Installation dancing

Mike Leggett at the Reel Dance Installations

Sue-ellen Kohler, Premonition, still, Mahalya Middlemist

Sue-ellen Kohler, Premonition, still, Mahalya Middlemist

Reel Dance Installations 02 is about contemporary dance and movement presented through film and video installation as an emergent aesthetic form. At this point in its maturing development, it can be regarded as practice-based research where dancer, choreographer, media and sound artist collaboratively explore the possibilities, as evidenced in 4 medium scale installations in the Performance Space galleries. The installations all articulate physical space, the working material of each of the collaborators, in their various and respective ways. Three of the works achieve this using multiple screens deployed within the spaces, immediately establishing a relationship between static deployment in the room and dynamic representation on the surface of the screen.

The dancers’ movements traverse the spaces the screens occupy—rigid frames projected or contained in monitors become the ‘marks’ around which the performers work, as in A Film of One’s Own [Fugue Solos]. The 4 monitors are placed side by side across one wall, displaying black and white images of choreographer Sue Healy and the dancers she worked with during a 15-year period of collaboration with filmmaker Louise Curham. Lighting, framing, angle and costume evoke the classical dance movie, but surface disruption of the film, using paint, scratching and inking, interrupts any implied seamless flow of image or movement. Sound originates from the optical track of the film as percussive, rippling rhythms, caused by physical carry-over from the picture disruptions into the soundtrack area. As the title implies, looping and sequencing develops movement patterns, both rapid and languid, laterally across the screens. The 4-minute loops generate polyrhythms and interruption patterns from the palette of movements articulated by the dancers, recorded by the camera, selected by the film-maker and organised into a system that never seems to replicate.

The cognitive faculties of the visitor are central to an experience of each of these works, with the process of perception completing the creative cycle. Multiscreen works do not provide a focus for the faculties, as when seated in a live performance. The eyes, the ears, the mind, are required to remain alert differently, in the knowledge that the show will begin again after the piece completes, though probably not in exactly the same way each time. The visitor completes the synthesis of the work of the dance choreographer and the installation artist in this redefined space of performance.

Space and duration are palpable material common to both film and dance, within the space and represented on the screens. Martin del Amo choreographs and performs in A Severe Insult to the Body—the Installation, appearing like a pietã in high heels and jocks. He scans the horizon, steadily, stealthily, moving imperceptibly in the darkened rooms which his spot-lit body inhabits. Sudden body contortions interrupt this steady progress. His centre-framed image appears on 3 small monitors framed in turn to either side of a larger projected image. The edited tapes bring 2 temporal spaces into proximity—between each cut on the single screen and between recording sessions across the 7 screens (the tapes having been recorded from 1997 to 2003). The tape and the physical space is designed and installed by Samuel James, fragmenting this history into a coherent present and bringing a pulse that runs beneath del Amo’s palpable physical presence.

The cognitive faculties are stretched again when peripheral vision is engaged in Premonition. This arrangement seems to exploit the sensitivity of our eyes to movement at the edges of the field of view. As I concentrate on the dancer in the central image of 3 vertical projection screens arranged around 3 of the 4 walls of the room, it is possible for the same dancer to become an ensemble. As a 20-minute loop, the solo dance performance (like other exhibitors’ work previously seen performed ‘live’ at various times at Performance Space) fragments and phases the original coherence into new shapes and durations determined by the tapes prepared for the 3 screens.

Premonition (1998) is the most recent of the 3 works by Mahalya Middlemist and Sue-ellen Kohler. Falling (1991) and Vivarium (1993) are both works that again testify to the longevity of dance and video/film collaborative relationships. These single screen works rely on the fixed, enlarged projected cinema image as the frame through which the dancer moves, in Vivarium, anatomically, in Falling, as a whole-body chiaroscuro of microscopic movement terminated by the fall.

The act of re-presentation within a performance-like space by exhibition curator Erin Brannigan, by the artists, choreographers and performers, extends and enriches past moments of recorded dance movement, bringing them into a dynamic and contemporary present.

ReelDance Installations 02; works by Samuel James, Martin del Amo; Louise Curham, Sue Healey; Mahalya Middlemist, Sue-ellen Kohler; curated by Erin Brannigan, OneExtra, Performance Space, Oct 13-22

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 37

© Mike Leggett; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2005