New choreographies

Philipa Rothfield, Ros Warby, Solos

Ros Warby, Eve

Ros Warby, Eve

I have always known Ros Warby to be a versatile and popular dancer. She is as able to sustain the fine detail of choreographic composition as she is to create complex beauty within the moment of improvisational practice, a modality that has captured her interest for some years now.

Solos merely underlines Warby’s ability to move in very different ways, for it consists of 3 pieces by quite divergent choreographers. Eve is Warby’s own work, Living with Surfaces is by Lucy Guerin and Fire is a recent Deborah Hay composition. The juxtaposition of these works allowed for a comparative reverie on the varieties of choreographic concern. The fact that one dancer performed all 3 works provided a constancy which unexpectedly heightened the differences between the works of each choreographer.

Eve was presented first, an appropriate choice since here dancer and choreographer are one. Ros’ entry into the space felt like an act of naming, a presentation of the corporeal and personal energy behind this project. This was enhanced by the fact that the piece is about woman, perhaps one, perhaps many. The set consisted of curved wooden surfaces upon which Margie Medlin cleverly and variously projected filmed images of Ros in movement. The images were always partial—a glimpse of hips shimmying, an arm, a torso—forming a dialogue with the live movement. This made the work feel less of a solo.

The dancer’s own attention was directed towards particular nuances of the body, tippy-toes, stuttered walks, indulgent spirals. Quite specific gestural moments were created, as if the body speaks but in another tongue. There is a quality in Ros Warby’s movement that is quite her own: an elfin quickness, the ability to change tempo in the blink of the eye, without the obvious preparation say of ballet’s pirouette. The intentionality of each action is manifest in the moment and not a second before. Naturally, Eve exhibited this quality more than the other 2 pieces, though Deborah Hay’s Fire did provide for moments of disjunctive and unexpected change.

In comparison with the fullness of subjectivity presented through Eve, I was quite shocked by the stark evacuation of the self in Lucy Guerin’s Living with Surfaces. A bold green wall was placed centre stage, the dancer emerging in pillar box red tulle and satin. From pointed fingers touching the wall, through the precise play of joints, and the placement of weight, it became clear that Guerin is interested in what a body can do. The body in movement leads this dance rather than some humanist conception of spirit or content. Guerin is not alone in this manner of composition, though she does offer it a very fine and precise articulation. Clearly this is what attracts Warby to the work, the absolute commitment to motion, and an informed detail in movement that is ultimately identifiable as Guerin’s own kinaesthetic. This is the point at which the human re-enters the frame, for Lucy Guerin contributes movement that emerges from her own particular and distinctive body.

Fire again instituted a complete change in what is taken to constitute choreography. Some people understand Deborah Hay’s work in improvisational terms but she rightly rejects this. Each moment in Fire is precisely determined in that the performer has to satisfy certain requirements. There is a choreographic script. However, there is no predetermination as to what shape will satisfy the choreographic instruction. This can only be found in each moment of performance. To this extent, Russell Dumas is right to suggest that all performance is improvisational in that movement has to be found in the moment. But improvisation, as a modality, adds another layer of variability that is not evident in Hay’s work. Rather, Warby has to follow a series of instructions, which she adheres to with total commitment eg “move across the stage dancing fire, interrupting to speak questions to the audience such as: who are you?”

A weird piece emerges, out of real time, yet tapping into something quite interior to the performer. An interiority that is quite distinct from the surfaces of Guerin’s work, and different again from the emotional and personal interiority of Eve. Although Warby has to work with her subjectivity in managing the dance of Fire, there is an impersonal tenor to it that takes over. What you see is a person expending their entire focus in the satisfaction of an eccentric inspiration.

Although it does represent a feast of difference, Solos is also a sign of Ros Warby’s own concerns, her sustained thinking and rethinking of what constitutes dance and performance, and how to work. Partly a homage to Guerin and Hay, perhaps it is also anticipating things to come. For that we can only wait. Meantime, we savour the moment.

Ros Warby, Solos: Eve, choreographer Ros Warby, composition Helen Mountford, projection design Margie Medlin, cinematography Ben Speth; Living with Surfaces, choreographer Lucy Guerin, costume Mila Faranov, music Alva Noto, Stilluppsteypa, Foehn, & Crank; Fire, choreographer Deborah Hay; North Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, February 14-18

RealTime issue #42 April-May 2001 pg. 30

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2001
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