Faltering Strut

Josephine Wilson: Pollit's Two Way: Room, Peacock's Give up the Ghost

If visibility and inclusion are a measure of success, Strut’s dance program Two Way—featuring new works from Jo Pollitt and Sue Peacock—in the Perth International Arts Festival was an occasion for celebration. Since its inception, Strut Inc. has provided a site for dialogue and development of contemporary dance.

Room is choreographed and performed by Jo Pollitt, its 3 sections directed by Paige Gordon, Felicity Bott and Bill Handley in turn, signalling that dialogue and collaboration were important to the works, if leaving the audience mystified as to the role of the director in relation to the choreography. In conceptualising her works around the idea of 3 rooms—’inside’, ‘outside’ and ‘waiting’— Pollitt underlined her intention to explore relationships of exclusion, inclusion, and adjacency. However, the works failed to resonate with each other, either stylistically or conceptually.

If the opening image of an elongated and elevated Pollit set upon some kind of hidden plinth, adorned in a swathe of white was intended to strike the audience, it missed its target. As a study of minimalist articulation—of arms, back, neck, head—Room 1-Inside had difficulty projecting its subtleties within the space of the Playhouse. More troubling was its failure to acknowledge its kinship with living statues that function well on the street, sustaining the glance, the stare, the gathering of a small crowd that assembles briefly only to break up—but not the seated paying audience. Drawing upon a vocabulary of slapstick and mime, Room 3-Outside amused without truly engaging. What was missing was the very idea of being outside.

Room 2-Waiting, directed by Bill Handley, was the most successful section. Largely autobiographical, its tone was tragicomic, the narrative qualities enhanced by Pollitt’s spoken text. Here was a piece that acknowledged the breadth of the festival audience, that was generous and open in its revelations, and which touched me in its delicate handling of personal tragedy. Here Pollitt as performer was able to tell us of death in the family, of car accidents, of the loss of opportunity, and in the very telling of that story through the body enact an overcoming.

Sue Peacock is an accomplished choreographer and performer, most recently seen in the finesse and precision of her marvellous solo Swallow in PICA’s Dancers Are Space Eaters. Give up the Ghost was a shambolic affair. It begged for dramaturgical input, particularly since this was a piece for 7 performers negotiating shifting relationships across at least an hour of dance time. All of the dancers are fabulous performers, yet they were terribly let down by the basic concept and its failure to develop. Is there no other subject for an ensemble of men and women than ‘relationships’? Not that there is anything wrong with relationships but the problem is the focus on the cliché of ‘relationships’ at the expense of a particular relationship.

An insurmountable problem for me was the staging of the piece within a squat/inner city/loft adrift with bare mattresses and graffiti—all very New York/Lower East Side circa 1989, except that in real life slumming is not a style but an absence of choice. There was none of desperation, the poverty, the tragedy of real life. Yes, I know it was dance, that it was a representation, and where is my sense of humour?

Well I didn’t find it funny, but pompous and self-important, and at times plain tedious. Couples coupled, fought, made up, made love, fought again, found themselves, lost themselves and occasionally were allowed to demonstrate the inventive exuberance that audiences love—only to have the music cut off their legs. There were plenty of moments that were almost marvellous—and then the music changed and the dance stopped. Peacock drew upon a marvellous set of extant music, and the projections were great, but the unrelenting and unmotivated disc-changing came to dominate and determine the movement, adding to the sense that the work was conceived on the run. A sense of breathlessness and desperation dominated Ghost, evident in the inability of the choreography to settle upon a phrase and explore it, in the unmotivated shifts in mood and music, in the lack of thought given to audience response. (And why was the text in French—is there something inherently urbane and ghetto-chic about French?)

No doubt there is another story here, of lack of resources and lack of time but not of lack of talent. Perth choreographers have demonstrated their talent over and over. But a full program in a festival requires more than potential. Choreographers must rise to the event, or I fear that the event will not again arise for them.

Two Way: Room, concept, choreography, performer Jo Pollitt; Give up the Ghost, choreography, direction Sue Peacock; Strut Dance, UWA Perth International Arts Festival 2004, Playhouse Theatre, Feb 11-28

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 40

© Josephine Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2004