Dancing north-south

Nyanda Smith

It’s the Festival d’Avignon 2003, and 2 choreographers, Australia’s Chrissie Parrott and Grenoble’s Annabelle Bonnéry, hatch a plan. They envisage an exchange that would bring Bonnéry to Perth to work with emerging dancers. This year as part of Artrage the idea came to fruition, with the resulting work, ToMeetYou, the product of a 2-week workshop with 12 local dancers.

Teamed with the Bonnéry solo, 9mn, the works offer a visceral journeying into the shadowy, gritty arena of desire and its intricate relationship with self-identification. In ToMeetYou, the rituals of desire within the terrain of the discothèque are evoked, opening with a solo by Larena Charlesworth spot-lit in a corner of the room, engaged in a series of fluid rhythmic ‘clubbing’ movements. Immersed in an inner world—simultaneously alienated and self-actualised—she continues dancing while others look on. The exploration of movements as relating to the cultural practice of a particular setting is evocative and familiar—it could be the pulsing lights and sticky floor of a nightclub in downtown Grenoble, Berlin or Perth. And it’s not all happy on this dance floor. As soft strains of elektronica thump, bodies engage in tumultuous gendered narratives of abandon, scorn and rapture (of particular joy was the highly charged ‘muscling in’ by Joel Bray.)

Bodies are alternatively buoyed with intoxicated fervour then sullied, flopping to the floor with loud slaps. As the work moves through various phrases—dancers coalescing in duets and groups—a symbol of frenetic emotion is repeatedly indicated by a trope of frantic hand-washing. It’s all a bit desperate, with an underlying sense of the grubby beauty of the moment, at 4am, when everything looks worn.

While Bonnéry’s dancing bodies might indulge in the gritty real, the video by Francois Deneulin screened throughout the piece jostles intriguingly with its fleshy counterparts. Slow hand-held close-ups of the dancers’ bodies—floating belly-buttons and thighs—provide a dreamy ethereality, reminding me of photographer Bill Brandt’s abstracted limbs, where bodies billow in and out of form. Romance here seems juttingly turned on its head—all the more poignant and constructed for the combination.

Bonnéry’s solo piece, 9mn, offered a more intense ‘close-up’—an intimate interrogation of the desire for articulation, and again the jostling contradiction between peace and désespéré. Opening with her back to us—providing a glimpse of her naked torso—eloquent movements run from the very still to sudden bolts of action. It feels like eavesdropping on an inner-dialogue as her body trembles: you can almost hear her breath. An unravelling, a glimpse at frailty, tension, then peace: at one point she gazes at her own body with new-baby wonder.

As an international collaboration positioned by Bonnéry with an emphasis on workshopping—a ‘reconstituting’ of her work with the local—the fusion appeared seamlessly ready-made, her visions blossoming in a southern city. ToMeetYou was re-staged as part of WAAPA’s graduating students’ show, and the word out is that some of the dancers now wish to head to Grenoble.

Artrage Festival 2005, Annabelle Bonnery, ToMeetYou and 9mn, PICA, Perth, Oct 10-11

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 14

© Nyanda Smith; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2005