unravelling tales & constellations

maggi phillips: ochre contemporary dance co, diaphanous

Diaphanous, Ochre Contemporary Dance Company

Diaphanous, Ochre Contemporary Dance Company

Diaphanous, Ochre Contemporary Dance Company

CONSIDERING THE FRAUGHT HISTORY OF CONTEMPORARY DANCE IN WA, THE EMERGENCE OF OCHRE SHOULD HAVE BEEN, AS SUGGESTED BY THE PRODUCTION’S TITLE, A CAUSE FOR ‘SEEING THROUGH AND BEYOND.’ WHILE AFTER-IMAGES GLIMMERED IN CREATION STORIES ABOUT THE FIRMAMENT’S CONSTELLATIONS, THE MILKY WAY AND ORION, AND CULTURAL DIALOGUES JUMPED WITH ÉLAN DOWN TO EARTH IN THE CONCLUDING YARNING. IN ITS FIRST OUTING THE FLEDGLING COMPANY AND ITS DIAPHANOUS DREAMS FAILED TO REVEAL ALTERNATIVE DANCE WORLDS.

The filigreed fall of the set’s twine across the performance cosmos resonated with mythological inclusiveness, sharing human life trials and weaving spiritual mysteries into the land. That woven loom, however, presents a daunting panorama where knots are bound to surface, particularly in drawing a Wongi Seven Sisters’ legend in counterpoint with a Greek myth—that of Orion whom Zeus transformed into the constellation of that name.

The performance began in hushed anticipation with Tammi Gisell’s Thoogoorba, as the first sister materialised, softly appearing in star trails with her coolum worn as a crown. As if seeking the materiality of her new identity, she stoked the ground, symbolically laying the coolum’s cradle of birth and sustenance there on the land. Her fluid swaying, the peculiar rhythmic lilt of her gestures bore the strength of Indigenous women who carry and see beyond. Tracking that metaphor further was difficult in the ensuing tension of guardianship of the coolums between the females (the Dreamtime sisters) and males (the fallible creatures of Earth) except that the seduction and final intimacy of man and first sister conveyed the ancient theme of sacrifice in order to issue mortal birth.

Projecting a more violent world, the entanglements in Jacob Lehrer’s Orion’s Belt were forewarned by storyteller Maitland Schneer’s incisive questioning of the audience’s willingness to inflict violence in order to achieve their desires. Have rape and domination replaced the subtle shifts of sexual attraction and/or do the altered power relations between humans and gods reflect a taste for greed and exploitation? The Greeks, young by Indigenous Australian standards, discovered the power of metals and, by extension in contemporary terms, mining’s mixed blessings. Mythologically, the personal rages into high politics: intimacy twists into estrangement as stratified communities commit societal oppression. In dance terms, discrepant power relations emerged in virtuosic displays and harsh duos, raising questions of what this embryonic company aims to achieve. Is the vision a coalition of different perspectives or a device to launch a new company with an awkward amalgamation of Indigenous and non-indigenous artists?

I glimpsed these pressures markedly in the final Yarnin section where a tangled mesh of humour and satire edged towards cultural revisioning of what is told and, more importantly, of what can be told. Choreographers Tammi Gissell and Jacob Lehrer introduced movement ‘joking’ but the gags lost momentum and the storyteller, who might have picked up the threads, was nowhere in sight. The ‘yarnin’ snagged between a racy fireside informality and expectations of a slick Western performance identity. I was left wondering how a company called Ochre might blend cultural distinctions to create a new presence on the Australian stage.

Ochre Contemporary Dance Company, Diaphanous—seeing through and beyond, artistic project director Simon Stewart, choreographers Tammi Gissell, Jacob Lehrer, sound design Josh Hogan, costume, set design Matthew McVeigh, lighting Joseph Mercurio, story consultants Josie Wowolla Boyle, Brownyn Goss, dancers Benjamin Chapman, Joshua Pether, Floeur Alder, Perun Bonser, Nicola Sabatino, Anne-Janette Phillips, Justina Truscott, Matthew Tupper, storyteller Maitland Schnaars, State Theatre Centre, Perth, Nov 22-24

RealTime issue #113 Feb-March 2013 pg. 30

© Maggi Phillips; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

25 February 2013