Creative Disturbance: dance and image

Karen Pearlman emails Mike Daly

Mike Daly

Mike Daly

In an occurrence so rare it could almost be called a ‘disturbance’, Sydney Dance Company is opening its doors, its dancers and its coffers to a new work involving new media collaborations and creative forces far beyond its usual range. Underland promises to be an auspicious disturbance by New York-based choreographer Stephen Petronio, with music by Nick Cave, and visual design and costumes by Ken Tabachnik and Tara Subkoff respectively. The other key collaborator in the work is Australian filmmaker and digital media artist Mike Daly whose role is to imagine and create the video visuals for the work.

Mike has an impressive list of screenings for his short films binary and in transit including festivals such as Clermont-Ferrand, Cameraimage and Electronica. These films, both of which favour movement and image over dialogue and foreground a relationship between the body and the digital, resulted in his selection for the project. He also provided SDC with some of his work that is, he says, “less final result oriented, not intended to have an audience and more about experimenting with process and form.” These experiments, along with his films and his discussions with Stephen Petronio revealed “similar concerns about working with these media and similar approaches to our processes.”

The creative process on Underland is currently occurring digitally across various continents and will soon come together for a 2-month intensive rehearsal period. “I brought this project over to Berlin because I was coming here anyway to attend the Berlinale Film Talent Campus and since Stephen and Ken are in New York, I’m just as remote from them in Sydney as I am anywhere.

“Being over here has been really inspiring. Almost everything seems to have its roots in concept and politics yet also seems to really care about aesthetic…It frustrates me when I attend Australian film and electronic arts festivals and the only issues being discussed are about technology or how people got their funding…Stephen, Ken and I discuss (often by email) concepts behind the work a lot and in great detail. All of us like to allow the process of creating something to be that of exploration so that to a certain degree you are working out what you are trying to achieve while you are achieving it.”

This approach, while familiar in dance, contemporary performance and visual arts is less common in filmmaking. “Within traditional filmmaking the high cost of production means that this way of working is often looked upon as being wasteful. Since everything must be worked out before shooting, it can make the process of actually creating the images and sounds a bit more like just executing something technical. This can be inhibitive as there is less opportunity to respond and make changes.”

So far the collaboration has been “a very open and free process, we all bring up ideas and there is no sense of power or ego being thrown around which I tend to find a lot on really commercial projects I have worked on. We discuss ideas and then I create images that work with those ideas.”

These ideas are certainly contemporary fascinations. Underland is based on concepts of the “post-post-human, post-war, post-apocalypse, post-civilisation…It all seems very relevant when you turn on the news night after night and see your country’s government locking up refugees and spinelessly supporting the world’s super-power in a war on a small country for the control of oil. One wonders if we are already post-civilisation, the most powerful people in the world racing to the apocalypse.”

The fascination with the post-apocalyptic is deeper than this current dash toward the end of civilisation for Australian and those observing us. It is a world frequently grafted onto the Australian terrain in, for example, the Mad Max films and the classic On the Beach.

But Underland is not just post-apocalyptic, it promises to be something of a seismic event itself. “One of the main themes we are using to explore the ideas behind Underland is disturbance—the occurrences that take place after one subject/force meets with another. What I like about this is that you realise that you are actually thinking about everything…environments, politics, relationships, psychology, everything. I find this thought very warming and feel it is in great opposition to George Bush and CNN’s obsession with trying to define the world as having polar opposites—most notably good and bad. I was pleased that Stephen is interested in exploring the complexities of subjects and occurrences rather than looking to classify them into categories.

“We are taking these ideas into our approach to the aesthetic, which is multi-layered and mostly seamless. So you are often looking at more than one image on top of another and almost never aware of any sort of temporal or spatial transition from one image to another…an image may take several minutes to appear or disappear. This approach revels in the complexity of images interacting with and disturbing other images.”

For example, “In one section we’ll be digitally capturing the motion of the dancers. We’ll then use that data to create 3D animations using fluid and particle simulations. So you will see the dancers moving on the stage and on the projected video you will see particles (such as dust) or fluid (under the surface level) moving in sync and in the same manner as the dancers, as if the dancers are dancing within the substance but are invisible.”

The working process of Underland also seems to be melding seamlessly, overlapping without spatial or temporal transitions as thoughts and images fly across continents and dancers prepare to fly, visibly or invisibly, across the stage. This disturbance promises to invigorate the collaborators, the dancers, Sydney Dance Company, and certainly the audiences who experience it.

Filmmaker and digital artist Mike Daly is a graduate of the Australian Film Television and Radio School. He has worked as a director, visual effects compositor and editor. He won an award to attend the 2002 Berlin Film Festival Talent Campus with filmmakers from 72 countries.

Underland, Sydney Dance Company, choreographer Stephen Petronio, music Nick Cave, visual design Ken Tabachnik, costumes Tara Subkoff, film Mike Daly; Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House, May 27-Jun 14; Optus Playhouse, QPAC, Brisbane, Jun 18-28; State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne, Jul 3-12

RealTime issue #54 April-May 2003 pg. 37

© Karen Pearlman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2003