A third force

Murray Bramwell on Simone Clifford’s Fast Editing

Adelaide based Simone Clifford’s current program of work, Fast Editing, is part of the Festival Centre Trust’s Made to Move season. Formerly a dancer with ADT (Australian Dance Theatre) during Jonathan Taylor’s artistic directorship in the early 80s, Clifford went on to work in Jiri Kylian’s Nederlands Dans Theater for five years.

Fast Editing consists of two works: a new piece titled Reluctant Relics, created in October and November of last year and Chasing Chambers, a work begun in London in 1994 and completed with ArtsSA development grants in 1996.

Working with a group of seven dancers (six females and one male), a number of whom have come through the Centre for The Performing Arts dance program in Adelaide, Clifford has brought together what promises to be a third force in dance in a city already graced with the talents of Meryl Tankard’s ADT and Leigh Warren’s company. Clifford’s work is not only distinctive but sufficiently familiar and accessible to engage young audiences—like the crowd who responded enthusiastically to the Friday night performance I attended.

The opening piece, Reluctant Relics, begins in complete silence with a solo dancer standing on one leg while raising the other to waist level, clasping it in her hands and swivelling around. Her arms are raised and then lowered along with her whole torso. It requires an acrobatic poise the dancer appears not quite to possess and it lends the movement an oddly poignant vulnerability. In another movement the dancer drops to the floor, raising her legs gauchely before turning on to her stomach and raising her rump to inch slowly across the stage. It is, again, unguarded, a stolen moment, erotic but innocent. We are intrigued but the gaze is not compromised. We have caught a human glimpse, literally an unthinking moment.

The silence continues as the soloist joins the male dancer for a classically inflected duet. Then, like emergent chrysalises, the remaining company moves slowly across the stage on their backs, propelled by raising their knees and sliding in unison like strange solipsistic figures in those George Tooker paintings where human figures yearn to connect but are separated by cells and compartments like so many pale bees in a hive.

The work strengthens as Catherine Oates’ percussion, performed live on the stage, begins to insinuate itself into our hearing. The tentative scrapes and cymbal strokes give way to a steadier beat and with it the performers develop a fluency and harmony of movement—like stepping from a distracted inner world into a socially ordered one. Oates’ beat grows more insistent and segues into a mesmeric barrage from New York ensemble Bang on a Can.

Lit strongly from the wings in Geoff Cobham’s design, the dancers are momentarily soaked in a stripe of white light over their faces and shoulders only to have the signature reds and blues resume. The rite ends abruptly and soloist Alissa Bruce returns to restate several of the opening figures to the haunting sounds of Evan Ziporyn’s work for bass clarinet, Tsmindao Ghmerto.

Simone Clifford describes Reluctant Relics as a pivotal work in her development. She abstracts it by suggesting it is “a work about perspective and perceptions of mind”. Her comments are cryptic, but she elaborates: “I kept saying to the dancers, ‘You don’t need to try to perform the work to the audience, but rather concentrate on your own commitment and meaning and the audience will then observe you.’”

Chasing Chambers is a more external work but also a pleasing counterpoint, an exhilarating second course in Fast Editing’s appealingly succinct 54-minute running time. Built around Steve Reich’s chamber work for strings and voice, Different Trains, Chasing Chambers is lit with a row of white spots set low along the back of the stage, the performers dressed in black pedal pants and black anklets. Moving in staccato fashion they could be a eurythmics class in 30s Berlin, the white light licking over them as triumphs of physical culture. But as Cobham’s light mellows, so the movement becomes more playful and humanised. Just as suddenly the vigorous strings in Reich’s infectious composition create a flurry of Chattanooga choo-chooing, energised by a row of vertical spots sidestepping over the dancers as they take their seats near Track 29.

Simone Clifford’s work is an interesting mix of classical fluency and idiosyncratic personal expression. The contrast between the self-conscious, almost ungainly Reluctant Relics and the exuberant facility of Chasing Chambers is refreshing. The choice of accompaniment is also interesting. Reich’s work may be, for some, not just last year’s model but a rather unfashionable exhumation. Perhaps it is the refreshing youthfulness of both the dancers and their audience that reminds me that everything is always new to those who are coming along next. Clifford’s work has integrity and wit and it is building valuable bridges. I hope their plans for a regional tour come to pass.

Fast Editing, choreographed by Simone Clifford, The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre, May 1–10

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 28

© Murray Bramwell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 1997