The world in a gesture

Philipa Rothfield: Dance Works, The View from Here

“One can say that we perceive the things themselves, that we are the world that thinks itself—or that the world is at the heart of our flesh.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible

As in most of her works, the movement in Sandy Parker’s The View from Here comprises a series of gestural moments. I was getting a bit tired of seeing gesture after gesture a few years ago, but now I’m quite glad she’s stuck at it. Expecting Parker to give up on gesture would be a bit like asking Seurat to drop the dots. If one accepts this kinaesthetic preference, The View from Here could be regarded as an extremely successful collaboration of sight, sound, movement and text.

Its serial chain of staccato actions (move-stop-move-stop-move) inaugurated and sustained a certain atmosphere throughout the work; at once human and impersonal. Being neither natural nor fluid, it would be easy to imagine this suturing of small movements as a stream of consciousness. Many of the short pathways of movement were distal in their execution—arm, leg, hand, face—peripheral sketches of a body (not so much a person) following a script. There is thus an ambiguous quality in the tenor of this dancing. It is not expressive because we do not see the person giving form to a (psychic) interiority. But neither is it pure abstraction: the costuming and the arrangement of bodies in space suggests some form of human sociality. This can also be seen in the timbre of the dancers’ performance, in their eyes which look but don’t necessarily register.

Steven Heather’s musical composition supports the sense that these people are performing something of a non-narrative nature. I don’t know how the collaboration was organized, but I experienced his music as a very harmonious complement/compliment to Parker’s work. It also made space for Seigmar Zacharias’ spoken meditation on the interpretive nature of observation. The ambiguity of Parker’s domain (human, impersonal, non-narrative) is ripe for a series of cool questions about the relation between watching and seeing, requiring us to, as Zacharias put it, “Tilt your brain, inventing connections.” He also posed the question of distance, a form of proximity palpable in Parker’s work.

I loved Margie Medlin’s lighting of the space which subtly turned its rough shod features into something beautiful to contemplate. There was a moment when a digital image of the unused proscenium arch was projected onto a neighbouring wall and dissolved into an abstracted half-sister of the original, mimicking but also softening its pastel hues. A warp and weft of displaced patches of colour.

Mostly, the dancers performed a singular series of movements but there were sections in which 2 or more would do the same thing or work with, rather than alongside, each other. Sometimes one person was designated to watch, like us. Just as the movement vocabulary was basically peripheral, the contact between the dancers did not develop a great deal beyond touch. One question which arose for me as I watched the various dancers was: what happens in a body when the detail is in the distal regions? Phoebe Robinson’s limbs happily rotated and twisted in their sockets. Her manner of movement works well with Parker’s style. But again, one could ask: where is the rest of the body/self in the performance of small things? Or do these small things add up to something else, something greater than the sum of their parts? If they do, then that would be a contribution made by the observer to the work. For me, the journey itself was all there was.

I was impressed by the sustained nature of the piece and its rich interdisciplinarity. There were moments of great beauty especially in the visual enhancement of the site. The collaborative effect of sound and music on the work added complexity and interest. But ultimately, it’s a matter of the flesh, that in virtue of which we have a perspective. Even if Stelarc is right that the body is obsolete, the motions of corporeality remain palpable and pleasurable sites of observation.

Dance Works, The View from Here, choreography Sandra Parker, dancers Deanne Butterworth, Tim Harvey, Carlee Mellow, Daina Pjekne, music Steven Heather, text and performance Siegmar Zacharias, design Margie Medlin, costumes Anna Tregloan; St Kilda Memorial Hall, Aug 25-Sept 4

RealTime issue #69 Oct-Nov 2005 pg. 15

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

1 October 2005
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