Introduction: Feeding the need

Keith Gallasch: Antistatic 2002

In dance-starved Sydney it was great to have Antistatic back on theboards of Performance Space with greedy audiences enjoying performances, installations and forums. This small but incisive festival of independent dance featuring performers from most states is a true rarity in this country. It’s the lack of such events that has prompted Robyn Archer to focus her 2003 Melbourne Festival on dance, so it was good to see her in the audience for both Antistatic dance programs and chatting with artists in the Performance Space courtyard.

The range of participating artists and the variety of work, including new media, turned out to be impressive. The integration of Mobile States#1 (works by young artists curated and toured by Performance Space and Perth’s PICA) into the program gave valuable attention to emerging forces. A daily yoga class and a choice of workshops in improvisation (Andrew Morrish), voice (Carolyn Connors) and working with projected images (Wendy Houstoun) complemented the sense of community developed over the course of the festival.

Installations included 2 works by John Utans; the sensuous IMMERSED, and the screen poem, on second thoughts. Chunky Move’s physically interactive new media installation, Closer (RT#51 p23), generated some sweat and a bit of heat from those who were technologically under-whelmed or grumpy at the very idea of tossing a woman around on a screen. It’s a bit like walking into a gym that specialises in Pilates but in which the reformers are vertical—big leather quilted pads torso-high on stands and facing various directions in a room dominated by a screen where a dancer (Nicole Johnston) waits to be activated by you pushing or hurling yourself against the pads. Your action also triggers sounds, so you compose and choreograph at once. It’s not a finely nuanced system as yet, so you don’t get to feel that your creativity is being fully realised, however it looks and sounds good. As you fall onto the pads, so the dancer twists and turns and falls through space, and you can orchestrate quite a lot of activity using repeated movements and darting between pads (though the further you go the less certain you are of what you’re achieving). Sharing the action with a couple of other participants is better. This early contribution to the growing field of audience-centred performance is variously frustrating and engaging, but I suspect that’s the way it’s going to be for a while, but worth the wait. By the way, a scary bonus for the persistent player was a quick zoom into the mouth and down into the guts of the onscreen dancer and out again.

In the dance programs there were a number of impressive works. For me the most memorable were Eleanor Brickhill’s Waiting to Breathe Out and The Fondue Set’s Blue Moves. This was my second experience of Waiting to Breathe Out with its strange states of being and unseen presences. The Fondue Set (Emma Saunders, Jane McKernan, Elizabeth Ryan) has the ability to move from frenetic comedy (a ritualised battle to get a drink at a crowded bar) into the slow motion ugly humour of a falling-down-drunk dance and on to the dark pathos of attempted seemliness, revealing a winning capacity for complexity supported by precise timing and great presence.

As well as throwing myself into Chunky Move’s Closer, I participated in Carolyn Connors’ week long voice workshop. I’m not a dancer but have watched with interest the increasing number of dancers speaking as part of their performances. Dancers work in disciplined and deeply trained ways with their bodies but often much less so with the voice, which they sometimes fail to see as part of the body. Connors’ approach was to restrict movement over the first few days in order to focus on the voice. As the week progressed, body and voice became more interrelated, largely through improvisation with a set of rules which entailed awareness of breathing, voice preparedness (in the pause before the voice emerges) and techniques (harmonics and multiphonics) that alerted us to rich vocal possibilities. While the workshop stopped short of dealing with prepared text (a whole other workshop) it did reveal the serious groundwork required to speak effectively in dance. KG

Antistatic 2002, Closer, Chunky Move, choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, visual & interactive design Peter Hennessey, composer/sound designer Darren Verhagen, dancer Nicole Johnston, cinematographer Cordelia Beresford, Performance Space, Sept 25-Oct 5

RealTime issue #52 Dec-Jan 2002

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2002