Dancing out of trauma

Jodie McNeilly: Samantha Chester, Safety in Numbers

Samantha Chester, Safety in Numbers

Safety in Numbers, Samantha Chester

Safety in Numbers, Samantha Chester

Safety in Numbers, Samantha Chester

Samantha Chester’s Safety in Numbers is as much about trauma as it is about hope. The dance recalled for me a fragment from Voltaire’s response to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755: “Man in the field with wounds all covered o’er, Midst heaps of dead lies weltering in his gore…Yet in this direful chaos you’d compose. A general bliss from individuals’ woes?” Voltaire questions God’s existence in his poetic proof for the problem of evil while Chester explores with physical acuity the paradoxical presence of bliss, beauty and human resilience in the aftermath of disaster.

We see and feel turbulent bodies rocking and bobbing in ones, twos and as five catapulted into a world no longer concordant with perceived balance. Among the strewn chairs and floating debris, the figures hold up their world with lengthy stillnesses—corporeal fortresses which then tilt at slight angles, splintering off their vertical axes and either falling to relocate weight or being caught in the embrace of another. Clutching, pulling, resisting, yielding, couples intimately press fear and hope in their skin-to-skin pas de deux to resuscitate each other. A contrast is felt between frenetic floor sequences that crash and roll out erupting forces and the measured, crisp folds of straightened limbs that tip and reach beyond the rubble: poised, silent, serene. Elbows carried at right angles to the body form a unique gestural language that supports hands blunted at wrists, not cleanly, but with a twisting atrophy. From intermittent trembling, arms softly wave above the head while torsos torque in individual and group collapses with a gnarled root-like quality. All movements absorb and show the shock.

Rumbling earth sounds are ripped in foley-like fashion by a deafening urban materiality, cracking and splitting through. Composer Ekrem Mülayim (see p46) sustains this sonic tension throughout, seeming to mirror our fragile inner scramble beneath a ‘sky that is falling.’ We hear the voices of actual survivors of disasters telling their stories. They sound remote, steady, but safe. Danielle Micich recites her nightly activities over and over, struggling to remember at first, then finding flow in repeated utterance. It is a reminder of how we seek stability in clinging to our everyday routines: surviving the disaster of being.

The dance smoulders in a grey-green haze. This McCubbinesque light—like one might see in a mid-Western bush setting in Southern NSW—provides an atmosphere that distorts time and place: we are everywhere and nowhere. Chester and her collaborators create an impression of catastrophe, rather than narrating an event. Movement, voice, colour and sound are finely balanced to form images that resonate in the mind days later. The final scene sees Micich exhaust a joyful, whimsical jig centre stage. She whips up the flotsam with the aid of fans which encircle her. Plastic bags undulate like jellyfish in a column of air. The image is mesmerising and we are left feeling lighter—blissful even. Trauma curls toward hope in the aftermath.

FORM Dance Projects, Dance Bites: Safety in Numbers, director, choreographer Samantha Chester, performers-makers Danielle Micich, Gavin Clark, Ryuichi Fujiruma, Anya Mckee, Simon Corfield, designer David Fleisher, sound Ekrem Mülayim, Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, 9-12 April; http://form.org.au

RealTime issue #121 June-July 2014 pg. 32

© Jodie McNeilly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 June 2014