dance like never before

keith gallasch: rosalind crisp, no one will tell us…; dance massive

Rosalind Crisp, Hansueli Tischhauser, No one will tell us…

Rosalind Crisp, Hansueli Tischhauser, No one will tell us…

Rosalind Crisp, Hansueli Tischhauser, No one will tell us…


Rosalind Crisp has been living creatively by a strict improvisational code, central to her long-term project, danse (see realtimedance for details and video excerpts) and best described in words from her website:

“Rosalind’s work is about the body. The body is the subject. The compositional causality of her movement is unpredictable. There is no assumption about what will follow what. Through practice, the dancer is held awake by the imperative of taking or noticing each successive decision as it is made” (www.omeodance.com).

Within the proscenium arch of Dancehouse’s Sylvia Staehli Theatre, Crisp in red silk shirt, slacks and bare feet wanders the stage with movements that epitomise her mission: there are no straight lines or smooth curves, no predictable dance moves. She is stiff legged, leaning back, head directed away from where her feet take her, one leg suddenly moving off with its own momentum, the body in tow, the dancer’s gaze now to the ceiling, now into the wings. There’s also a quick dip at the waist, like a bow, as if to acknowledge us.

I have to resort to analogy. It’s as if Crisp is a child, or autistic, deeply distracted, attentive everywhere but on calculated movement. And because her body is in tight vertical alignment she also appears clown-like, an accident waiting to happen. So when Crisp is propelled aimlessly off-stage, as if lost, the audience giggles, and laughs when she descends the stairs and darts back onstage, as if panicked. (It’s interesting that in a post-show RealTime video interview, Crisp said that before the performance she’d thought about the previous night, how she felt she’d been too close to the other performers and too fast. Tonight she thought she would explore her body’s surfaces and this slowed her in a way she enjoyed.)

Hansueli Tischhauser, Rosalind Crisp, No-one will tell us...

Hansueli Tischhauser, Rosalind Crisp, No-one will tell us…

Hansueli Tischhauser, Rosalind Crisp, No-one will tell us…

Beyond analogy, Crisp’s movement is astonishing in its sheer otherness, the beauty of its constant disconnects and the way it adds up without any overt patterning. Yet it is deeply informed by the history of dance and Crisp’s body of work—an inherent dancerliness is evinced in sudden, precise extensions, fluent turns and spins, deep swoops, elegant articulation of limbs and hands, but with the commas and conjunctions eliminated, the standard syntax of dance erased. It’s magical. It’s years since I’ve seen Crisp perform. I admired her vision then. Now I witness its embodiment more acutely and affectingly realised. But that’s just the beginning.

In the video interview, a smiling Crisp identified No one will tell us… as the “bad cousin” or “dark side” of the danse project. It’s the outcome of inviting some other virtuosi to perform with her: improviser Andrew Morrish and guitarist Hansueli Tischhauser. The latter stands on the floor below the stage with his guitar and a range of foot pedals that allow him, among other things, to lay down long rhythmic pulsings against which he can improvise moods or melodies, working with Crisp, or pushing her in new directions once she’s joined him on the floor. He conjures up a driving march and suddenly Crisp opens out, big steps, arms flung wide. Tischhauser is no mere accompanist: sometimes he’s comically the archetypal rock guitarist, sometimes he’s physically in sync with Crisp, duplicating aspects of her movement.

Andrew Morrish comes and goes, a kind of host, silver-suited, mercurial, finding space between guitar phrases to inform us that he has no narrative to offer, no explanation for the show (“I’m like you”), but happily riffs on the tale of a pair of children who always play and never speak (“they’re not like us— children,” “they have appetites, we have preferences”). He’ll return to this later (“This is not a love story”). And he’ll do his own idiosyncratic solo dancing prior to a collective performativity invades the trio. There’s an odd aptness to Morrish’s chosen theme, countering the innocence of Crisp’s first appearance and the subsequent playfulness between her and the guitarist. The children in Morrish’s spare tale eventually run away rather than be forced to speak, are caught and “pretend to be normal”: “They were surviving.”

As No one will tell us… unfolds Crisp appears to transform, struggling as if from a chrysalis into a new being, looser, faster, lyrical—but in no ordinary sense and as unpredictable as ever. Big moves, strides, surges, elicit sharp breaths and gasps from the dancer are buried in the guitar’s roar but fully felt in the silence that follows, the body revealing its own rather than the music’s momentum. The later dancing is larger, sensual and finally riotously funny without ever losing Crisp’s determined and beautifully realised purpose.

No one will tell us… is, however, unusually theatrical for a Rosalind Crisp work. Partly it’s a given with the mix of talents, with Crisp’s search for another way to address her danse project vision; but it’s also inherent in the exploitation of the theatre’s spaces via the distribution of movement and the excellent lighting that also has a life of its own. At times the guitarist is foregrounded, Crisp in the dim distance, insisting on another perspective on the dance; at others the light establishes a space, as if to say, use me. The theatricality is also embedded in the consistent good-humour of the performances, doubtless a variable, but strongly felt on this night, lending the work a particular coherence while not undercutting the seriousness of the larger flights of dance and music.

No one will tell us (the artists) what to do, (the audience) what it means, (anyone) what it is. Well, it’s dance, dance theatre even, like never before.

See also realtime’s video interview with Rosalind Crisp

Dance Massive: No one will tell us… choreographer, performer Rosalind Crisp, Andrew Morrish live music Hansueli Tischhauser, lighting, technical director Marco Wehrspann; Dancehouse, Melbourne, March 15-17; www.dancemassive.com.au

RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. 12

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

18 March 2011