Dance opens out gaol-space

Keri Glastonbury, PROPELLED, Newcastle

Propelled, Kristina Chan

Propelled, Kristina Chan

This double-header of short multidisciplinary dance works, originally developed and shown at Catapult Dance’s retrofitted Newcastle headquarters with its two sprung floors, was transposed for a special two-night season to the cold hard concrete of The Lock-Up contemporary art space (a potentially unforgiving place for contemporary dance). The custodial impermeability of Newcastle’s old colonial-era police station soon took on a more chimeric quality.

In one cell, local filmmaker Neil Mansfield, collaborating with choreographer/dancer Kristina Chan, made the walls of the confined space liquefy with light as a body folded like origami on the floor. In the peephole of a padded cell was a tiny projection of hands fingering coal, raising the spectre of the industry to follow in Chan’s performance in the outdoor exercise yard. These filmic installations in the cells were a perfect precursor to the live performances in terms of merging distinctions between inside/outside, also in the sense of collaborators coming from elsewhere to work with local artists, and perhaps even bringing coal to Newcastle.

The crowd gathered in The Lock-Up’s more conventional gallery space for the first live work, a collaboration between choreographer Joshua Thomson, dancers Craig Bary, Angelyn Diaz and Omer Astrachan and local composer and musician Zackari Watt (known for his art rock performances with now defunct The Hauntingly Beautiful Mousemoon). It was a transfixing experience, with the audience sitting around the perimeter ad hoc and the dancers in jeans and sneakers coming tantalisingly close (close enough to see a bleeding scab on one dancer’s elbow, a bum crack, a tattoo of a pixie chucking a brown eye). The performance was refreshingly unisex: a girl lifting a boy, the two boys dancing interchangeably. If there was a triangular relationship dynamic going on, gender was irrelevant. In fact the trio seemed almost immortal, somehow avoiding whiplash as they grabbed each other’s necks. There was a very mixed crowd on opening night, including young children and teenagers, and there was awe on faces of all ages. I think it was sharing the floor with the dancers that made them at once so ordinary, yet so extraordinary.

The second live performance in the outdoor exercise yard was a darker affair and reached a more discordant crescendo. Kristina Chan writhed on top of a pile of coal like a banshee, her indelible lightness preventing what would have otherwise been a definite sprained ankle or other occupational health and safety issue. The dystopian future projected by this performance was undercut by the retro aesthetic of a single factory lamp hung overhead. The elemental force of electricity, at first seemingly administering psychiatric shocks to the dancer’s body, appeared to come from another era but, although coal can seem positively Dickensian, outside the Lock-Up is one of the busiest coal ports in the world. By the end of the performance, the teenagers especially were looking quite wired, and again the energy of live performance had literally infused the crowd.

Propelled, Craig Bary and Dancers

Propelled, Craig Bary and Dancers

This was the first time that contemporary dance had been presented at The Lock-Up and I was impressed by the way the performances integrated the very particular spatial dynamics. The visual, sonic and live elements resonated with the omnipresent architecture exceptionally well and despite the Lock-Up’s labyrinth of passageways and openings, it was never claustrophobic.

The freedom of the walk-through was immersive, rather than constrictive, and in general reflects the Lock-Up’s attitude to making this otherwise heritage space continually responsive to contemporary practice. It’s also heartening to see collaborations occurring between the contemporary arts sectors in Newcastle, given there is nothing like the presence of purpose-built contemporary performance venues that exist in many metropolitan centres available here (which would also open up the touring of live works, including dance). This is also where Catapult Dance, a relatively new kid on the block, is working under director Cadi McCarthy to foster a local contemporary dance culture that is more connected to national and international contemporary dance communities. The works in PROPELLED were initially part of Catapult’s collaborative residency program in 2015. Titled PROPEL, it provides artists with a one to three-week creative space (and live-in apartment) in which to develop work, a program set to continue in 2016 (see the RealTime interview with McCarthy).

The two collaborations presented at The Lock Up were enticingly metonymic: small vignettes that were both decidedly local in engagement but also displayed vast accumulative experience and contemporary dance literacy.

Catapult Dance & The Lock-Up, PROPELLED, Newcastle, 29-30 April

RealTime issue #132 April-May 2016

© Keri Glastonbury; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

11 May 2016