Recollections: Sydney dance/performance

Keith Gallasch

Outside of the security of Sydney Dance Company and Bangarra Dance Theatre and beyond the good works of Omeo Dance Studio (director Ros Crisp will be interviewed in RT 48) and Ausdance NSW (director Gregory Nash, see interview p13), dance continues to be underfunded and undernourished in NSW despite the best efforts of the NSW Ministry for the Arts. The One Extra Company has been particularly brutalised, just when it looked so promising under the directorship of Amanda Card. The company struggles on. Consequently, the moments of interest and excitement in 2001 were largely generated by visitors—Chunky Move, ADT, the SCOPE program at Performance Space, featuring Ros Warby, Cazerine Barry and Lisa O’Neill, and Tasmanian Wendy McPhee’s CENSORED, also at PS. However, there were other signs of life—Ausdance artist forums, the Scrapbook Live series at PS, and the independent dance showing, 5…4…3…2…1 Launch at the University of New South Wales.

SCOPE was a substantial pleasure. In Eve Ros Warby, ever an idiosyncratic performer, added to her distinctive choreography an unexpected dramatic dimension in facial expressiveness and utterance, a disturbing murmur of barely vocalised tension. This intensity was wrought against the delicate curve of one large wall, the straight line of a screen and the Performance Space walls, all picking up Margie Medlin’s probing projections of details of the dancing body, scattering and reshaping it across the space. In Lampscape Cazerine Barry too performed with herself behind a transparent screen onto which images were projected. At first the eye worked hard to pull into perspective and shape the dancer’s body, all tumbling legs. Soon live and the virtual bodies danced fascinatingly against each other in and out of synch like a multi-layered ghost drama rooted in a quaint fairy tale world. Lisa O’Neill gave one of her incredibly disciplined and focused performances in Fugu San, blending ballet and Suzuki, she eerily appeared to float into the space in a long black gown, the insistent speeding tap-tap soon revealed to emanate from her red pointe shoes. A cycle of entrances and exits, strange stage traversals, shifting soundscapes and transformations in appearance made for a hypnotic dance reverie. SCOPE danced its way through multiplying permutations of the dancing body. O’Neill and Barry have both been invited to perform at the provocative and prestigious Live Acts in the UK, March this year. Ros Warby’s Solos will be featured in the 2002 Adelaide Festival.

Hosted by Erin Brannigan and Lisa Ffrench 5…4…3…2…1 Launch was a welcome evening of innovative works, some of them in-progress. Michael Whaites in Driving Me created a deftly pleasing geometry of quick-fire abstract movement against projected abstract imagery on 2 large screens angled towards each other. Julie-Anne Long gave us a first taste of a new work, Mrs Whippy, which proved both whimsical (she arrives in a Mr Whippy van and sells us icecreams) and scary with its subtext of maternal anxiety realised in bizarre personae and projected imagery. Excerpts from a new work by Kay Armstrong were distributed across the night and offered further evidence of a singular talent with a sharp dance theatre sensibility in a work of dark, psychological intensity. Shows like 5…4…3…2…1 Launch might be low budget and depend on the goodwill of the UNSW Film, Theatre and Dance Department, but it is vital that Sydney dancemakers keep the work coming and in the public eye if they are to challenge the presumptions of funding bodies.

Scrapbook Live was a seriously interesting antistatic project, the creation of an impressionistic archive, a set of reflections of performers on their relationship to Performance Space, home to contemporary performance and innovative dance for over 20 years. Clearly a low budget venture, the quality of presentations varied wildly. For those of us who had witnessed much of the history of PS it was an exhilarating and sometimes depressing experience. One room featured a chart of the performers who had worked the space consistently with room for visitors to fill in historical gaps in the record (the curators’ omission of Nikki Heywood was very odd). Spread across the room were hands-on archival items—note books, photographs, scrapbooks, mementoes.

In the second of the early Sunday evening presentations, Pierre Thibaudeau cooked a delicious ‘poor man’s soup’ for all-comers, a recollection of the early days when artists and staff working at PS would gather once a week over food. Later Pierre peered through the big water-filled lens from Eclipse and spoke to video excerpts of powerful images from Ostraka, The Memory Room and Posessessed/Dispossessed, all memorable Entr’acte works. He spoke fondly of production manager Simon Wise’s significant contribution to the realisation of many of the company’s projects.

Introduced by a demented creature looking strangely like Nikki Heywood, Dean Walsh appeared on video from the ‘Bolshoi,’ his presence interrupted by a worker (in hard hat and high heels, of course) who scrawled review quotations across the walls and, transformed into Dean, danced autobiographically as it were against an outline of himself on the wall.

In one of the more oblique, but witty and curiously moving presentations, Sue-ellen Kohler showed slide projections of herself growing into a performer—with family, Barbie dolls, Saturday morning ballet lessons at the church, skinny, with collapsed ankles, double-jointed shoulders. “I went blank and skipped around in a panic and they didn’t seem to know the difference…a valuable lesson.” We saw her posing in the loungeroom, dancing in the garden, “Ballet Vic at 13…The teacher from the Bolshoi made us cry, but it was better than being in the B group.” The evidence of her work was limited to occasional images from Bug and Premonitions some of the most powerful work seen at PS. For those of us who knew…Meanwhile, she falls over in a solo—”I never wanted to be a ballerina anyway.” Anne Woolliams at the ballet school tells her students, “You’ll never be a real dancer until you’ve had an orgasm.” “I bled during my first sexual intercourse…I was quite surprised. I’d been doing the splits since I was 4!”

In archaelogical mode, Alan Schacher showed still and moving images of his work at PS (Gravity Feed having largely worked elsewhere), prefacing his talk with “To remember is to put a dismembered body together again.” He screened fragments of the building, with Ari Erlich onscreen gesturing at spaces, nooks, and walls and the stage trapdoor. Alan showed excerpts from Gravity Feed’s remarkable House of Skin, Lisa Shelton’s Next Steps group shows with Alan lodged above the PS front entrance, for those who happened to notice. In Next Steps 2, Alan worked different locations in the building in a piece about “the performer as a continuously excluded character”, but also inherently about the performative sites of the building’s history.

To the sound of the Mary Hopkins’ hit, Those Were the Days, Julie-Anne Long read from diaries (from 1991-2000, earlier ones having disappeared in a BBQ) and scrapbooks, evoking a strong sense of the busy everyday life of the performer. “Career”, she said, was not quite the right word, also meaning “to rush in an uncontrolled way.” Memories flickered by, a few re-enacted—a 1992 fishnet stocking and frock show with Steve Zane, Shaun McLeod and others; the rondo from Open City’s 1993 Sum of the Sudden; a dance of the breasts from Cleavage (1995).

The artist who has most thoroughly worked PS and over the longest period is Nigel Kellaway who decked out a long room with suspended costumes or patterns or fragments of costumes: “Give me the frock and I’ll give you the show.” As each was lowered, he spoke of the costume, the show and its relationship to the theatre space, whose specifications he knows by heart. With a roll call of names and companies from Mike Mullins to One Extra, Entr’acte, The Sydney Front and The opera Project, the inspirers, like Suzuki Tadashi (“Grotowksi had already crippled my young Australian body”), the costume materials, the reviews, the cop-outs (Hybrid Arts buried in New Media Arts by the Australia Council), Kellaway traced the life of a venue that for him generated an aesthetic process, created “a different, dangerous, supportive world” away from the dance world’s cult of the body. But best let him speak for himself: the full text of Nigel Kellaway’s contribution to Scrapbook Live appears on the RealTime website.

SCOPE, Ros Warby, Eve; Cazerine Barry, Lampscape; Lisa O’Neill, Fugu San; Performance Space, Nov 8-11; 5…4…3…2…1 Launch, hosted by Erin Brannigan & Lisa Ffrench, performers Kay Armstrong, Michael Whaites, Julie-Anne Long, Jennifer Newman-Preston, The Io Myers Theatre, UNSW, Oct 18-20; Scrapbook Live, curated by Erin Brannigan, Matthew Bergen & Julie-Anne Long, antistatic, Performance Space Sept 2, 16, 30. The first of the 3 Scrapbook sessions featured Tess de Quincey, Rosalind Crisp & Shelley Lasica.

RealTime issue #47 Feb-March 2002 pg. 14

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

1 February 2002