rhythm and line which never faltered, despite the fraught theme. And it was this, along with the delicate lines of vaulted ceiling, pillars, and shadowed corners, which rendered the piece more pleasantly harmonious in the end, than something disturbing or passionate.

Shelley Lasica’s Live Opera Situation, on the other hand, created its own dissonance, a kind of weird but subtle gawkiness of action and relationship in a piece which, because of that, moved with wit and comic understatement. A general feature of Lasica’s work is that it’s hard to know whether her movement quality is deliberate or not, but whatever it is, the 4 dancers managed to recreate it in a sort of benign but fiddly orchestration of starts and stops, overextended joints and slack muscle tone, which was really a relief after the generic beauteousness one is more likely to encounter in dance.

Lasica has used an operatic conceit as the starting point for Live Opera Situation, examining the behaviour of a quartet of characters, their spatial, physical, emotional, and musical relationships being revealed in this work more as purposeless posturing as they act out the emotional and relational dynamics, if not the actual moves, of the conventional operatic ones. It is also strongly reminiscent of the dynamics of Melrose Place.

The movement is often behavioural, jerky, stop-start, idiosyncratic, lacking in much adhesive unison, although there is a lot of stylish, layering of beige costume fabric. The curiously unfinished feel of each of the character’s sequences sets up a kind of awkward, unrehearsed, ‘conversational’ quality in their relationships. They come together in duets, separate, cluster in cameos, and bounce off each other unpredictably. But these relationships are the central feature of the work, providing the humour and the interest. The music too, from composer Franc Tétaz, provides another unifying aspect, a sense of time passing, as if a clock is slowly striking for this particular soap opera.

Coming out of left field was Sue Healey’s Stung, with the dancers in Adrienne Chisholm’s purple bee costumes, including little hats with feelers on the sides, suspiciously suggestive of WWI aeroplane pilots’ helmets, and little wings etcetera. With the dancers doing a lot of bee-like buzzing and humming and quivering and vibrating and so forth, with their bodies and limbs, especially their elbows, its seriously-silly quality gave it a sort of grand hilarity.

The design of the space was fantastic: Efterpi Soropos’ hexagonal spots, honeycomb-shaped beams on the floor and walls, as well as a number of long stemmed red flowers, weighted at the bottom, which could be moved around or stand in variously shaped clumps, and fall down when required.

Inspired by the children’s “Billy Bee Song”, the program also notes Sue Healey’s interest in the complex social behaviour of bees and other animals, including their territorial desires. And whether this is a serious investigation or an excuse for some light relief doesn’t seem to matter much, because while its choreographic complexity belies any suggestion of naivety, Stung’s imaginative inventiveness and capacity for wilful child-like pleasure is of a sort that’s hard to find any more.

DW98, Dance Works, Wesleyan Hall, Albert Park, July 15 – July 26

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 6

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 1998
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