feeling the pulse

judith abell, heart matters, tasdance & tso

Racing Hearts/Hummingbird, Tasdance

Racing Hearts/Hummingbird, Tasdance

Racing Hearts/Hummingbird, Tasdance

WIPING THE FACE. TEARING IMAGINARY MATTER FROM THE MOUTH. SHAKING IT OFF. RAW SOUNDS OF BODIES AND BREATH FILLING AN OTHERWISE EMPTY STAGE. TEXT BUILDING AND DISSIPATING ON A SCREEN. WASHES OF COLOUR. THESE ARE IMPRESSIONS OF RACING HEART/HUMMINGBIRD BY CHRISSIE PARROTT—THE FIRST OF TWO WORKS IN TASDANCE’S NEW PROGRAM, HEART MATTERS. IT COULDN’T BE ANY MORE DIFFERENT THAN ITS COMPANION PIECE, FORTY MILES—A RIVER OF DREAMS, CHOREOGRAPHED BY GRAEME MURPHY, WHICH VEERS TOWARD REPRESENTATION RATHER THAN ABSTRACTION IN CONTENT.

Heart Matters is the latest in a long series of works from Tasdance built around guest choreographers, although the show really began with director Annie Greig’s dream to collaborate with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, which in turn brought two composers into the frame. Constantine Koukias developed a score for Parrott while Carl Vine arranged his fifth quartet for Murphy. As the program’s title indicates, the shows are linked under a thematic banner relating to those things in life that move the heart.

Parrott’s Racing Heart/Hummingbird focuses on emotional and physical responses to writings on love, be they pithy, passionate texts or long, sultry passages. This text is the literal backdrop to the dance, with evocative phrases such as “my wrists are aching as you pulse through my veins,” appearing and disappearing as if typed onto a glowing screen at the rear of the stage. Thanks to Joe Mercurio’s deft lighting design, it appears as though the dancers are washed with the light of the screen while the text and colour also rinse across Leon Krasenstein’s costumes—graduated reds, blues and greens layered with phrases from the show.

The choreographic language of Racing Heart evolves from a suite of tender movements between dancers, signifying the beginnings of a love affair and tends toward ever more spasmodic and violent gestures as the work builds and love stumbles. Parrott has focused much energy in the dancers’ hands, with repeated flicking, slapping and shaking gestures characterising the choreography. Koukias’ oscillating oboe and strings create a tense space that enhances the growing agitation of the dancers while, underlying the live score, a soundscape comprises elements such as whispered readings, bells ringing, a heartbeat and a life support monitor.

While still dwelling on matters that touch the heart, Graeme Murphy’s Forty Miles—a river of dreams concentrates on feelings evoked by the landscape between his Northern Tamar River home and the city of Launceston. Veering away from Parrott’s empty stage and abstracted language, Murphy’s work stamps itself as a representational and symbolic work from the opening moments. His stage is a vast landscape in miniature. A silken river divides mountains from a forest created by the dancers bearing quivering, bare clusters of branches. Their costumes—also by Krasenstein—rendered in delicate shades of grey suggest that they are part of the fabric of this natural scene.

This work is unashamedly classical in structure, choreographic language and score telling a simple story of growing love between lead female (Floeur Alder) and lead male (Joel Corpuz). Such are the shape of arms, lines of movement and arrangements of the company that I keep expecting the dancers to transition into pointe work at any moment. Looked at more closely however, the detail is contemporary and compelling, with swift, smooth and technically complicated lifts, holds and interactions between the lead dancers reminding me of Murphy’s wealth of choreographic experience. The composition for strings by Vine melds with the fluidity of Murphy’s choreography, though it leads the mood at the end of the work with a lively—if a little out of character—sequence performed by the whole company.

I really want to be able to say that Heart Matters was a dazzling experience. I was so excited to see the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra tuning up under the lip of the stage and the thought of live, contemporary composition paired with seasoned choreography was very appealing. But unfortunately my heart didn’t soar. And that does matter, particularly as contemporary dance relies on emotional connection. I’ve given some thought to why I feel this way and I think that perhaps the main players underestimated the weight that such universal subject matter brings to a work. To make a show about love or the heart, one must innovate in a way that allows it to rise above all of the other ghosts of dances past. While there were beautiful glimmers of difference throughout each of the works—particularly in the duets between Alder and Corpuz in Forty Miles—unfortunately Parrott’s evolution from the flush of new love to betrayal and loss, followed by Murphy’s rendering of the beauties of nature, did not strike enough new notes to dispel those ghosts.

Tasdance, Heart Matters: Forty Miles—a river of dreams, choreography Graeme Murphy, composition Carl Vine; Racing Hearts/Hummingbird, choreography Chrissie Parrott, composition Constantine Koukias, animation Jonathan Mustard; dancers Floeur Alder, Sofie Burgoyne, Joel Corpuz, Trisha Dunn, Sarah Fiddaman, Malcolm McMillan, Jason Northam; costume & set design Leon Krasenstein, lighting Joe Mercurio; Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, conductor Kenneth Young; Theatre Royal, Hobart, July 23, 24

RealTime issue #99 Oct-Nov 2010 pg. 33

© Judith Abell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

12 October 2010