Reclaiming dance as innovator

Erin Brannigan: Antistatic 99

antistatic as a whole event exposed, problematised and critiqued the current and ongoing negotiation within dance between movement and words. This project has become central to new dance practices and is a significant area of investigation which dance is pioneering within the broader context of the performing arts. The relentless necessity to reveal dance—to provide commentary on the display—described by Lisa Nelson and the newer necessity for the community to move from the defensive and assume its role as innovator in this regard, could be traced through the festival from Foster’s experiments combining movement improvisation and empirical discourse, to Monson’s incoherent vocalisations in Keeper, to the very format of this eclectic event.

The last day of antistatic, Atlas, was like a culmination of this apparent, but perhaps implicit theme. A combination of performances (incorporating texts, choreography and or improvisation), presented papers and the less easily defined “performed commentary” by Julie-Anne Long and Virginia Baxter, exposed most lucidly the curators’ task. How can dance remain the primary discipline, its conditions and knowledges the most influential forces, when combined with discourse and all this entails? To slide across types of language, methods and modes of performance provided the curators with one answer.

While Anne Thompson used language and theory (particularly psychoanalysis) to consider a notion of spectatorship (in which she found empathies with contact and ideokinesis) in relation to the work of Pina Bausch, Yvonne Ranier and Robert Wilson, Sally Gardner probed the implications of language itself in relation to government peer assessment documentation to ask Can Practice Survive? Gardner described the Australia Council’s “philanthropic” activity as creating not a shelter from the mainstream marketplace, but a new economy, which deals in reductive terms: “innovative”, “independent”, “creativity”, “pioneering.” She provided an interesting alternative economic option; rather than putting money into publicists, why not just pay the audience directly?

References to Australia’s lack of historical context for terminologies such as those outlined above circled back to a notion of Australia as suffering from a condition of “lack” or “ignorance.” Surely official language cannot represent the actual situation within which work is produced and received in any country. Performance aritist Mike Parr, in challenging the academic approach of Thompson’s paper to Bausch’s work, assumed, I would argue incorrectly, that most audience members had never seen her work live. Russell Dumas, in a later session, revisited this subject of context and Australian audiences by criticising the “guru” status he believed antistatic’s visiting artists to have been granted. The arguments represented here are recurring within the dance community and assume a condition of inadequacy in our audiences and practitioners, which in turn suggests an authority “elsewhere.” Such assumptions stagnate discussion and progress by rendering the majority of participants deficient.

A later discussion grouped together 3 practitioners whose solo works were performed as part of Axis; Eleanor Brickhill, Julie Humphreys and Susie Fraser. Unfortunately I missed Fraser’s piece, Stories From the Interior. [In this work-in-progress, Picking up the Threads, Susie Fraser retraces a dancer’s body changed by childbirth and motherhood. Her recorded voice speaks eloquently from a tape recorder. When asked afterwards why the speech is in the third person, she says “Sometimes it feels like that.” The illumination for her subtle movement comes from a video monitor running home movie footage. Meanwhile stretched across the back wall are the beginnings of her video manipulations into a painstaking choreography on the family from her place within it. Eds.] Brickhill provided the most satisfying combination of spoken word and movement in antistatic, The Cocktail Party. Her analogy of a party was accurate; she tentatively entered the space and presented a dance and a kind of commentary: “What is that…it looks important…why don’t you just say it…I know where that comes from…” A dance about making a dance, in her words. Words revealed movement revealed words in a moving and strikingly personal confrontation of the two. In the discussion Brickhill said she was “trying to write while thinking of dancing.” Fraser said she had tried “writing from movement” but “needed another pair of hands.”

Long and Baxter had the last say in event and left everyone speechless; an attempted closing discussion was aborted after valiant attempts from the Masters of Ceremony, Trotman and Morrish, which were met with a request for alcohol. The irreverent tone and attitude of Long and Baxter was a welcome change from the earnest intentions of the weekend, but their performance was an odd experience seated as I was between Lisa Nelson and Jennifer Monson who were not spared the duo’s humour.

What they dared to do was admit to other preferences within performance, both through their comments and their mode of delivery, which provided a healthy intervention within a relatively homogeneous festival. Not to deny the vast differences in the approaches of say Houston-Jones and Crisp, but antistatic engaged framing notions of dance which created an exclusive environment. Long and Baxter’s piece suggested other ways of dancing and performing which, at the same time, displayed a real engagement with the proceedings. A certain frustration was aired here but always with good humour, such as Long’s comments on the Clavicle program that it all seemed so “Melbourne” and her exposition of exactly what “doing a Dumas” entails. Even Russell Dumas was rendered speechless.

Axis: Susie Fraser, Stories from the Interior; Sally Gardner, “Can practice survive”; Julie Humphreys, Involution; Anne Thompson, “Rainer, Wilson and Bausch as markers in a mapping of the border terrain called dance theatre”; Helen Clarke-Lapin with Ion Pearce, Alice Cummins, Rosalind Crisp, Orbit; Eleanor Brickhill, The Cocktail Party; Julie-Anne Long & Virginia Baxter, Rememberings on Dance.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 13

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 1999