Death danced around and through

John Bailey: Naree Vachananda, Opposite My House is a Funeral Parlour

Naree Vachananda, Opposite My House is a Funeral Parlour

Naree Vachananda, Opposite My House is a Funeral Parlour

When we discuss choreography which deals with a specific subject, we say that it explores, investigates, addresses. It never explains. It never defines. If we dance ‘about’ something, we do so in the sense of dancing ‘around’ it, circling, approaching and retreating. Opposite My House is a Funeral Parlour is a solo dance about death, perhaps the most unapproachable topic of all. Heavily supported by recorded music and voice tracks, lighting, set design and multimedia projections, the work is a rich and meditative one that tackles its chosen theme with a contemplative leisure. Naree Vachananda kneels, an intricately tailored gauze shirt pulled over her head. She struggles to escape, but doesn’t remove the garment, wearing it instead. The fraying hood elicits thoughts of a shroud or winding sheet, the first intimations of mortality to arise in the work.

The evocatively titled piece purports to have been inspired by the September 11 attacks in New York, but any history presented by the work is entirely personal. Projected upon the walls are images of the former funeral parlour which faced the bedroom window of Vachananda’s one-time home, and we return to this site repeatedly (including, near the work’s closing, a fascinating video tour through the boarded up building). A recorded monologue blends Vachananda’s musings on the parlour and death with texts from Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Persephone.’ Throughout, the dancer enacts a series of recurring routines, including an extended piece encased in a transparent coffin-like structure.

Vachananda’s choreography is striking—her movements frequently return to figures of circularity, sweeping limbs leading to larger rotations of her body, and this circling comes to signify much, be it the cyclical nature of life or the difficulty of escaping this eternal return. A novel phrase sees her head acting as a heavy weight, rolling from hand to hand and appearing in danger of toppling to the floor. The increasing pace of her attempts to support it eventually makes her head appear to detach itself from her body, a powerful yet playful suggestion.

Though the ostensible theme of Opposite My House is death, there are also strong undertones of birth and reincarnation here, perhaps not so surprising considering Vachananda’s Buddhist faith, as well as the texts she recycles through the work’s sonic components (the Persephone myth, Buddhist chants). The shroud-shirt could equally represent a caul, the membrane covering infants at birth; the glass coffin’s clear walls and warm glow could suggest an incubator. The long, loose thread hanging from Vachananda’s shirt and winding its way across the stage echoes the silver thread supposed to link the body to the wandering soul, while an umbilical cord is another inevitable association.

The aural aspects of the work are not without problems. The excessive mixing and layering of Vachananda’s speech sometimes obscures the content and becomes a distraction rather than complementing the physical work. Since such a large amount of text is presented as part of the performance, much of it intriguing, it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t emerge with the same attention to detail that marks the rest of this piece. These objections aside, Vachananda is a daring, able choreographer with a strong presence and this work offers a provocative glimpse of the kinds of sustained solo work that can still exist outside the larger streams of dance in Australia.

Opposite My House is a Funeral Parlour, choreographer-performer Naree Vachananda, sound composition Edward Kelly, multimedia Yeap Heng Sheng, installation Naree Vachananda and Matt Crosby, costumes Esshoshika; fortyfivedownstairs, June 9-12

RealTime issue #68 Aug-Sept 2005 pg. 39

© John Bailey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2005
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