Finding place with dance

Indija Mahjoeddin: Cheryl Stock, Here/There/Then/Now

Here. The place in which you find yourself. From the viewing level, the rear stairs of the Turbine Hall drop though 2 tiers like a medieval descent into purgatory and hell. Brian Lucas begins his story eye to eye with his audience, a story of victim/aggressor drawing on the impulses of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and lures us from safety into less certain waters.

Voice and movement embody his text, a recollection of events one cold New Zealand night. Our gaze travels down through this torch-lit temple to an intimate space—a dining table, a serve of raw liver, a romantic dinner date. The symbiosis of word and gesture set against Brett Collery’s aural backdrop of a girl pop group, returns us to another version of events. Repetition lulls, then puts us on alert. Danger intensifies, and Lucas disappears below as into the mouth of hell. Calmly, he re-emerges from the basement—as though oblivious to the ravaging animal that had just given vent to its most depraved desires.

Here/There/Then/Now, an initiative of director Cheryl Stock, brings together independent solo dance artists and their collaborators (visual, multi-media, lighting and sound designers). Four unique sites around the Brisbane Powerhouse were nominated for the creative response of 3 discrete creative teams who came together under Stock’s direction in the fourth space, the Visy Theatre, for Now.

There. We follow our guide and peer down into a concrete cell resonating with Nok Thumrongsat’s plaintive Thai singing. Choreographer Leanne Ringelstein relentlessly assailing the walls of their confinement. Trapped, neither acted upon the space in the way Lucas did, but instead made themselves subordinate to it, responding within the language range of their respective disciplines. Purporting to examine cultural responses to stress and confinement, There ended with its first action—the assertion of one individual against an/other, unfortunately leaving off just when it got interesting.

Then. Time past. Embodied in still life, a painting in 3D: Vanessa Mafe and Jondi Keane’s response to the theatre foyer site. Still life? And yet the dancer moves, exploring the installation—an arrangement of stoneware on a suspended glass table. Picking up, putting down, rolling around an orange. Ko-Pei Lin looked lovely in her orange-lined hoop petticoat, lovely in Ian Hutson’s stills that line the walls. So…why is she moving? Then might have worked just as well in a conventional black box for the dance added no new meaning, attempted no journey, held no dialogue with the place Ko-Pei Lin was in.

Beyond its visual design, Then was an aesthetic frolic within the language of contemporary dance as accumulated in the performative body of Ko-Pei Lin. (A smattering of oriental hand movements slightly enriched the vocabulary.) For director Stock, an aspect of the project was the way in which the body’s accumulated history of technique and culture inform creative outcomes. The exclusive physicality of these dancers’ histories sometimes seemed to remove them from the immediacy of the present. Ringelstein’s voicelessness in There seemed an unnatural gag on her expressive potential, where singer Thumrongsat moved with a natural fluidity (holistically) across the borders of discipline. Thumrongsat was actor/singer/dancer, her performative body providing sound, gesture and meaning.

Now. Where we culminate, where we converge. Stock speaks of the “site as a sparsely fragmented repository of what has gone before”, and of “stairs to nowhere, deep crevices with no purpose.” If the site began as a void of ambiguous negation, Now did little to fill it. Juxtapositions that are merely serendipitous can’t be relied on to engender new narratives. Floating objects—hoop skirt, finger cymbals, a candle—referenced the previous works as part of a sea of memory: amorphous and impact-free. Three discrete themes, woven together in time and space, never bore upon each other to produce a fourth element.

After a while though, a tableaux evolves. Girl eats orange, transforming still life. A story is retold, transforming the past. Finally, a step forward, into the unknown, into future stories. The re-action becomes action; relationships move beyond design and sensation and begin to initiate meanings for the spectator, allowing us to become active listener, not just voyeur.

Lucas’ creative response was both active and reactive. If the site was point A, his Dahmer text gave him point B, between which a productive tension took place. This tension forced him to apply conceptual (rather than corporeal) agility in order to command the given space to serve a greater purpose. After Lucas’ layered and multi-disciplined opening, what seemed lacking elsewhere in the program was an explicit intellectual response, an equivalent engagement with a resource of ideas. Here was where I wanted them all to be.

Here/There/Then/Now, director Cheryl Stock; choreographers Brian Lucas, Leanne Ringelstein, Vanessa Mafe, Cheryl Stock; dancers; Ko-Pei Lin, Leanne Ringelstein; singer Nok Thumrongsat; composer Stephen Stanfield; sound artist Brett Collery; visual artists Jondi Keane, Ian Hutson; lighting design Jason Organ, Brisbane Powerhouse, May 15-18

RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 pg. 39

© Indija Mahjoeddin; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2002