Dancing fast, going ballistic

Helena Grehan: DADAA WA, Ballistic

“Ballistic is a community dance development project that sets out to extend the creative potential developed by the dancers over the past 24 months of DADAA (Disability in the Arts, Disadvantage in the Arts) dance workshops. Essentially Ballistic celebrates cultural exchange between young people with and without disabilities.”
PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts) Bimonthly

According to choreographer Sete Tele, Ballistic is a response to the desire of DADAA members to “dance fast.”

The performance space is sparse. The only props are 9 screens on wheels with clear plastic centres positioned as a barrier between the audience and the space. There are 3 large projection screens, one on the back wall and one on either side; the side screens are columns of fabric. The performers enter, dressed in surgical costumes—clear aprons, some with headscarves and gloves. Initially I am unsure of the significance of the outfits—are they a comment on the human body, or on the ways in which bodies are commodified or classified within the medical paradigm? What is the relationship between the images of cells, scientific diagrams and body parts projected on to the back screen, and the infinitely more interesting groupwork and exchanges occurring on the floor? Is this design meant to symbolise something clinical?

I consult the program—the designer’s statement is bizarre—although I do eventually surmise that his quest is to interrogate the idea of “surgical examination” and to comment on the issues of agency, or lack of, surrounding these processes for those with “mental and physical disability.” Yet for me this piece is precisely about ability, not disability. It is a celebration of difference, of exchange and of humour. I am happily distracted from my musings by the movement sequences. A number of the dancers perform solos and each is different and profound. Some like Julia Hales and Yolanda Berg choose slower music to demonstrate complicated sequences while others prefer faster more dynamic dance styles.

The dancers seem to be enjoying the process. There is teamwork here, and many of the sequences seem to involve partnerships with one dancer leading or guiding the other. There is lots of laughter and sharing; the pace of the soundscape quickens and the performers speed up in response. At this stage the screens have been moved and used as partners in the dance—twisted, woven and swirled around the space then pulled away to the back projection screen.

The music changes to a techno beat and Joshua Bott takes up a central position—he cheers, chants, performs a series of breakdance- style moves and invites performers into the centre to perform solos. Joshua gyrates, clasps his crotch, and asks the other dancers for high fives—he has great presence and knows how to mobilise it. He demands our attention and tells us to clap in time with his movement—he boogies along, laughing and cheering his co-dancers. Virginia Calabrese joins him and performs a number of fast moves, calling to her co-dancers to join her, shouting ‘go girl’ as they step into the limelight.

There is a sense of freedom now. The partnerships which dominated the first part of the performance have been fractured, the performers, particularly Bott and Calabrese, take control of the process and flout convention in their excitement. A sense of mischief abounds in these seemingly improvised sequences. The audience cheers in response to this more dynamic pace and everyone is having a great time. There is a sense that we are near the point of metamorphosis, an overwhelming sense of joy in the air. Joshua makes eyes at the girls in the front row and revels in the attention.

I can’t remember the last time I attended a performance that created so much energy and excitement for both audience and performers. After a few minutes of this high-energy action the performers gather together and begin to glide back and forth across the space and to twirl in pairs. The mood changes. Things become stiller. The screens are placed at the front of the space; there is a voiceover in German. Maria Lisa Hill takes centre stage and performs a slow and meditative solo piece. I feel deflated. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Maria Lisa’s work, it’s just that the power and excitement harnessed in the previous, more freely improvised, piece seems to have been capped and bottled rather than built upon to achieve the promised metamorphosis. The piece ends on a sombre note and the performers exit. I hope that in their next work the performers pursue that “fast dancing” to see where it leads.

Ballistic, DADAA WA, choreographer Sete Tele, performers Rachel Ogle, Susan Smith, Fanci Hitanaya, Lui Sit, Yolanda Berg, Virginia Calabrese, Julia Hales, Maria Lisa Hill, Lisa Collins, Joshua Bott, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Nov 8 – 10

RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001 pg. 10

© Helena Grehan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2001