Between art and dance

Philipa Rothfield: 45 Downstairs, Focus 4, Tracie Mitchell, Under the Weather

Fortyfive Downstairs, once a gallery now a gallery and performance space, hosted a winter collaboration between art and dance, entitled Focus 4. During its season, the space was arranged by placing 4 installations side by side, and nightly cameos in a vestibule. Its audience was led into each constructed situation to bear witness to the dancerly component which brought alive each installation. Dancers and artists integrated their work to differing degrees, with some constructions necessary to the dance, some complementary, some autonomous and others a hindrance.

Stephanie Glickman’s movement bore great allegiance to Michael Sibel’s large, steel sculpture (a conical monkey bars). Glickman sought inspiration from the limitations of bounded space, climbing, weaving, and swinging from steel bars. Here, installation offered an aesthetic puzzle, which provoked Glickman towards a bold clarity of exploration. By contrast, Benjamin Gauci and Louise Rippert seemed to mirror each other: both working in a minimalist sense, whether with white ceramic shapes and flour, or repeated circular movement leaving floury traces. Together, a sense was created of gentle but insistent assertion. Marc Brew’s collaboration with a wheelchair produced some beautiful inversions, where it could have been either chair or body as installation. Brew’s dialogue with his own body suggested the kind of play with structural givens that Glickman found in Sibel’s sculpture.

Glickman, the curator of the show, wrote that the dancers and visual artists did not know each other before working together. As might be expected, such a risky venture is likely to lead to contrast as much as integration. Naree Vachananda’s very personal and moving work was framed by but not particularly connected to Anna Finlayson’s mural collage, whilst Benjamin Gauci’s strong, balletic composition positively crashed through Louis Rippert’s hanging fabrics.

The variety of relationships between artist and dancer taken collectively offer food for thought as to the range of ways in which one form might collaborate with another. Not forgetting that Merce Cunningham’s own option was to combine at the very last minute, allowing different elements—music, lighting, sets-to freely juxtapose.

Tracie Mitchell’s recent work, Under the Weather, was quite different in texture to the above. Although it combined video and dance, there was a sense of an authorial aesthetic, emerging from a single perspective. From dark beginnings, a video triptych blinked and winked, creating a powerful portraiture of urban existence. Dancers emerged from the shadows singly or together, drawing elegant lines. The set fanned out from a recessed centre, suggesting that something was being aired, turned inside-out. Dancers ventured then retreated, hidden again by shadow.

There was a section where each dancer performed solo. Carlee Mellow’s work was striking, precise, quirky, repeated just enough to gain familiarity with her vocabulary. It was also enjoyable to watch Mia Hollingworth and Shona Erskine move through what appeared to be their own material subjected to Mitchell’s careful direction. Sadly, the piece ended before the 3 dancers were able to come back together. So much had been created and established that a desire was born for hiatus and closure. Instead, the piece gently fell into shadow, leaving an opening where before there was none.

Focus 4, Stephanie Glickman & Michael Sibel, Nicholas Mansfield & Andrea Meadows, Benjamin Gauci & Louise Rippert, Naree Vachananda & Anna Finlayson, Marc Brew, and Amelia McQueen, at Fourtyfive Downstairs, Flinders Lane Melbourne, Jul 26 -Aug 4

Under the Weather, choreographed and directed by Tracie Mitchell, performed by Shona Erskine, Mia Hollingworth and Carlee Mellow, music by Byron Scullin, Gasworks, Port Melbourne, July 23-27

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. web

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

1 October 2002