Karen Pearlman: Rosie Dennis, Un-coordinated

Approaching Omeo, the artist-run studio/rehearsal/performance space in Newtown, feels like walking to a downtown New York loft in the 1970s. It’s not just the converted industrial grunge and barbed wire festooned entrance, which looks like the studios of The Judson Group, The Wooster Group, and the Grand Union, great innovators in postmodern dance and performance who were named for the places where they worked. It’s that there are artists inside working. They are not waiting for permission from the funding bodies to create work. They are developing a practice in a place—a culture of creative endeavour, a community with a shared aesthetic sensibility.

The Un-coordinated show I saw in August featured works by 7 of the 20 to 30 artists in dance, performance and video who call Omeo home. Martin del Amo and Sam James screened one of their early collaborations, Potsdammer (2000), a short witty video exploration of the clash between space and sensibility; a synthesis of del Amo’s movement improvisation and the camera that allows him to inhabit and re-frame an all too concrete rectangle—a subway passage. The ephemerality of dance and its spaces is briefly overcome, allowing time/space/movement artists to work across multiple moments.

By contrast, Sound Found Movement, devised and performed by Emma Saunders, was only ever in one space and moment and never will be exactly the same again. Saunders shuffles, stomps, swaggers and limps to a strange internal music that she lets us access through her movement. Fascinated, we watch the shifts of her ‘inner voice’—insistent, anxious, calculating, mocking, mundane, trapped, and even the moments she blanks out, the sort of movement equivalent of, “um, what was I saying?” Six minutes into the improvisation a country and western CD starts up, which, for me, muffles the inner symphony a bit, re-shaping it into confrontation with sticky sentiment, and forcing it into an ironic stance. I want to turn it down so I can hear her story better.

In Popular, Brian Fuata verbalised the voices he was hearing while sitting on a stool, unassuming, as himself and someone else. Or maybe twice himself, but assuming none of the intimacies one might expect to have with one’s own mind and body. He asks himself for a smoke. His assent—ungenerous but not begrudging—is a subtextual landmine, strangely potent, tense and suggestive beneath the opaque surface. When music comes it feels as though the bar has become noisy and we can’t listen in to the ongoing conversation. I resent it at first, because I am alarmingly keen to know the outcome: will the 2 men make it or not? But then they merge into one dancer’s body. The outrageously compelling moment of their ordinary conversation is replaced by a parallel sort of magic trick: articulate, generous, and expressive movement pours forth from below the placid surface, replacing the unsaid and the spaces of hesitation with direct and juicy ways of ‘speaking.’

Nalina Wait and Jane McKernan start out articulate in movement and stay that way in Workplace Agreement, a tightly structured duet in which the 2 exchange movement phrases. The fascination is in watching the subtle changes as a movement passes between them. The movement appears to be happening to Wait, dripping off her fingertips, taking over the curve of her compliant and willowy spine. When the same phrase passes to McKernan it becomes intentional, directed, slicing the space, causing currents rather than receiving them. The 2 working together is the subject and the object of the piece. Its title may be a reference to the current AWA debacle, but that aspect is obscured by something more urgent. The title and the dance seem to point to the real possibilities of a work/place agreement, which, in a sense, Omeo embodies. The dancers, like the other artists who work there, agree to come together to work in a direct and creative way on the development of an articulate culture.

So, articulate culture, blossoming of its own accord. Where’s the hitch? The Omeo space has been sold. There will be 3 or 4 more Un-coordinated evenings (curated by Rosie Dennis) before they have to move out next year. Maybe, like the weeds that grow up between the cracks in the footpath, splitting the cement to force life through, the artists will keep carving out spaces. The question is, at what cost to them and to their fragile, ephemeral culture?

Un-coordinated, curator Rosie Dennis; artists Emma Saunders, Brian Fuata, Nalina Wait & Jane McKernan, Martin del Amo & Sam James, Omeo, Aug 12-13; Next Un-coordinated Nov 4-5

RealTime issue #69 Oct-Nov 2005 pg. 16

© Karen Pearlman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2005