The body always tells

Linda Marie Walker: Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), Ignition 5

John Leathart, Ignition

John Leathart, Ignition

John Leathart, Ignition

I was trying to jot thoughts down during the performances. The first thing I wrote was: “Why does dance always start on the ground?” This was in response to One 700, choreographed by Anton.

The trouble is time has gone by and the event has become one fabric instead of the 10 different fabrics that it was made of. The notes appear like a list, and prompt me in ways that are not useful, like: “after break”; “white flower”; “cabaret.”

Ignition is an annual season of dance choreographed by dancers from the Australian Dance Theatre; this year it also included guest choreographers from outside the company (theatre workers and independent choreographers). It’s an opportunity for choreographers to develop their craft at the invitation of the Artistic Director of ADT, Garry Stewart.

It was an evening rich in possibility. Each of the pieces had something to offer (humour, glamour, dexterity, beauty), yet overall were of a kind and seemed in retrospect familiar and without the risks that one longs for (something extreme or excessive or minimal or austere, for instance). This is not a bad thing really, though it would have been exciting to see the works move into another gear, more brutal and difficult. It’s the sharpness which comes from deep questioning—about why and where and how, in terms of what ‘the thing’ is that comes into being, and how it is then given as a ‘work’—that was missing. It is not satisfying to try and name what is ‘missing’, as it’s never specific or singular or other than a shape measured by another already known shape. It might be though something in the realm of the immeasurable, the unimaginable, the banal. One of the bountiful effects of ‘sampling’ is the making live of the already over-lived. And ‘sampling’, or re-inventing, was at the heart of the Ignition 5 season, given that the subtitle was ‘Reincarnation’—”ghosts of the past are given a second chance” (wrote Stewart in the introduction to the programme).

There were fine performances by Larissa McGowan and John Leathart and Paul Zivkovich. And there were fine physical and emotional moments; but I’m always struck by how narratives so often go the way of the expected—like the showgirl who is drained of her verve by the plucking out of her feathers. Why? Why couldn’t she become even more fantastic. This work was titled Table Twelve, choreographed by Larissa McGowan and danced by her (with Ross McCormack). McGowan was wonderful. Maude Davey’s My C**T was funny and ‘sick’ at the same time. I always like dance works with language. Probably if it had been less hammed up and more darkly sober it would have been seriously (intoxicatingly) disturbing—and it deserved to be. And the two dancers, McGowan and McCormack, certainly had the capacity to go to the limit.

Maybe the sense of ‘missing’ that I’m scratching at stems from too much being left in; there was a relentless drive to tell a story (throughout the event, at all cost), to retell/spin a known story, but only to adjust it (not send it to Venus or Hell), and to force dance to make and convey ‘meaning’ (still, again)—to teach and correct and judge (somehow). This made each body a serving unit, a vehicle—the body was there to serve. The body though is usually, in itself, too present without even trying, and this can be the fascination—to watch that presence, to be present when it attempts, rather than achieves (whatever it is doing to itself). Although you can see this momentarily, for example in This Time and My C**T (the drive for narrative over-riding the wonder of the body turning itself inside out, for who knows what end), it is especially spoiled by the appearance of the ‘plumber’, as if a full-stop). It is within the site of the body that the practices of ‘sampling’ and ‘referencing’ can be most powerfully applied (maddened in some form), and at the same time can be most willfully resisted too. It seems like the body adores its own ability to show off what it has taken on, and so it’s a refrain in a container (given half a chance). That the ‘missing’ thought came to pass (in a rhetorical sense, in the writing here) suggests perhaps (in a re-sonant kind of way) that literalness, a sense-making activity in terms of explanation, was privileged (and maybe not interrogated—as it is story-telling that really is at stake in past tales, it’s the very dilemma of making-again). The tenuousness of trying to work out what is inexplicable (in Yvonne Rainer’s words the body’s “actual weight, mass and unenhanced physicality” (quoted by Anne Thompson in the programme) was abandoned, or perhaps considered ‘wanting’ (the risk of restraint or being misunderstood—a great chance).

This all came home in a rush with the last work, Play It Again. It had the effect of cancelling what lead up to it. It was ‘musical theatre’, and its good intentions about the Iraq war were heavy and exuberant. This is not to say that it was not well conceived and performed, just that such immediate subject matter can be attended with delicacy and cruelty and hesitation.

In the programme there are notes on each of the works, as well as three essays that carefully ‘re-view’ the word ‘re-incarnation’. These essays indicate the infinite capacity of given—things (of already conceived and embodied acts, writings, findings, etc), of their waiting potential to do ‘the dirty’, to surprise, and “foster awakenings and to practice an act of faith” (Vicki Crowley). This is the difficult work of re-making, it’s a practical duty and embraces longing and desire, not just to show—again, but to smash the smithereens out of the ‘world as it is’, in all the small ways it appears (to structure and doctor us, body and soul). These essays, by Crowley, Sam Haren, and Anne Thompson remain underpinnings (and as potent places of re-visitation) for the after-image of the event. Within them lies the disaster(s) that could (maybe, perhaps, some old time, down the track) haunt ‘reincarnations’ of the works. And perhaps that might be it, the ‘missing’ could be merely that the works had yet to be put through the process of re-incarnating themselves—”to unravel their complexities (Sam Haren)—that they needed to return over and over again until only the bones and the resilient muscle sat like ‘horror’ before us, testing our own short lives, and the ground that we find ourselves staring at.

The essays are left-over touchstones, as is the memory of the sound works. In my useless notes there are occasional words like: “the music, yes”; “train, oh no”; “pulse”; “click click”, “don’t shut up.” The engineering of the sound for each work, and in total, felt firm and worn-in. It didn’t exist, or so it seemed, to perform a platform role, but to be integral to the choreography. It wasn’t just ‘music’ to caption the movement, I mean. It had its own, and separate, strata, which in a ‘sampling’ kind of way, added a layer (or layers), and at times was the powerful component.

Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), Ignition 5, reincarnation, choreographers: Anton, Shannon Anderson, Maude Davey, Ross McCormack, Larissa McGowan, Lina Limosani, Sarah Neville, Amanda Phillips, Carol Wellman), Wonderland Ballroom, Hawthorn, May 18-23

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. on

© Linda Marie Walker; for permission to reproduce apply to

1 August 2004