Actual Footage

Virginia Baxter conducts a time and motion study

“It’s like living on the set,” says Rosalind Crisp on the phone from the studio where she also lives and is now working on The Cutting Room, a solo piece that will be part of the performance component of the Time and Motion project, an ambitious event that brings together choreography, dance/movement and critical writing.

Rosalind Crisp began with Kinetic Energy in Sydney and went on to work in companies and independent projects in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. In 1991, she received an Individual Development grant to work at Holland’s Centre of New Dance Development and stayed on for three years eventually working with dance/theatre companies in Belgium and Canada. Back in Australia she created throughout 1992-94 The Lucy Pieces, a set of three dance works inspired by a woman from her childhood. “She lived alone and like the rest of the neighbourhood I wanted to know what went on inside her.” Crisp adopted Lucy as her persona for these works and in The Cutting Room she picks up the thread, this time fleshing out her own inner feelings, delving into what she calls her “uncivilised moments.” Uncivilised? “Some mornings I put on Nick Cave and start working before I’m even awake. If I feel sad, bad or mad, I express it, then I press out into those areas of emotional intensity.”

As well as working from improvisation, Crisp has used for inspiration Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s The Yellow Wallpaper as well as The Handless Maiden, a story that appears in Drusilla Modjeska’s biographical essay/novel The Orchard. Both are stories of women at the extremes, often interpreted as victims of social oppression. But Crisp is interested in exploring another perspective, from the inside. “A lot of The Cutting Room is about death and about female strength in vulnerability and grief. It’s also about the exhilaration of a body flying through space.”

Crisp, who has previously worked alone, is collaborating on this new work with Nigel Jamieson. She describes the relationship as bizarre and wonderful. “He was interested in getting me to backtrack into my childhood to find out where some of these ideas might be coming from. We came up with some strong images—watching my father killing sheep, animals hung in meat bags—though, for me, the piece is not about my childhood. Let’s say if the theatre had windows, you might look out on these real incidents like a disturbing presence. Nigel is interested in clarifying meaning while I’m more interested in the subtle, surreal meanings to the movement.” Movement? “Oh, I can’t decide any more what it is I’m doing! Maybe it’s more theatre, this extreme emotion in dance, or just dance that taken further by channelling it into themes like death and the breaking apart of a woman/myself.”

On the other side of town Julie-Anne Long has covered the walls of the studio with pink cards, each with a sentence, a story, a movement phrase—“sensual, grotesque-gestural, punchy, boppy,” and pictures: Sophia Loren gets an eyeful of Jane Mansfield’s awesome décolletage; a woman with one breast rubs shoulders with occultist Rosaleen Norton’s catwoman with six; a bouquet of burlesque beauties overlaps with all manner of creases, splits and crevices both human and geological; Siamese twins; a body stitched together post autopsy.

Working with Long as dramaturg, I use a sort of conversational method and we’re now at the interesting stage where our vocabulary includes a whole lot of gestures that pass for movement. She’s on the floor tracing scribbles in the air. I’m making notes. In the corner, the tape recorder blurts, “Let’s just relax and say tits.” She cuts across the words with some swooping phrases of her own, punctuated by strange little gestures—nipple snips? Whatever. She has a nice turn of phrase. She stops mid-movement. The definition dances before our eyes. Klividz defined biologically, geologically, chemically and last of all, colloquially, as “the cleft between women’s breasts.” From the tape recorder: “Cleavage is the promise.” Long flips into a set of balletic arm movements. She’ll put the feet in later. “Dancers’ breasts are usually the bits that get in the way.” From the tape: “Anybody tasted breast milk? How was it? Funny. Did you put it in a glass?” Inside this small room, Julie-Anne Long is taking on a word, shaking it around, flaunting it, re-shaping and revealing it for all its meanings. “What am I doing? Most women can’t stand people staring at their breasts when they’re trying to talk about something serious and here I am putting myself and the audience through exactly that experience!”

The Time and Motion project was born in recognition of the growth in volume and maturity of dance and movement-based performance commonly referred to as “independent” and in the significance of the individual exploratory processes that go with it. While opportunities exist for emerging artists to perform their work and profit from collective management and presentation, there are few such opportunities for seasoned artists with a more developed creative processes and artistic vision. Time and Motion comprises performances, workshops, creative development and critical writing.

In Where Have All the Dancers Gone? dancer Sue-Ellen Kohler conducts an intensive workshop on processes that keep movement of the body personal with an aim to develop different understandings of what dance can be. Helen Poynor’s workshop will focus on the non-stylised movement she has developed creating improvised site-specific cross artform collaborations and more recently her work in Java with teacher and artist Suprapto Suryodermo.

The two Creative Development projects are Thursday’s Fictions in which Karen Pearlman and Richard Allen move out of the duo and into the epic with a group of dancers and Body/Space/Language in which artistic counsel for the Time and Motion project Barbara Richardson is joined by teacher-writers Eleanor Brickhill, Kathy Driscoll and Karen Martin in presenting a series of critical writings that will situate local practice within the broader framework of contemporary performing arts theory and experimentation. The writing is intended to serve as a reference point for the artists involved in the project as well as to provoke a higher level of critical dialogue surrounding local dance/movement.

The Time and Motion project runs from July 1-16 at The Performance Space, the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University’s Centre for Performance Studies

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 22

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 1995