Dance and Beyond

Keith Gallasch

Keith Gallasch talks with dancer and choreographer Kim Walker about the influx of great choreographers for the festival season

Ten am, Darlinghurst, Sydney, and it feels like one hundred per cent humidity already, but in the pause that refreshes between choreographing the very physical realisation of Tim Winton’s That Eye The Sky, directed by Richard Roxburgh for that actor’s new theatre company, Burning House, in Sydney and the musical Jesus Christ Superstar in New Zealand, Kim Walker beats the heat in his express desire to get to Adelaide to experience the riches offered by William Forsythe and Mark Morris. In Christopher Hunt’s 1994 Adelaide Festival there are two programs by Forsythe, an American directing the Frankfurt Ballet, and three by another American, Mark Morris, with his own company and including a dance-driven version of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aenaes. This is a festival with dance at its centre.

When he first saw Forsythe’s work in the mid-80s, Kim Walker, no stranger to the demands of modern dance in the Sydney Dance Company, was “absolutely astounded and startled at the sheer individuality of the work, at the power of the ideas and imagery, that a ballet company was working like a contemporary dance company.”

I was astounded too. Chance took me to Forsythe’s Slingerland at the Chatelet in Paris, 1990. It was a giant work, a fantastic journey: dancers’ heads sprouting through small holes in the stage floor, a monstrous clawed foot consuming the theatre, lighting that was not afraid of the dark, un-camp dancing across ballet gender lines. It was a night of great theatre, not a soul from four years of age to eighty left before the end, much to the chagrin of the standing-room-only crowd. Forsythe is reputed to have said that the theatre is dead: well, he’s kicking it back into life. Thanks to Leigh Warren, Adelaide got a taste of his work, and, it is to be hoped, a taste for Forsythe in 1992 with his Enemy in the Figure. That work will be seen again, this time as part of Limb’s Theorem, the two-hour work on architecture, light and philosophy to which it belongs.

Walker says dance has changed enormously over the last decade—audiences are now used to responding individually to demanding works and making their own meanings. There are choreographers, including a number of Australians, who are not afraid, who can create huge works and intimate ones, and works like Morris’ version of The Nutcracker that disturbs as much as it entertains.

What Kim Walker likes most is the very idea that a ballet company like Forsythe’s is at the cutting edge of dance, and expects—and gets—a new, wider audience. It’s a visit, he says, that will also confirm just how good Australian dance is. It confirms the capacity for ballet and contemporary dance not to be insular, to give dance a place, for example, in opera (a word changed forever in the late twentieth century) as in Meryl Tankard’s integral participation in the Australian Opera’s Orpheus and Eurydice, and to re-frame the way we see and experience our bodies. Forsythe’s dancers seem to lead from the most unexpected parts of their bodies, inventing new spaces.

Virtuosity is distributed across these ensembles and not safe-guarded for a few stars, generating both a tribal feel in the big works and an acknowledgement of each performer in the collection of curious shapes, skills and ages of idiosyncratic dancers. They create performances for audiences to work at, choosing where to look (you can’t take it all in at once), who to follow, who to desire, and yet, suddenly, pulling you forwards into a powerful central image. You don’t have to like dance or ballet to face the exhilarating demands of Forsythe and Morris; theirs is performance at its most powerful. You’d be mad to miss seeing them. You’ll be a little less sane when you do.

Before Kim Waker heads out into the steam, reflecting on his experiences in Java with traditional dancers and the One Extra Dance Company (and the subsequent Dancing Demons in Sydney), he happily observes that contemporary dance is fuelled by both its latest rapport with Asia (Chrissie Parrott’s Satu Lingat at the Perth Festival being the most recent example) and its own phenomenal energy, a capacity to re-invent itself both as pure dance and as an intensely theatrical experience (lucky Perth also has the remarkable Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's Rosas Danst Rosas and Achterland). Working in dance, opera and musicals and not feeling a stranger in any, the experiences slowly shape Kim Walker’s own next project as far away as he feels it might be. In the meantime he’s not going to miss out on Morris and Forsythe in Adelaide. We both wish we could afford tickets to Perth.

RealTime issue #1 June-July 1994 pg. 8

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

1 June 1994