New bodies in the house

Gail Priest: Studio, Dance Tracks #1 & #2

There’s a new ‘grooviness’ seeping into the lower levels of the Opera House. With the opening of the Opera Bar (live music on tap), extending the boutique bar strip from the Toaster almost to the forecourt steps, the possibility of a drink at interval—or sometimes during a show—is bringing a younger, hipper crowd to the hallowed sails. A proactive attempt to tap into this market is evident in The Studio’s programming of Dance Tracks #1 and #2—music/dance collisions between electronically based music outfits and contemporary choreographers.

There was a buzz in the foyer at Dance Tracks #1. Set up like a night club (with plastic bracelets for tickets), the crowd consisted of the softcore dance music lovers come to hear The Bird and B(if)tek and the contemporary dance crowd interested in the choreographic interventions of Kirstie McCracken, Lisa Griffiths and Michael Whaites, and host Lisa Ffrench. The music lovers went home well sated, whereas I suspect the dance crowd left with a queasy sensation that they had been short-changed.

B(if)tek is one of the more performative dance bands. With a baroque geek-girl persona there’s no pretence about how much of their sound is created live. They often leave their stations to daggy-dance to their own tunes. This was fortunate because the choreographed dance moments were few and decidedly uninspired. Michael Whaites’ doctors & nurses Carry On pastiche performed to B(if)tek’s (or Cliff Richard’s) hit Wired for Sound’ showed few signs of serious collaboration between musicians and dancers.

During The Bird’s set Whaites performed a quasi-aerial number which offered a few interesting transitions from ground to air but was rather tame. The highlight came from Kirstie McCracken and Lisa Griffiths in The Bird encore—a pacey piece performed with Chunky Move slickness, all angles and attitude—giving us a glimpse of the potential of the evening. The strongest element was the video work of Carli Leimbach and Kirsten Bradley, including a beautiful underwater dance sequence. There seems to have been more opportunity for collaboration between video artists and choreographers than occurred with the musicians.

Dance Tracks #2 showed signs of learning from program 1. Commissioned by the SOH as part of the Indigenous Message Sticks program it featured PNAU (Nicholas Littlemore and Peter Mayes with Kim Moyes from Prop) and works choreographed by Albert David, Jason Pitt and Bernadette Walong. Here, the focus between the music and dance was well balanced with dance pieces seamlessly woven into PNAU’s set and musicians actively engaging with the dancers. Albert David was great to watch. Moving between states of weight and weightlessness, grace and strength, percussive stomping followed by flowing twists and turns his work (both solo and with Lea Francis) was authoritative, poetic and enthralling.

The highlight of Bernadette Walong’s choreography was a piece in which dancers balanced on drinking glasses. Lisa Davis and Marne Palomares worked their way across the floor intertwining, swapping glasses and shifting body weight on these fragile axes, sensitively accompanied by PNAU and the ringing of the glasses shifting across the floor.

Jason Pitt also experimented with aerial action, creating a skilful work on silks performed by Sha McGovern and Aimee Thomas that utilised the Studio space well. His work on the ground, however, was too choreographically safe to satisfy me. Watching him on the side of the stage, groovin’ to the music as his dancers performed, I longed for some of this relaxed style to infiltrate the performance. As in Dance Tracks #1, the video by James Littlemore was well integrated, especially the piece using dancing brushstroke stick figures which was beautiful in its simplicity

Dance Tracks is an excellent model for integrating artforms that are naturally symbiotic yet so often separated, and it was good to see the progression of the idea from #1 to #2. Dance Tracks #2 showed that success involves a vibrant dance between choreographers and musicians, not just sidelong glances. I’m not sure the Studio will ever feel like the right place for a dance party, and they’ll need to be careful to avoid merely skimming the cream off well established cultural scenes, but hopefully the Studio will continue its commitment to producing original collaborations, collisions and confabulations.

Dance Tracks #1; musicians B(if)tek and The Bird; choreographers/dancers Michael Whaites, Kirsty McCracken, Lisa Griffiths, hosted by Lisa Ffrench, video Carli Leimbach, Kirsten Bradley; April 26-27; Dance Tracks #2; musicians PNAU; choreographers Albert David, Jason Pitt, Bernadette Walong, Video Jason Littlemore; as part of Message Sticks, May 24-25; The Studio, Sydney Opera House.

RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 pg. web

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2002
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