Dancing with time's arrow

Anne Thompson: SA Dance

Kynan Coley, in the blood, Restless Dance Company

Kynan Coley, in the blood, Restless Dance Company

Kynan Coley, in the blood, Restless Dance Company

Restless Dance’s in the blood continues this company’s interest in personal biography. The flow of memories weaves around the childhood body and the image of the birthday celebration, an event where the tension between welcome and unwelcome attention is heightened. The celebration of the person is poignantly lost amongst the preparations for the birthday and in group games.

A young man sits quietly on a chair. The other performers interact around him as if he is not there. Later he methodically moves along a row of cupcakes placed across the front of the playing area in a ritual of wishing—lighting the candle on the cake and blowing it out. Behind him daily tortures like the ‘hair brushing ritual’ or the ‘stand in the corner’ injunction are played out. Bodies struggle against each other in pleasure and discomfort. Times of physical achievement emerge—throwing, balancing on one’s hands. The piece moves effortlessly between group sequences, partnering and solos. The performers seem deeply engaged in the pleasure and process of moving.

Memory is constructed as decaying, both in the choice of the old Queens Theatre as venue and in the discoloured, frayed costuming—versions of Sunday best that also pass as retro-chic. The floor of the space is covered with fine sand and the replaying of memory leaves traces on this surface. In the distance, framed by a huge doorway, 4 musicians create swells that circle and resound in the space and then fade. At one stage one of the musicians plays Happy Birthday on water-filled glasses. The sound is slightly off-key yet crystal clear and melancholic.

The past is a strange country, so why and how do we revisit it? There is something in this work about reclaiming the desire to be playful and special. There is something also about pleasure and defiance in the struggle against interference and control by others.

* * *

Works in progress from Ausdance’s SA Choreo Lab were presented this year at the Space Theatre as part of the Adelaide Festival Centre’s programming initiative, in-space.

Helen Omand’s Up Front and Naked comprised a sequence of images of states of loss—loss of comfort, loss of perspective, loss of purpose, loss of belief, loss of restraint, loss of self, loss of mind. The unifying element in this associative flow between language, dance, light and video image was the sense that in each event the ‘performer’ was ‘out of place.’ The piece drew attention to the fact that the experience of ‘nakedness’ is perhaps the experience of a mismatch between behavior and context.

Katrina Lazaroff’s Finding the Funk was a solo about dancing. A series of sequences were structured around the contemplation of movement, moving into and out of a tap dance, contemporary, jazz or ‘club’ routine. It was intriguing to wonder what it was Lazeroff was wrestling with, in trying to ‘find the funk.’ Was it a quest for some sort of integration of disparate dance experiences or a more subjective discernment of when her dancing was ‘in the groove’?

Amanda Phillips’ When There’s Only (cinematographer Mark Lapwood) is a delicate and evocative film portrait of intergenerational and intra-generational relationship and dance. It shifts between a contemporary solo by a young woman and a group of older couples ballroom dancing in what appears to be a railway tunnel. The camera moves between couples and we notice nuances of touch and facial expression that suggest a far more subtle dance of desire and rejection as these bodies sweep across the floor. Is this the past travelling to meet the present or moving away from it?

Later we see the elderly men sitting on seats, waiting to be chosen to partner somebody. Their nonchalance and/or discomfort is captured in shifts of limbs and weight. One by one they are lead away until one man is left. He walks through the tunnel, then the young woman appears and they dance. Is he her father or grandfather? Is she his memory of lost love? The older dancers are interviewed on camera. We hear the stories of life partnerships formed or never found on the dance floor. The film poignantly captures the exquisite interplay between love, death, memory and dance and how the past and the present dance towards each other.

Waiting, choreographed and performed by Ingrid Steinborner and Felecia Hick, and filmed by them with Monte Engler, closed the gap between dance and video image through a seamless transference of action from live to video image. The performance built from the video image of a young woman waiting at a train station. This simple game between virtual and live body was so well played it felt like magic. The spatial shifts worked to bring the filmed and live bodies into such a direct relationship that it seemed as if the game was taking place in real time.

Sol Ulbrich’s tender fury began with an intricate sequence of gestures, a conversation between 2 women and a man that becomes barbed. Eventually the 3 break into a fight that travels through space and onto and off screen before transforming into a series of duets. This piece seemed influenced by the possibilities of film—the close-up and the location shot.

Sarah Neville’s Artifacts explored performance as archeology. The jangling of bone on bone accompanied Neville’s journey across the space. Bones unloaded with a thud, she danced. Drawn from Butoh and contemporary dance, her movement appeared deliberately fossilised, subject to a past logic.

Once Bitten, performed by Naida Chinner, devised with and directed by Ingrid Voorendt, was a study on love. It teetered between vaudeville slapstick, physical theatre—tragic comedy. Chinner enters in high heels, arms laden with tomatoes. She stumbles and the tomatoes spill across the floor creating a terrain of ‘bleeding hearts.’ She sings of love, performs a puppet show with the tomatoes and dances the spills of love, the falling down and picking yourself up again, with the occasional high kick. Some hearts get squashed. Chinner’s sweetness and bravado had us rooting for her in this sticky game.

The State Opera South Australia and Leigh Warren and Dancers collaborated to produce Philip Glass’ opera, Akhnaten. The Opera Studio was transformed by Mary Moore’s neoclassical design into a combination of exhibition, library and museum with slides, display cases and reading tables, chairs and a ‘temple.’ The opera begins with the principal singers as visitors to this museum/ library being shown around by the scribe, who is also the tour guide. The chorus enters as tourists dressed in clothes that could be day wear but also ancient costume. The dancers curl their bodies into the space. Their movement is repeatedly arrested. These contracted and splayed bodies become the preserved dead on display.

Various texts from ancient sources, some sung, some spoken, focus the music in each section. In this production each section is presented as a unique display. Warren’s staging is reminiscent of Glass’ music. The groups of performer are interwoven so as to present a unique image for each section.

The singers slide between representing historical figures and students of history or tourists. Their bodies have a held quality. They are careful, respectful tourists and historical characters suspended in time. The dancers create a shadowy play of past creeping around the present that reaches a thrilling climax when they compel the principal singers down to the floor again and again. It is in these moments of interaction that the ordered environment comes alive. Another exciting moment occurs when pages from the oversize books, used to structure the space, are torn out and scattered and the books slammed shut and thrown off their pedestals. This desecration of the pristine order of the space is visceral.

This production draws our attention to the act of preservation. The past is preserved and laid out for us and we, the audience to this past, are held in place, controlled in the present as we view this past. There is something relentless in Glass’ music, a similar obdurateness to that of the display case. I found myself revelling in the High Modernism of the production and longing for excess—the uncontrolled, damage, decay, the living body. It directed me though to muse on the place of the present in the contemplation of the past.

Restless Dance Company, in the blood, direction Ingrid Voorendt, The Queens Theatre, May 8-11; SA Choreo Lab, The Space, Ausdance & Adelaide Festival Centre, May 9-11; State Opera of South Australia & Leigh Warren & Dancers, Akhnaten: An Opera in Three Acts by Philip Glass, director/choreographer Leigh Warren, designer Mary Moore; The Opera Studio, Adelaide, May 16-25; Ausdance [SA], Australian Dance Week 2002, May 11-19

RealTime issue #50 Aug-Sept 2002 pg. 31

© Anne Thompson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2002