A porous performative body

Jonathan Marshall: Dancehouse, Somewhere Else

Since its invention, photography has brought together travel, memory, family, the body and the phantasmagoric. In this sense, director/choreographer Bagryana Popov’s Somewhere Else represented a camera obscura. The mnemonic, image-producing camera was not merely the theatre within which the piece was performed, but also the chamber of the body. Simon Ellis’ performance was intensely physical, his variously relaxed, angry and flailing movements strongly empathetic and present. His performance was simultaneously visibly divided, dispersed and partially absent in a metaphoric sense.

Somewhere Else offered a physical depiction of the effect of migration upon the body—the feeling migrants often have of being elsewhere while inhabiting a new space. Carrying within it a residual perception of another environment, the migrant’s body becomes like a fish-tank. Lifted from one locale to another, the water keeps moving inside, its tides determined by a distant moon. As Nadja Kostich intoned in the voiceover: “Between these bricks are images of other bricks…falling. Between these faces are images of other faces.” Ellis’ performance was defined by strong moments of frustrated masculine Euro-Australian gestures such as soccer-ball kicking, the backward leg crossing and upraised arms of traditional Balkan dance, and the sometimes annoyed, sometimes placid repetition of movements for working an espresso machine. The performance was simultaneously spectral and characterised by a sense of psychophysical absence. The full affective weight of the body was deferred, like a thread strung out across time and space. Akin to a ghost, Ellis’ body was constantly being pulled back by an undertow emanating from across a River Styx of physical distance and emotion.

The bittersweet beauty of Somewhere Else depended on a series of dichotomies: physical immediacy (the literal performance) versus physical indeterminacy (the performer’s dramatic affect); hard gestures versus effortlessly soft ones; the character at ease versus the character at dis-ease; direct affective allusions to a European homeland in the score juxtaposed with a separation from these sensations as manifest within the space in sound and echo. The aesthetic produced by bringing together Popov (a former member of IRAA Theatre who has most recently worked in community theatre) with Ellis meant that the closest parallel to Somewhere Else was Helen Herbertson’s work with theatre-maker Jenny Kemp. Somewhere Else and Herbertson’s Descansos… resting places (1996) and her Delirium (1999) share a wistful yet not entirely nostalgic concept of place, psychophysical image and memory.

The mixture of seductive, gentle persistence and astringent bitterness in Kostich’s delivery was perfectly matched by the performance from Ellis whose primary training is in Contact Improvisation. His current aesthetic as a dance-maker nevertheless recalls that of Butoh improviser Min Tanaka, who described the body as a series of microclimates manifest in dynamic fluctuations with which the performer interacts. Under Popov’s direction Ellis effected an atomised performance, the body becoming akin to a semi-gaseous amalgam of sensations, memories and other components. These materials hovered provisionally about muscle and bone. If affect is the glue holding psychophysical matter together, then the dichotomous affect evoked by Popov and Ellis produced a porous performative body, through whose microtonal interstices emotion ebbed and flowed.

Dancehouse, Somewhere Else, performed as part of Places of Rupture, Dislocation, In Between Places; director/choreographer/ writer Bagryana Popov; performer Simon Ellis; voiceover Nadja Kostich; Dancehouse, Sept 29-Oct 3

RealTime issue #64 Dec-Jan 2004 pg. 35

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2004
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