Creative cross-cultural distortions

Sue Moss: Reckless Moments, Chinese Whispers

Through darkness a curtain ripples and a dancer lifts the arm of pianist Gabriella Smart. On release, Smart strikes the treble register, and commences with Qin Yi’s Suo, an evocation of water. This opening gesture sets the theme for the evening’s performance: understated, strongly evocative dance accompanied by a versatile piano score featuring contemporary Chinese and Australian composers including the 82 year old Zhu Jian’er and Constantine Koukias and Carl Vine. Chinese Whispers is the first project of Creative Futures, producer Reckless Moments’ program of artistic and cultural collaborations between Australia and China. It’s an evening of dance duets and piano solos, combining contemporary music, dance and film.

The physical and stylistic contrast between the 2 dancers is slowly illuminated by Amanda Phillips and Stephen Dean’s lighting design. Classically trained Hou Honglan is the principal soloist with the National Ballet of China, while Anastasia Humeniuk is a guest artist with the Australian Dance Theatre. Wearing simple black costumes designed by Jason Dallwitz, the dancers alternate a frenzy of arm movements with an energy radiating upwards from the feet, through the back and along the arms. The allure of Phillips’ choreography is the frisson generated by the dancers’ immaculate transitions, extensions, balance and control. This is contrasted with the sheer excitement of hearing the reverberation from Gabriella Smart’s bass combinations.

Each dancer appears immersed in her journey as feet and hips angulate into and through space. Moving between the spotlight and half-darkened edges of the stage they confront each other and move away. Like wayang kulit figures, shadows of the dancers’ elongated bodies appear against a back curtain. Their shapes disappear and return, alternately benign and ominous. We imagine the contours of connection and possibility.

The dance is interspersed with a piano solo and the dancer’s physicality is replicated as Smart engages in her own bodily permutations, caressing and cajoling the piano while playing with her right elbow, left arm tucked under right armpit.

Amanda Phillips’ film When There’s Only provides the segue. Shot in back and white, the film provides a complementary and surreal contrast with the Whispers costumes and lighting design. The film’s set is reminiscent of catacombs. Phillips revisits the once modern world of old-time dancing, contrasting inter-generational memory and dancing styles. The dancing partners circle while solo women line the walls hoping to be invited to dance.

Chinese whispers is a game where participants are arranged in a circle and the first player whispers a message which is passed around the circle. When the final version is revealed threads of the original may remain but exaggeration and distortion make the original story unrecognisable. Similarly, when Honglan floats onto the stage in a final en pointe sequence, she offers the fluency of familiarity while infusing Chinese Whispers with new meanings of rich strangeness.

Reckless Moments, Chinese Whispers; Conservatorium Recital Hall, Hobart, March 15

RealTime issue #67 June-July 2005 pg. 15

© Sue Moss; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2005