the heart: savage & pained

bernadette ashley: dancenorth, double bill, townsville

Nicola Leahey, Jessica Jefferies, [sic], Dancenorth

Nicola Leahey, Jessica Jefferies, [sic], Dancenorth

HAVING FUNDRAISED TO ENABLE THE ENTIRE COMPANY OF DANCERS TO ACCOMPANY DANCENORTH ARTISTIC DIRECTOR RAEWYN HILL TO HER BARYSHNIKOV RESIDENCY LAST SEPTEMBER, TOWNSVILLE WAS REWARDED WITH THE PREMIERE SEASON OF HER SHORT WORK BLACK CROWS, DEVELOPED DURING THE FORTNIGHT IN NEW YORK. HILL INVITED ROSS MCCORMACK AND ELIE TASS, IN AUSTRALIA EARLIER THIS YEAR WITH LES BALLETS C DE LA B, TO CREATE A SECOND SHORT WORK FOR DANCENORTH’S SEASON-OPENING DOUBLE BILL. TITLED [SIC], THIS EDGY AND CONFRONTING PIECE OF DANCE THEATRE WAS A PERFECT FOIL FOR THE CONSIDERED GRACE AND POWER OF BLACK CROWS AND A TESTAMENT TO THE VERSATILITY OF THE DANCENORTH DANCERS.

[sic] opens with a dormant pyramid of tangled bodies heaped against a wall as if thrown there. Apart from Nicola Leahey on top, standing semi-slumped against the wall with her back to us, it is difficult at first to see how many individuals are in the heap. To Jody Lloyd’s intoning, whispering soundtrack, Leahey eventually begins to jerk and slither down the now erratically twitching pile, while Lauren Carr slowly emerges like a breech birth from underneath. The two start inching across the floor in unison, on all fours, faces up. Their movements, initially insect like, progress to larger gestures and rolls, culminating in a twining, spastic embrace completely lacking in eye contact or any evidence of emotional connection.

Meanwhile the pile has been delineated and Thomas Gundry Greenfield, Jessica Jefferies and Jeremy Poi stand and stare down the audience, grinning malevolently. They intermittently reconfigure their cluster, moving without averting their challenging focus. This hostile inversion of the usual audience/performer gaze is discomforting. People cough, shift and half laugh.

All five dancers wear mismatched underwear—paradoxically exposed and vulnerable, yet bold as brass. The minimal costumes allow us to see every muscle isolation, each gesture and extension. When all of the dancers balance on their buttocks on the floor while holding an excruciating, uniformly angled Pilates V for what seems an eternity, the audience sweats in sympathy. The dancers hold and hold until quivering and in a pause in the music, their breathing provides the rhythm.

This almost perfect unison is a feature of [sic], right down to minute repetitions of flicked-back hair, lip biting and breath exhalation during a sequence of erotically charged flirtation with the audience. Set to a musical passage of classical strings, it appears to subvert the famous Swan Lake ensemble piece, with a pout and a lewd hip leading as the dancers rhythmically shift weight from foot to foot. Only Leahey falls out of time, blank-eyed and panicky, clutching at her throat. As Greenfield, Carr and Poi blithely continue the chorus line, Jefferies is on the floor. Leahey squats over her and, blank-eyed with an eerie absentmindedness, kneads the unresponsive Jefferies’ face while the audience squirms.

[sic] scrapes back the veneer of civilisation and utterly fulfils its intention as a series of moments of indulgence in primal, uncensored tics and urges. A sublime and grotesque experience, the entire audience is discussing it the moment it’s over and the descriptor ‘disturbing’ ricochets around during intermission.

Thomas Gundry Greenfield, Black Crows, Dancenorth

Thomas Gundry Greenfield, Black Crows, Dancenorth

Black Crows takes us on a very different journey of heightened emotions, of people pushed to the limit by extraordinary circumstances (war) but held in check by a sense of duty, discipline and the common good.

The costumes are Amish in their austerity—shirtless black suits for Greenfield and Poi, long widows’ weeds and hair pulled back for Carr, Jefferies and Leahy. The floor is precisely blanketed with old newspapers and, from the first pass of the dancers across the stage, its orderliness irrevocably disintegrates. The simple metaphor works brilliantly, with dignity and restrained passion in the dancing, chaos and unpredictability underfoot. In one later scene the dancers briefly lapse into a panic, scrabbling on the floor trying to pick up as much newspaper as possible and clasping it to their chests. Their desire to know is poignant in its futility.

Spaniard Micka Luna’s pumping score is contemporary but suggests WWII with sounds evocative of aeroplane engines roaring, air raid sirens and radio static. Inhabited with heartbeats and night terrors, it winds down to a slow dance to support the tenderness and heartbreak of the final scenes of reluctant, duty-bound men leaving behind stricken women.

With some of the ensemble pieces obviously devised for three couples, the absence of one male dancer through injury compromises the symmetry occasionally, but more often works in favour of the current of loss.

Black Crows, a beautifully realised and satisfying entity in itself, is also a precursor for an upcoming full-length work, Mass, on similar themes, opening at the end of June. Raewyn Hill’s choreography and Luna’s score will be expanded, with Jocelyn West (UK) on vocals and Mariona Omedes (Spain) creating digital imagery for the performance.

Dancenorth Double Bill: [sic], choreography, concept, direction Ross McCormack, Elie Tass, music Jody Lloyd, lighting Van Locker; Black Crows, choreography, design concept Raewyn Hill, music Micka Luna, lighting design Van Locker, dancers Lauren Carr, Thomas Gundry Greenfield, Jessica Jefferies, Nicola Leahey, Jeremy Poi; Dancenorth, Townsville, March 18–May 13

RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011 pg. 30

© Bernadette Ashley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

14 June 2011
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