Starting out

Keith Gallasch: Miranda Wheen & Matt Cornell; Carl Sciberras

Miranda Wheen, Matt Cornell, Between Two & Zero

Miranda Wheen, Matt Cornell, Between Two & Zero

Miranda Wheen, Matt Cornell, Between Two & Zero

Miranda Wheen’s first work in this FORM triple bill, Safe Hands, is a short, cartoonish satirical take on demagoguery in which the initially suited dancer plays male-politician-as-celebrity—mutating from the crowd stirrer to a man-of-the-people mover (with excruciatingly protracted dancing and twitching to ironically selected rock and pop numbers) and, finally, the sportsman, pushing himself towards limits visibly beyond his reach but nonetheless wrapping (actually masking) himself victoriously in Australian icons (to “We don’t need another hero”).

It’s broadbrush commentary, but a reminder of how Tony Abbott (the suit, the blue tie; the hard hat, the safety vest; the army apparel; the bike, the water and any other challenge) has followed in the footsteps of John Howard (whose guises included the ‘RM Williams’ man on the land). The most striking image in this work has Wheen on all-fours convulsively dropping torso and abdomen floorward (to Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby”), suggesting a masochistic dimension to the narcissistic power figure.

A more impressive work, Between Two and Zero, created in collaboration with co-performer Matt Cornell, is also an exercise in testing limits, this time in an initially delicate but soon assertively physical courtship. Informal party dancing is followed by cautious, almost courtly tracking of each other, her sudden, funny headfirst dash into him (desire as violence?) and a repeated series of tightly intimate face-to-face lifts which appear tortuously close to separating head from neck. This obsessive ritual is hauntingly realised in the dancers’ acuity of movement, physical strength and the dreamlike lighting transitions (Guy Harding) that increasingly close in the space around the pair. Wheen and Cornell reveal substantial choreographic potential, transforming an everyday universal into a very specific vision of the tangle that is coupling.

Sketch, Carl Sciberras (video still)

Sketch, Carl Sciberras (video still)

Carl Sciberras’ Sketch is an adventurous meeting of dance and digital artistry, bringing together a trio of dancers, composer Mitchell Mollison and visual artist Todd Fuller (both onstage), in which the latter alternately leads the dancers with his overhead-projected live sketches of body shapes into which they step, or accompanies them with richly coloured iPad finger swipes of increasing density, daring and complexity. The music is likewise responsive, crisply realised, nicely textured and more than a little evocative of the electronic music I grew up with in the 1960s—hard edged, metallic, static washes, shifting wavelengths and, finally in Sketch, great oceanic waves of sound.

There are several problems with Sketch. First, it is hugely overwrought: the not very interesting matching of sketched bodies and dancers and the much more fascinating digital brush-stroking of screen and the colouring-in of dancers are both far too long. Many good ideas are simply wasted. Second, the choreography, although adroitly and confidently realised, never breaks free of its formality, resulting in an unresolved dialectic between the dancing on the one hand and the freedom of expression of the sound and image collaborators on the other, especially the visual artist whose display of inventiveness appears limitless, eventually upstaging any attempt at dialogue or break-through synthesis. I treasured the few moments when the dancers appeared to take control of the imagery. Sketch is the potential from which a more succinctly powerful work might evolve.

FORM, Dance Bites 2014: Dance Makers’ Collective, Triple Bill: Safe Hands, choreographer, performer Miranda Wheen; Between Two & Zero, choreographers, performers Matt Cornell, Miranda Wheen; Sketch, choreographer Carl Sciberras, visual artist Todd Fuller, live composition Mitchell Mollison, performers Katina Olsen, Carl Sciberras, Rosslyn Wythes; Lennox Theatre, Riverside Parramatta, 11-13 Sept; http://form.org.au

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 28

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

13 October 2014