something ends, something begins

virginia baxter: dance exchange, dance for the time being – southern exposure

dance for the time being - Southern Exposure, Dance Exchange

dance for the time being – Southern Exposure, Dance Exchange

ATTENDING A NEW PERFORMANCE BY RUSSELL DUMAS IS ALWAYS AN OCCASION. THE AMBIENCE IN THE FOYER ON OPENING NIGHT IS CONVIVIAL, THE AUDIENCE SPRINKLED WITH LOYAL FORMER AFFILIATES OF DANCE EXCHANGE, ACKNOWLEDGING DUMAS’ ENDURING INFLUENCE ON THE FIELD.

Enhancing our sense of place, we are led along a laneway to the back entrance of Dancehouse, up a set of rustic wooden stairs from which we glimpse in passing the ruins of what looks like a disused brickworks next door. We pass through the doors of the theatre observing a line of dancers against the wall. Seated, we regard the pristine space—shiny wooden floor, four windows letting in the 7pm light—where two of the dancers have already begun their performance without us.

In familiar Dance Exchange style, to the rhythms of breathing, the black clad performers on the floor lean, spin and pivot. At first they appear to be testing their weight against the solidity of walls and floor and then each other. As each sequence ends the dancers simply depart the space to be replaced by others from the waiting line. We recognise the characteristic gestures of affinity, seamless conjoining, sensuous balances, lifts that look easy at first but soon reveal their effort.

Much of the dancing we’ve seen at Dance Massive has been of the heavy duty variety—falling, shaking, spinning, sharply articulated, moving fast and furious; not to mention facing down the elements—extreme sound, light and spatial deprivation, smoke. The performers of Dance Exchange meanwhile “explore the relationship between doing and being” in a relatively safe environment. “The human being is already performative,” says Dumas. “It goes without saying more precisely because it came before saying” (Dance Massive brochure).

dance for the time being - Southern Exposure, Dance Exchange

dance for the time being – Southern Exposure, Dance Exchange

Not that all this “being” is undemanding (as we know). There are moments, which, within the context might even be deemed spectacular—small eruptions, remarkable and unexpected turns, a springing on all fours across the floor. In a couple of extended duets that form centrepieces for the work, Jonathan Sinatra appears at first to be the more forceful of the duo until you detect the equivalent power needed from Linda Sastradirpradja and Nicole Jenvey to propel and maintain their own bodies in the lifts. Surprising body parts are called upon to elevate, push or pull another. One is held stiffly horizontal and rolled up and onto the other. Clasped hands connect with a raised arm to create suspension. In vertical configurations or lying side by side, these bodies display their strength in relative stillness.

There are often two or three sites of action—a trio there, a duet here—initially splitting our attention then revealing their rhythmic turns or limbs raised in unison. Unlike the duets, which are more formal and demanding, there are youthful bursts of movement—slaps, running, followed by a languid line-up. Overall, a sense of reverie prevails, of people in thrall, fluidly shifting from one position to the next and then falling into synch. There are moments of pause when you venture a scenario or even glimpse something potentially balletic in those pointed toes, that extended, graceful arm, the faintly familiar configurations of the pas de deux. There are even flashes of drama—he grabs her ankles, pulls himself into a foetal curl and then unfolds, lifts her up with a foot under one buttock; Jenvey clasps Sinatra tightly around his torso, lets him go and he collapses. Importantly, nothing is held long enough to allow connotation to cloud the view. More often meaning slips and we’re absorbed in an easy sense of overlap. Something ends, something else begins, to be continued another time.

As the sun sets, we detect subtle patterns of introduced light on the walls. Never directly on the dancers, the shapes build to overlapping rectangles like a series of modernist paintings gradually expanding along the wall. Shadows and silhouettes dance before us. Leaving, we’re invited to walk through the charged space of the performance that now lets in the night. Outside, a pale yellow half-moon is on the rise.

21 March 2013
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