Art eats the world, every day

Keith Gallasch: One Extra Dance, Narelle Benjamin, Inside Out; Michael Whaites, Waiting for Michael; reeldance

Inside Out

Inside Out

Art plunders the world, and other art, for its contents and forms. Dance in recent times has rapidly and inventively absorbed, among other things, break-dancing, martial arts, sports and the virtual bodies and worlds conjured by new media. The absorption of training regimes and sundry physical aesthetics into the body of performance is sometimes problematic, especially when the digestion appears incomplete and the audience are faced with the raw materials of uncooked art. The lesser disciples of Suzuki Tadashi, for example, have produced mere stomping demonstrations and Butoh-borrowers empty images of slo-mo angst. The power of integration vis a vis influence has been witnessed, to name only a few examples, in the work of Tess De Quincey, Nikki Heywood (eg performing in her own unforgettable Creatures Ourselves) and Sue-Ellen Kohler, dancer and yoga practitioner par excellence in her unique live dance and film creations. Kohler springs to mind when seeing Narelle Benjamin’s Inside Out. Benjamin, a virtuosic dancer with One Extra Dance and Chunky Move (and a filmmaker of considerable potential), here passes on her formidable skills to young dancers Kristina Chan and Clare Holland.

The admirably executed shapes, extensions and contortions of yoga dominate the work in a series of short scenes. It’s in the transition from shape to shape and movements within each posture that the choreographic sensibility is glimpsed, if insufficiently. Unconvincing scene-shifts, deployed via see-through black-outs, cut short the duration of movement that would test Benjamin’s vision. Even so, the sense of yoga showreel is lessened in the moments when the dancers’ bodies suggest alien forms (as in the opening, unfolding images) or serpentine liquidity in the mutating pools and columns of Simon Wise’s lighting. Less readable were the signs of torment in the performers and Huey Benjamin’s “noise” soundtrack, okay in itself but too big for this intimate bodywork. As the Sydney independent dance scene revivifies after some hard years, it’s heartening to see the passing on of skill and the emergence of a new choreographic vision.

On the same program, as 2 strangers on a park bench, Michael Whaites and Michael O’Donoghue play at waiting, drawing on the language of everyday gestures, rituals and anxieties, here elevated into the pathos of lost love (laboriously stated via soundtrack songs) and the discovery of each other as potential partners (neatly duetted). It’s a nice idea and it has its moments but mostly totters between shapelessness and episodes of over-articulation, between acute behavioural observation and a thin narrative. There’s something in Waiting for Michael, but it’s not been realised in this incarnation.

Film and video have become increasingly important to dance, not only for documentation but as significant means of expression for filmmakers, not least filmmaker-choreographers. To reflect on the ways film ingests dance was the wonderful opportunity One Extra offered an inquisitive audience when it hosted the appearance of UK artists Miranda Pennell and John Smith in Sydney. This followed a filmmaking workshop, with both artists also exhibiting works at Performance Space. Smith’s 30 years of eccentric, good-humoured and enlightening radical filmmaking opened up endless possibilities for visual creativity. In The Girl Chewing Gum (12 mins, 1976) his voice-over wonderfully ‘directs’ the movements of suburban Londoners as if they are his film extras. His Worst Case Scenario (20 mins DVD loop, 2003), comprising a stream of movie-like images from rapidly shot camera stills taken on a Vienna street corner, is an exquisite documentation of everyday waiting, eating and road-crossing, with just a whiff of Freud.

Pennell is a wonder, creating films with a choreographer’s sensibility but whose subjects are movers of a different kind—marching soldiers (Tattoo, 9 mins, 2002), people dancing in their living rooms (Human Radio, 9 mins, 2001) and girl ice-skaters and boy guitarists (Magnetic North, 8 mins, 2003) shot in Finland. Pennell bravely showed some of her early idiosyncratic creations featuring herself, proof that the real world is her meat but that the way to it is indirect, but nonetheless intriguing. One Extra’s commitment to “film dance” whether here or in the reel dance festival provides a key stimulus and focal point for the making, understanding and display of this expanding creative form in Australia and beyond.

One Extra Dance, Inside Out, choreographer Narelle Benjamin, performers Kristina Chan, Clare Holland, lighting design Simon Wise, noise Huey Benjamin; Waiting for Michael, directors, performers Michael Whaites, Michael O’Donoghue, dramaturgy Robert Jarman, lighting Tim Munro, composer/sound designer Ben Sibson, set design Greg Methe; Dec 3-14. reel dance, films by Miranda Pennell and John Smith, screenings Dec 6-7, installations Dec 3-13, Performance Space, Sydney 2003

RealTime issue #59 Feb-March 2004 pg. 31

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2004