Stored roots, stacked histories

Zsuzsanna Soboslay travels from Monk in New York to Dumas in Melbourne

The Oaks Café/Casandra’s Dance

The Oaks Café/Casandra’s Dance

New York, New York. So new, so not: thanks to our global televisual mind, Manhattan seems as familiar to me as Sydney. Just how new can my travelling eyes be?

The hugeness of America—its landscape, language, art collections. Bigness is big here. And still, a baby flirting on the underground turns smiles; or, crawling minute amongst a room of huge Hopper canvases (sole people in desolate places), she is hailed as a work of art. This big and little place.

I leave my regards in Broadway as we sprint past its success and neon signs. Winds peeling off our caps, yester-snows melting into sludge, ice-air making us cry. Head to smaller venues: the Joyce (200 seats) celebrating Altogether Different, the Danspace its 25 years. Little is big, but here too the new is so old you wonder how new new can be. This is where much modern dance kicked its own arse into gear, and the bruise of this pleasure shows. Like an echo in the bone of old sorrow, the arc of an arm splaying old joy. Do we break all the ice in new dancing? But I ask the wrong question: we move not just in the moment, but within all time. Sometimes, we glimpse the future.

Sean Curran, Irishman, older than his troupe, dancing perhaps so he and another man can kiss, dancing perhaps so that his feet and mind can talk to each other. Whose Irish jig is this? I’ve had it with you, Paddy (and Michael), the riverdance broken by a boy skitting stones across the water, water heading towards the falls. Curran is an imp, a questioner, a choreographer who in ensemble can make his dancers meet Brahmakrishna as much as Flatley (via Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane); a soloist who can strip back his mask (and fooling) to lay open the doubts of his mind: If I move like this, if I make my body thus follow my mind, what does my mind follow? A sudden vista of Tibetan calligraphy projected huge across the back wall folds him bare…whilst still, the feet patter, the torso erects, the arms fling. This is Irish, and not Irish—melded with the histories of his suffering, his addictions, his loves, his training-grounds. Eclectic, mad, tender, nuggetty and vulnerable; he is crying and laughing.

Kevin Wynn is arcing limbs, Alvin Ailey, white and black American history. His dancers wear sexy leotards and spread their thighs. He renders a 20-strong ensemble as individual yet complexly cohesive as a grand railway clock. I am tired in the complexity of the watching. I am invigorated as well, exercised as in a class. His beauties are only “viscious” [the work is titled Viscious Beauties], perhaps, if you watch from the viewpoint of classical ballet, but they’re strong, quirky, eruptive, their organs (lungs, livers, spleens) dance. To the live jazz band, their feet tamp ground. And then, in the solo, quiet—because you have to stop the music to hear old scream. The black dancer spirals out, a yearning colonial dream played out on husks of corn. Protest breaks into grace; the vigour of the body breaks a new world.

Meredith Monk’s Celebration Dance leaps back to what harvest ritual might have been before New Age sacred niceness took its hold. Extracts of songs and music from various Monk works is interspersed with an eclectic range of texts from Basho to Rumi and tribal and initiation songs. Here, and always beneath our feet, what sacredness. Sometimes I hear and see the earth splintering open, turning on its axis; at others, the performers enact a soft bowing splendour to the soil. They fidget, like mice, or horses, or children, thanking the grass and the stars. The physical movements are so simple that I actually hear people objecting to the dance. But I object to this objecting, as each performer moves with dignity, and unselfconsciously according to their means. They do, move, sing. And till the soil, with the minimal finesse but huge skill that soil-tillers use. This is sharing harvest, not watching form. And the audience adores it, adores Meredith, roars her in, because of the sheer and audacious joy with which she fills the space. She told me she wondered if she could get away with it, but she did.

In Melbourne, Russell Dumas’ brave new work Oaks Cafe/Cassandra’s Dance exhibits his characteristic virtuosity alongside the awkwardness of a new world cutting in. It’s interesting and provocative that Russell chose to work this time with actors as well as dancers from his familiar stable. What I see is a difference in their feeling about dancing, an intensity with more emotion from the actors (how grim that turn, how self-amazing that supporting action) to a kind of perspex translucency from those of dancer-background. A difference of the colour of their histories. In the moves of greater virtuosity, perhaps the dancers fare better; but Russell tells me afterwards that virtuosity requires amnesia—a forgetting of how they got there. We do not share their sweat. Perhaps for an actor it is harder to forget: memory is a part of their technique. The actor’s Method: Who is it, what is it, where is it, when is it, why is it: the quintrivium of questions that perhaps never can quite leave your dancing mind.

So, we have some re-membering, some forgetting, hearts on their sleeves or transferred to the space between limbs. But there is also another membering here: Dumas examining his own making, a history of his works in continuous enlarged projection, beyond the back of the stage visible through a door into the next room. Glimpses of old moves, echoed or ignored in the dance of bodies on the floor. This is unprecious history, giving a freedom to our looking. So, too, in the open side door and unshuttered windows, letting the late afternoon light in, letting it sink, letting our watching roll over into night. Night watching, the time of thinking about the dance, after the dance, here becoming the same moment with the dance. This is a gift of time. And the audience is full of children, perhaps watching something they already recognise. (There were no children in the New York halls. Are they risk? They might have fuzzed the edges of the made.)

In that struggle with our memory, that edge between re-membering, dis-membering, letting the past fall into death or stay honoured in the colour of how we move, lies the turning over into the terrible possible world. Being has teeth. The awesome contradiction of it: inheritance cuts its edge in every mouth and helps the young tear into new food. And words, form, quickly follow on. Like Cassandra, talking (in)to the future—but perhaps this time being heard. (“Danthing”, lisped one young one from behind, before her repetitions became more voluble and her mother took her from the room. Her futures, seeing, lisping, wriggling into other pushing pressing needs, lay here and beyond the room.)

Altogether Different Festival: Each of Both (1998), Symbolic Logic (1999), Folk Dance for the Future (1997) [ensemble]; Five Points of Articulation (1994-5) [solo excerpts], Sean Curran Company, choreography Sean Curran, visual design Mark Randall, The Joyce Theatre, Jan 5; Three World Premieres: Viscious Beauties, Black Borealis (solo: Giovanni Sollima), To Repel The Daemons, The Kevin Wynn Collection, choreography Kevin Wynn, music Peter Jones, Phillip Hamilton, lighting Roma Flowers, David Grill, Jan 7. “Silver Series”, Danspace Project, Meredith Monk and vocal ensemble, A Celebration Service, conceived, directed & composed by Meredith Monk, texts compiled by Pablo Vela, Jan 9, Joyce Theatre, Soho, NY. The Oaks Café/Cassandra’s Dance, director, principal choreographer Russell Dumas, performed & co-choreographed by Danielle von der Borch, Sally Gardner, Keith March, Trevor Patrick, Colin Sneesby, Cath Stewart and Kerry Woodward, Dancehouse, Melbourne, Feb 7

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 30

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 1999
Close

Join our e-dition list

Sign up for free online e-ditions offering occasional reviews and commentary and curated selections from and response to the RealTime archive 1994-2017.