Moments and movements

Wendy Lasica compares choreographers Lucy Guerin and Sue Healey at work in Melbourne

Lucy Guerin and Rebecca Hilton in Incarnadine

Lucy Guerin and Rebecca Hilton in Incarnadine

Melbourne audiences have had a memorable combination of dance performances over the past few months. One of the highlights was the return to Melbourne by choreographers Lucy Guerin and Sue Healey. Both presenting concerts in September, they gave us an opportunity to look at how differently their choreographies have developed.

Both were part of Danceworks during the 1980s. Since then Lucy Guerin has been in New York, and Sue Healey spent part of that time as the Artistic Director of Vis-a-Vis Dance Company in Canberra.

We have seen glimpses of Healey’s work in Melbourne over that time, but nothing of Guerin. Healey’s Suite Slipp’d, comprised four pieces: two by her, one from Phillip Adams (Australian dancer, based in New York) and a short work from Irene Hultman, New York-based Swedish choreographer, with whom Adams performs.

Suite Slipp’d, Healey’s opening dance, describes exactly what happens in the piece. A collection of short solos, twosomes and threesomes that dip into and borrow from social and historical dance forms. These fragments are picked and pasted, and re-presented as a dense work, almost over-filled with movement. Healey, Adams and Michelle Heaven wind decoratively and decorously through the space with taut, restrained bodies. Sometimes they are twisting like corkscrews. At other times there are bent, angled knees, and half diamond shapes in the arms, by the side of the body, or above the head. Tight spatial patterning is enhanced by direction changes that cut through the air. The performers are close but rarely touch. One can feel the connection between them. There is a magnetism that keep these bodies together.

The tension in Suite Slipp’d is in and between the performers’ bodies, while in Guerin’s Incarnadine, a tension is set up between the performers and the audience. At times, it was as if one was watching this work through a transparent barrier. Guerin sets up a scenario that demands our empathy, but denies us the emotional access to it. Guerin and Rebecca Hilton perform a tireless unison boundary-marking pattern on matching white spirals painted onto the floor. The sound by James Lo crashes and crackles around the dancers, while the stark white light dramatically changes direction, striking the dancers at odd angles. They are exposed by the light. They rarely leave their spirals, perhaps only to extend a movement onto the floor; but they retreat, eager it seems, to maintain their space.

They are approached by a trio (Ros Warby, Nicole Bishop and Jennifer Weaver). The relationship between the two groups is unclear. The trio seem keen to be acknowledged, initially without response. In the final resolve, an uneasy one, we see all five dancers spaced across the stage, their torsos writhing and reaching in unison, stretching towards us, just out of our emotional reach.

Healey’s second work Hark Back is an expedition through an intimate personal history. It feels loose and inviting, like memories that flutter and tease. It is easy to find a way in. There are moments of lucidity, of intimacy, of insight and of sadness. It is engagingly performed by five dancers (Adams, Heaven, Shona Erskine, Sally Smith, David Tyndall) in episodes that create a layered understanding rather than a sequential pattern.

Guerin’s second work, Courtabie 1966, is also, I suspect, a reflection on times past. She presents three young girls (herself, Hilton and Warby), inexperience exposed at every gawky elbow and hip. We journey with them through time and their changing relationships. The use of repeated spatial motifs in this work, unnecessarily exposes the structure. However, Guerin uses subtle changes in rhythmic structure and syncopation which create some playful movement dialogues aptly describing her intention. She also has a way of drawing us to where the movement is in the body, even if it’s just in the fingers of one hand.

There are more differences than similarities between the two choreographers’ work. Healey’s time seems thick with movement. She creates worlds that meander through the short sections of both her works. Guerin is more direct, her stories unfold along a linear path. There is a deliberateness about every movement, a spareness infused with emotional undercurrents.

The inspired performances by the dancers in both Guerin and Healey’s work ably showed the two as strong and distinctive choreographies in Melbourne’s multifarious dance community.

Incarnadine choreographed by Lucy Guerin, Gasworks Theatre, September 4; Suite Slipp’d by Sue Healey and Dancers, Beckett Theatre, September 18.

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 10

© Wendy Lasica; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 1996
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