Between the idea and the act

Philipa Rothfield reviews risky new dance in Bodyworks ‘98

Zjamal Xanitha, The Castle of Nothingness

Zjamal Xanitha, The Castle of Nothingness

Zjamal Xanitha, The Castle of Nothingness

Bodyworks is Dancehouse’s annual curated event, a 3-week season of works by established choreographers. The content of each season ensues from a set of choices made on the basis of applications, many of the works not yet made. As such, Bodyworks has the ability to take risks, and the works themselves the opportunity to achieve a range of outcomes. There are many ways to look at a work and the notion of outcome—the work as a completed entity—is only one of them. I found that some of the works this year invited a perspective more related to their sense of project than of outcome.

The Castle of Nothingness, by Zjamal Xanitha was one such work. Coming from a deep place, both personal and spiritual, this piece attempted to convey the profound nature of ritual, quest and journey. The dilemma that the piece faced was how to achieve such a goal: whether to give the audience an experience or description of such matters. Zjamal’s intentions seemed to waver between these 2 poles. In experiential terms, this work tended to leave its audience behind. I don’t think people actually felt they were taken on a journey. There was, however, a certain richness which came from observing Zjamal’s own journey. In the end, the work was the journey of making a work, one both heartfelt and revealing.

The other piece which communicated itself most strongly in terms of its endeavour was Negative Space by Deanne Butterworth and Alicia Moran. The title derives from the visual arts, where negative space is the field which surrounds a drawn subject. In this work, negative space was the space not occupied by the simultaneous performance of 2 solos. The aim of the work was to somehow transform our sense of negative space in virtue of that which is performed within, as it were, positive space. An alluring idea, a great deal of effort was required of the audience in order to comply with the intentions of the piece. There was, by and large, a lack of synergy between the 2 solos, leaving the viewer to do the sums to work out the negative space. More time and direction could develop a piece yet in its infancy into something quite remarkable.

The last piece which suggested itself as a project was Rosalind Crisp and Ion Pierce’s Proximity. Emerging from a sustained period of improvisation, Proximity purported to play between proximal (near) and distal (far) forms of motion. Proximity consisted of a series of kinaesthetic essays which played with various points of the body compass. For example, one section involved rotations around a spinal axis, ending with a meditation upon the peripheral play of fingers. The proximal or distal character of the various body parts was partially conveyed by the dancer’s facial forms. This led me to wonder whether the head itself is considered distal, away from the trunk, or proximal, a centre of movement. Our head is so central to where, how and who we are, not to mention its housing for the brain. Yet, nowhere is the entire body more a multiplicity of centres than in dance.

The Long March, by Sally Smith, juxtaposed the uniformity of a calisthenics team with the conformity and dissent of a singular body. These Foucauldian, docile bodies were both hilarious and fascinating. I found myself drawn to one member of the team who kept looking at the audience when all but she looked straight ahead. Such inadvertent non-conformity was even more intriguing than Sally’s own conscious departure from the group because it challenged the apparent stability of calisthenics’ universal sameness from within.

Watershed by Sue Peacock and Bill Handley was a polished, entertaining duet on and around a bed. Its most exciting moment was at the start when a film projection of Handley was superimposed upon his actual body; a virtual Doppelganger sprung from loins made of flesh. What followed was a series of carefully crafted, beautifully timed and danced interactions. Plots, Quartered and Suspended was a group work (Whitington, Santos, Davey, McLeod, Papas and Corbet). This was a landscape of simultaneous performances, each interpreting “plot” in its own fashion. On a pleasant stroll around the space, between the works, moving on at will, the audience itself was given a great freedom to make choices about viewing, walking, resting and chatting. Finally, Silent Truth, a posthumous exhibition of the life’s work of Jack Linou who died of AIDS, curated by his brother, Christos Linou. Paintings, video clips, even a notebook placed under perspex, the pages turned daily. What to make of a life lost, of the remnants of creativity, frustration and despair?

Dance works generally invite viewing somewhere towards the end of their lives. Or at least that is what the idea of the work as a product would lead us to believe. Some works, however, convey a sense of not yet being fully developed. Others look like they have changed pathways from different modes of presentation, perhaps more improvisational. On the one hand, performance is a finality, a presentation but, on the other, as a representation, it is just one facet, whether in the lifework of its maker(s) or in the more complex setting of danced culture.

Bodyworks 98: Festival of Moving Arts: O and The Other Side of O, Deborah Hay; The Castle of Nothingness, Zjamal Zanitha; Watershed, Sue Peacock, Bill Handley with Graeme McLeod; Negative Space, Deanne Butterworth with Alicia Moran; Plots, Quartered & Suspended, Cherie Whitington, Tim Davey, Nick Papas, Shaun McLeod; The Hard March, Sally Smith; Silent Truth, Jack Linou, Christos Linou, Dancehouse, Melbourne, Nov 26 – 29, Dec 3 – 6, Dec 10 – 13.

RealTime issue #29 Feb-March 1999 pg. 30

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

1 February 1999