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Indija Mahjoeddin traverses Cherry Herrings’ Cityscapes

Lisa O’Neil, Cityscapes

Lisa O’Neil, Cityscapes

Brisbane Riverside development—a maze of boardwalk, white cement, grey bollards, busy eateries and granite steps. A deep melancholic note like a foghorn at world’s end draws my attention to a phantasmic pair of Gothic characters (incongruous in the midday bustle). With a hauntingly lyrical flourish from vocalist Christine Johnston and a desolate jangle of her beckoning bell, the Gothic heralds (with Lorne Gerlach on trombone) wordlessly lead us off on a tour of the dance life that abounds in the crevices and crannies of this unlikely habitat, thanks to Cherry Herring’s Dance Week offering, Cityscapes, 5 site-specific works by 5 choreographers bringing dance to a public space.

First stop: a deserted beach. Barely washed ashore, a half submerged human corpse shudders, and gropes, rising from the shallows, tearing at the plastic bag that contains its head, dragging itself from its swampy death. So far Brian Lucas’ Golum has me convinced. Standing now on the river bank, Golum moves, Golum dances, Golum even points its toes. Now something gets lost; the piece flickers between dancer, Lucas, and swamp-monster Golum. Aside from intrusions of contemporary technique, Golum is mindful of his stagecraft. Odd. From our off shore position we observe from afar Golum’s private moment of returning to the world of the living. But Golum the dancer turns back towards the water from whence he came, to face his audience, to dance to us, before stalking off, away from us, into the city…This crepuscular being, who might have emerged from the Paris sewers, is glimpsed again later, more sustained, haunting the tour, still capable of invoking a chill spinal response despite the executive workaday atmosphere.
Jean Tally and John Utans use contemporary vocabulary in more conservative ways. Tally utilises a shallow moat of ankle deep water in a beautifully lyrical, if safe, formalist expression of the aesthetics of wind and water. Less dancerly and self conscious, Utans’ Boardwalk proves memorable in its simplicity; an unaccompanied celebration of movement in particular spaces. Viewed from a distance, the exploration of perspective and architectural feature becomes the viewer’s role. On a second viewing, I am disappointed to find that its ‘a capella’ effect was due to technical problems. With its intended soundtrack of contemporary music (inappropriately positioned behind the audience) Boardwalk loses much of its subtlety.

Katie Joel abandons technique for comedy. Her Cinderella-cum-luxury car ad gone wrong certainly amuses, amongst others, a black suited tableaux preset on the steps of the Brisbane Polo Club—4 matching executives who, a theatrical setting in themselves, become implicated by chance into Joel’s choreography. After all, we are outside the lobby of Brisbane’s most prestigious corporate address.

Around the corner Lisa O’Neil emerges from her ultramarine satin hoop-skirt and threatens to dive into the lobby fountain. With signature Suzuki physical control, she advances toward the glass exterior wall. Facing us from the inside, her staccato duet with the window uses contrasts, repetition and a strong sense of rhythm and playfulness to evoke desire, frustration, and resistance until, stalled in her repetitions, swamp-man reappears to carry her limp body away. A brilliant sense of drama inherent in movement detail and dynamics informs this well-crafted performance by a consistent and self-assured choreographer. Then the whole is closed by a requiem hymn for trombone and voice from our Gothic hosts.

Except for O’Neil’s Foyer, contemporary dance vocabulary was the bottom line here. One wonders what different juxtapositions might have been precipitated had a more diverse movement language been explored. Reflecting on Cityscapes, I can’t help feeling that contemporary technique, like guitar music, is one of the great beige equalisers of performing arts.

Cityscapes, The Cherry Herring, curator Shaaron Boughen, choreographers Brian Lucas, Jean Tally, John Utans, Katie Joel, Lisa O’Neil; performers Christine Johnston, Lorne Gerlach, Brian Lucas, Joseph Lau, Michelle Spearman, Danae Rhees, Glen McCurley, Sara Toso, Samara Skubij, Katie Joel, Phil Knight, Helen Prideaux, Lisa O’Neil, Riverside Centre and environs, Brisbane, April 23 & 30

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 36

© Indija N. Mahjoeddin ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 1999