lateral intimacies

jana perkovic: shannon bott & simon ellis’ inert

Simon Ellis, Shannon Bott, Inert

Simon Ellis, Shannon Bott, Inert

INERT COULD BE RETOLD AS AN EXPERIENCE OF THE EXTREMITIES OF TIME, SPACE AND PROXIMITY. AT 15 MINUTES, THIS MIGNON OF A DANCE IS HAUTE CUISINE IN PERFORMANCE TERMS: MOLECULAR, REFINED, RESTRAINED, AND ALMOST AUTISTICALLY EXCLUSIVE. WITH THE AUDIENCE IN EACH PERFORMANCE COMPRISING ONLY TWO, AND IN ONE-ON-ONE UNUSUAL INTIMACY WITH THE TWO PERFORMERS, THE 12-DAY SEASON OF INERT IS ALREADY SOLD OUT—REGRETTABLY, MANY WILL NOW MISS IT. YET IT IS ONE OF THOSE UNDEMOCRATIC PLEASURES WORTH KEEPING SMALL: DANCE IS A FLEETING INTANGIBLE AT BEST OF TIMES. HOW OFTEN DO WE DINE FINE?

Our two-woman audience team is ushered into the North Melbourne Town Hall Rehearsal Room, a small de-windowed space. There is nowhere to hide between its four white walls. The feeling is uncannily like visiting a couple of friends in their loungeroom.

The audience is the literally inert side in this quadrangle of rapport. Comfortably leaning into vertically placed, colour-coded operating tables, equipped with a cushion and a pair of ambient-noise-amplifying headphones, we face a dancer each. If they are a couple, and we visitors, they have just decided to confide separately. While I am aware of Simon Ellis, as the two gently mirror each other’s movements, reaching for one another but never getting close, my line of vision is completely filled with Shannon Bott’s lithe dance. Performance never felt more like direct, honest communication. No residue of voyeurism—a common guilt demon on the shoulder of the spectator—survives being looked at, directly, by Bott as she dances to me. The headphones report the smallest sounds her body makes (Ellis edited out of our private experience): her accelerating breath, the rich textures of her clinking plastic soles, the crunching, synthetic kerfuffle of her dress. There is not a moment of flash, ego or show in her restrained performance, always alert, self-effaced, careful. If this were an ordinary loungeroom, perhaps these two people would have hurt each other enough to avoid strong statements, avoid physical or emotional proximity, in a knowing duet of respectful distance, pain avoidance.

Dance habitually worries about amorous intimacy, the intrusion of another into our sacred space, but Inert extends this concern to the audience in a particularly effective way. Not being able to hide lack of focus, insouciance, behind restricted view or back row noise, one’s individual responsibility is palpably complete, and any observation truly one’s own. Paradoxically, this brings a great sense of freedom. For once, I am not worried about what happens in the corners of my eyes, in the corners of my mind.
For one prolonged, climactically intimate moment, the dancers lie facing the floor, each with one arm overhead, the other reaching from behind their lower back. In a gesture of accepting impotence, their hands fail to join. Having reached this final point of defeat, yet smiling, Bott stands up and approaches me, turns my operating table until I am lying supine, weightless, facing a screen, on which a dark organic blob, an ultrasound image, turns into a film collage of Bott, my dancing partner. Close-ups of body parts and the entire range of textures that a body possesses: freckles, scars, hair, cut-up dance gestures, phrases unfinished and whispered and overlaid into a chorus of love, insecurity, frustration. While the film is a confused cut-up of body bits and incidental emotions, not unlike the experience of sleeping next to someone—and all the fragmented, arbitrary intimacy this entails—the awareness of their continued dance, in our shared space, creeps in and out. They may be arguing behind closed doors: we cannot tell. From the corner of my eye I notice that the other woman’s film consists only of Ellis, and that finally makes me feel like a voyeur.

In the absence of stimuli, even the approach of gravity as we are slowly rotated back into the vertical, is a tangibly unhappy experience: growing heaviness in the lower body, increasing pressure on the feet. The two dancers are standing apart: one of them I am now completely familiar with; of the other I know almost nothing, not even what he has been doing tonight. I can still hear Shannon Bott’s thoughts amplified through my headphones: “I have considered you greatly. Perhaps too much. Is there anything left to imagine?…I can just see you, out of the corner of my right eye.” This corresponds to her position in relation to Ellis. After an agonising pause she worries, silently: “Have you gone?”

Having eluded any presuppositions about duration, proximity or mode of engagement, Inert disorients us from ready-made audience reactions. Applause does not appear a plausible response. There is not enough distance between us to accommodate such an outburst. On her way out, the other woman congratulates Ellis and receives a hug. In the intimacy of our tiny group, I am half-expecting a kiss on the cheek from Bott. I am greatly disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

Shannon Bott & Simon Ellis, Inert, choreography, performance Shannon Bott, Simon Ellis, design Scott Mitchell, sound David Corbet, videography/editing Cormac Lally, lighting David Corbet, Simon Ellis, Gareth Hart, text Shannon Bott & Simon Ellis; Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, Mar 3-15; Dance Massive, Mar 3-15. 

5 March 2009