inbetween dance & visual art

pauline manley: what I think about when i think about dancing

Rosie Dennis, Loving You In Public, Artist Talks, What I Think About When I Think About Dancing

Rosie Dennis, Loving You In Public, Artist Talks, What I Think About When I Think About Dancing

Rosie Dennis, Loving You In Public, Artist Talks, What I Think About When I Think About Dancing

WHAT I THINK ABOUT WHEN I THINK ABOUT DANCING IS A CAMPBELLTOWN ARTS CENTRE PROJECT THAT SEEKS TO INVESTIGATE THE “INTERSECTIONS OF CONTEMPORARY DANCE AND VISUAL ART.” ON A STEAMY FRIDAY NIGHT, IN THIS ART GALLERY FAR AWAY FROM THE CITY, THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH IS FULL OF ACTIVITY: STATIC ART, VIDEO ART, DURATIONAL PERFORMANCE, MASHING SOUNDTRACKS AND A CHIRPING CROWD. BY THE TIME THE PERFORMANCES BEGIN SENSORY OVERLOAD IS ALREADY APPROACHING.

In this fulsome atmosphere, dance is cast as a visual art aesthetic event. White walls replace the theatrical black box, and this bright and partitioned shininess throws the dancing body into sharp relief. Colour radiates and frames the performer as artefact.

Rosie Dennis creates a poignant pastiche of poetry, music, movement and instantaneous art. She speaks quietly, making me lean into her words, words I cannot quite grasp. The pull of these almost inaudible whisperings lies in a poetics of repetition and rhythm. She begins to dance a Rosie Dennis dance: odd, detailed and slightly tortured. Her body twitches and stretches, it stops and starts, swaying through syncopated and mellifluous states. As always with Dennis it is a dance not danced before, a dance with potent individuality. But it is all too short and will be rendered almost lost amidst message and aesthetic.

Thus begins what Dennis call the “soapbox section.” It is a political monologue; tightly written and delivered with an understated intensity that actually deepens its heartfelt subjectivity. Almost apologetic, Dennis’ quiet voice escapes and wanders in an almost-anti-projection that steers her Equal Rights monologue away from rant.

She silences herself by dancing a solo waltz: pitifully lonely with its empty outstretched arms. It is the dance of lack, of the human left bereft. But all is well. Her arms are soon filled with the lover who makes her smile. Other couples join them. These couples, dancing out real life love, perform publicly what is usually private. Audience becomes voyeur at a romantic dinner, an intruder in foreplay. It is both uncomfortable and touching.

This is a poignant piece which lingers but never drowns in saccharin, saved from a too, too sweetness by the poetry of repetition and rhythm, by Dennis’ unique movement style, by performative simplicity and by the sparse but stark palette of colours. In the bright white light of the art gallery, the ‘turf’ beneath the performer’s feet is green green, a music stand is blue blue and the various anonymous performers stencil their love names in bright spray paint, leaving traces of their real life romance like hearts carved in a tree.

Almost immediately we all turn around to watch a performance by Brown Council. The familiar strains of “Black Betty” create an ‘oh yeah, here we go’ ripple and after all that lovin’ and sweetness ‘let’s see some sex’ and nothing says sex like the rock strains of Ram Jam’s 70s hit. With the performer sharply lit and luridly dressed in pink tasselled cowboy gear and insanely high heels, the opening sequence is restrained and tottering, foregoing both the wild unabashed revelation of flesh and the titillating promise of tease. This is more Ralph magazine than transgressive burlesque. After the shoes are discarded the dance becomes softer, slower, deeper and definitely sexier. The performer brings out the oil and drenches her arched and prone body, over and over again. But where is the tease, the delicacy, the subtlety?
Brown Council presents Kelley K; What I Think About When I Think About Dancing

Brown Council presents Kelley K; What I Think About When I Think About Dancing

Brown Council presents Kelley K; What I Think About When I Think About Dancing

Is this irony? A statement on the nature of dance, gender, politics? Is it the arty setting, with the arty crowd watching a puff pastry debauch that constitutes the titillation? Does the dislocation of context create a new set of meanings?

Brown Council is a Sydney-based performance group who play with the rearranged and reclaimed image, especially the fetishised female form of popular culture. Here, the four members—Kate Blackmore, Fran Barrett, Kelly Doley and Diana Smith—are strangely absent, even though the performance bears their name. The dancer is in fact Kelley Kae, a professional stripper hired by Brown Council for the project. While it is clear they want to say something about dance, the body, gender, politics and the artistic economy, Kae’s performance does not make these statements clear. Her name is missing from the printed program and this anonymity objectifies and ‘castrates’ her, casting her as stripper rather than artist. Sadly, there is no full monty or happy ending, just the lingering question: why?

The spray painted epitaphs from Rosie Dennis’ romance dance leave traces, letting love linger in this sharply coloured setting. Her bodies entered and changed the space, then left, transforming performance into artefact. Here was an ‘intersection’ between dance and visual art, a comment on fleeting yet resilient temporality.

What I Think About When I Think About Dancing, Campbelltown Arts, Centre, Campbelltown, Sydney, project launch Nov 27, Nov 16, 2009-Jan 2, 2010

RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg. 33

© Pauline Manley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2010