Arco Renz: Solid States

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1.

Darkness. Dull rumble, vibratory tremors. Then a thin, human sound, like wailing. Then silence. A soft light. It’s dawn after a night of noise and confusion. We hear the calling of birds. Eko Supriyanto stands motionless on a raised platform. Beneath him is the machine, hidden from the audience by a short black curtain which skirts the platform.

2.

Supriyanto is known in Indonesia for his mastery of classical Javanese court dance and for his many international contemporary dance successes. Indeed, according to the program for Solid States, he joined Madonna for the Drowned World tour in 2001. Here, he wears a kind of traditional Javanese cap which I think is called a blangkon; he has also a loose-fitting mesh singlet and light blue jeans with a floral strip.

3.

He remains motionless, staring intently. His left leg slowly turns out and extends. So very slowly. The extension in particular seems to take an age. This is an exaggeration and a comment on the Javanese court style: slow, precise and graceful. He shapes elegant forms and stylised gestures to an atmospheric soundscape of dribbling beats and electronic scrapings. We notice the fingers, the shapes, distinctly South East Asian, the Hindu-Buddhist legacy. Our appreciation has a touristic aspect; but there’s also a partially exposed personal drama at play. Eko was first introduced to court dancing by his grandfather, also a dancer, and the problem of negotiating old and new, of connecting the new with the old, has an important family dimension. Continue reading “Arco Renz: Solid States”

Lilian Steiner and Leah Landau: Bunker

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1.

It happens not in a bunker but a basement. There is a narrow staircase. The floor is polished concrete. The plumbing is exposed. The walls are bare. At odd intervals you can hear the soft rush of water. There are no windows. But it isn’t a bunker. It’s an exapted interstitial space, an urban cavity appropriated as a gallery. True bunkers stolidly resist appropriation. Indeed, they stolidly resist every function except resistance itself.

2.

Bunker is an experimental assemblage, plugging together two contrasting dance temperaments in order to see what flows. It’s also a depiction – a strange word, but I think it’s the right one – of the way different natural forces work to overtake, breakdown, absorb and ultimately erase human interventions in the natural world.

3.

It begins with Lilian Steiner and a broken breezeblock. Here is a perfomer whose practice speaks directly to the telluric and the tectonic. She stands doubled over but rock-solid in her core on the two halves of the breezeblock. She seems to embody a thousand-year process. When the stone she is holding in her hand finally clunks to the ground, it is as if a slow but relentless force has passed through her: from the ground to the breezeblocks, from her toes, through her body and into the stone. Have we just witnessed, in a slippage of eons, the progress of erosion, the lithic dream? Continue reading “Lilian Steiner and Leah Landau: Bunker”

Slown, Smallened & Son: This Is What’s Happening

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1.

A spotlight. Three bodies: beige, prone. They begin to vibrate, a self-excitation, each with a hand tucked suggestively beneath the pelvis. Then they begin to explore their small circle of light, like motile bacteria or nervous flatworms, around and over one another. Structure emerges. Layers. The bodies stack vertically, vibrations synchronised. Then from simple to complex, the bodies separating, settling into recognisable postural habits, sitting with legs folded to the side, vibrations diminishing.

What happens next, when we’re all sitting here together, like this, legs folded to the side? Caroline Meaden reaches out to William McBride, touches, comforts. Alice Dixon reaches out to Meaden. Then blackout.

2.

Lights up. Caroline Meaden, a solo figure, downstage right. She suggests listlessness and boredom, her arms swaying and head drooping. Whatever life she has is all in her finger. The index finger. The smartphone finger. The finger controls of the figure. The finger gives Meaden her initiative. Her languid body follows in its wake. She pours herself into the finger. Inevitably, the smartphone finger leads her into voyeurism: watching Alice Dixon and William McBride, upstage left, folded together.

3.

Later, McBride lies on his side facing the wall. Dixon and Meaden are on the other side of the room. They’re together in their own spotlight. They begin to move their hips, slow, as if in roadhouse neon, as if wreathed in cigarette smoke. McBride stirs. Then, the blade of a butterfly knife, he is suddenly upright. He mimes running, then mimes sprinting, straining to get across the stage to where the two women stand watching him, swinging their hips. At last he reaches them. Now what? He doesn’t know what to do. And they don’t know what to do. They all twiddle thumbs, stare into the distance, wait, occasionally whisper, nothing. Continue reading “Slown, Smallened & Son: This Is What’s Happening”

Jo Lloyd: Confusion for Three

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Choreographer Jo Lloyd’s problem is not how to make work that is new but how to make work in a new way. Per Marianne Moore:

Unconfusion submits
its confusion to proof

How do you make a cofusion for three? How do you reinsert a little chaos into an artistic process, a way of making work, which has become habitual? How do you generate productive perplexities, the potential for surprise?

***

We discover Rebecca Jensen sitting on a large square of white matting, stretching her hamstrings and the rest. Shian Law enters from behind the seating bank. Jo Lloyd follows. These two put on sneakers and then leave the room, jogging, heading out into the foyer through the main doors. They’re gone a long time. Jensen continues stretching. When Law and Lloyd return they look flushed, as if they’ve just run around the block. What really happened behind the closed doors, outside the theatre. Is this a metaphor for the performance as a whole? The dancers undergo an experience, but one that is hidden from the audience.

***

The dance proper begins. First Jo Lloyd. Then Shian Law. And then Rebecca Jensen. Solos give way to duets and then trios, then duets, solos and so on, the various combinations flowing together, the dancers either improvising or responding to an obscure cueing system or both. Their movements are grounded in a kind of non-technical vocabulary that ostentatiously announces its emancipation from history with loose flailing arms, heads thrown back and lots of reeling. Bodies move like streamers in a strong wind or like inflatable wavey air dancers: whippling and ripping upward then collapsing or folding up.

Continue reading “Jo Lloyd: Confusion for Three”

Donna Uchizono: Fire Underground

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Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

– WS Merlin, “Separation”

1.

Dancehouse. Therein we find Donna Uchizono – New York-based choreographer – artistic director of the Donna Uchizono Company. The work is suggestive, atmospheric, and yet not completely theatrical – not completely scenic or representational. It seems at times like a compilation of abstract choreographic ideas, some new and some old: a dozen or so motifs briefly developed, discretely, almost episodically. At other times these ideas seem more like the metaphorical gestures of an interpretive dance, but where the precise “ground” of the metaphor remains elusive.

Always, however, what flows from scene to scene is a mood, or a colour: anxious and uneasy.

2.

What is the fire underground? It is a metaphor. It is anxiety and longing and frustration; it is a thing barely suppressed. It is blood smouldering under the skin. It is burning in the dark, stifled by not knowing.

3.

Blackout. Three figures enter. Two sit down in the front row. A third stands centre stage. Lights up. It’s Rebecca Serrell Cyr. She is costumed in a greyish white dress that hangs to her ankles, no sleeves. The material is ragged at its edges. The skirt of the dress is slit all the way up the back, revealing her naked legs and buttocks. She spins, whirling a small cloth sack of grains, perhaps the size of a tennis ball. The sack is tethered to a thin chain about four meters long. Two meters of the chain is let out; the other two meters is wound high around her waist. The way the chain draws in the dress just beneath the chest gives the costume an almost classical appearance. It looks like a faded chiton or peplos. She spins and spins, varying her speed, and the intensity with which she whirls the small parcel. Continue reading “Donna Uchizono: Fire Underground”

Sarah Aiken: Set

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1.

We enter the theatre and discover a large hand-shaped piece of particoloured material draped over half the seating. Sarah Aiken stands toward the middle of the stage. She pulls it towards the pass door stage left, a long, lingering, cloth caress. She enters the door backwards. We take our seats. The hand bunches together like a fist closing as it flows through the narrow door.

2.

Sarah Aiken is the 2015 Dancehouse Housemate and this is Set, a choreographic representation of the dancing life of objects and an exploration of possible “self expanding tools”: an artistic speculation on what it is to be a non-human dancing thing.

At least, this is one possible way of understanding the performance and connecting it with Aiken’s enigmatic but elegant programme note–

A thing is not just a thing.
It’s never enough to just be what you are,
you’ve got to represent.

3.

Aiken, wearing four brown cardboard tubes, one on each limb, lies on her back. It is very quiet. We can hear the cars outside on Alexander Parade. They sound like distant waves. The thing before us, in lighting designer Amelia Lever-Davidson’s soft gloom, looks almost aquatic, like a sea anemone, its long golden spines washing back and forth in the current. The lights bring out all the warm gold tones in the brown cardboard, merging Aiken and the tubes as one – a thing emerging from the darkness of its being. Continue reading “Sarah Aiken: Set”

Reckless Sleeper: A String Section

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1.

What is A String Section? As long ago as 1958, Tynan observed that, for the critic, the history of twentieth century drama was the history of a collapsing vocabulary. The crutch of categorisation has long since been cut from under us. The bowl is broken and leakage is the rule. Reckless Sleepers – Belgian, formed in 1988 – are well at home in this cracked, inside out world of melt and flow. They describe their projects not in terms of dance or theatre or installation, but in terms of hazard, mishap and opportunity. So what is A String Section? It is the art of staging an accident.

2.

Five performers enter the Malthouse bagging room stage right: Natalie Cursio, Caroline Meaden, Alice Dixon, Chimene Steele-Prior and Leen DeWilde. They’re dressed in stylish but not impractical short black dresses, with heels and lipstick. And although this is standard concert apparel for classical musicians, there’s something intriguing about it. The group’s costumes appear carefully curated: each dress has a different style of hem and a different style of neckline. Even the slits vary. Immediately we recognise a spirit of playfulness and invention, a sense of medley leading into melody.

3.

Is there a cultural mythology of the little black dress? Modern beauty, efficient and protestant, industrial but not without its poetic appeal? The performer in black, Piaf, Damia, the silhouette, the abstract? Continue reading “Reckless Sleeper: A String Section”

Ben Speth: Iliads

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1.

From Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe:

To penetrate [The Iliad’s] inherent greatness, you need to bring with you all of the successive versions, adaptations, and accommodations. Nothing is more ordinary than this mechanism.

2.

Ben Speth launches an epic performance event combining seven different translation’s of the Iliad in a marathon reading of  chapters one to four by a team of ten contemporary dance artists. Sources for this live art Iliadic cento-slam range from Chapman (1615) to Buckley (1851) to Fagles (1990). When we enter the space, we see the actual texts piled on a table, a tall stack of books. The books are later distributed among the performers. The sequence of the readings – each performer reads somewhere between five and twenty lines at a time – is fixed by Speth. And during the reading of each of the four chapters there’s a different structure for interprative movement improvisations. Between each chapter there’s a short break, with plenty of food, wine and beer.

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This performance can only be about isolated moments, accidental beauties and insights revealed fleetingly amid the sprawl of baffled and baffling improvisation. So the first moment. What is the theatre of war? A loft on Moreland Street in Footscray. Afternoon. Midsummer. A very mild midsummer. The sun is setting. The loft is light and spacious, with one large window open to the outside. It takes roughly one hour to read each book of the Iliad aloud. And each book is supposed to represent roughly one day of the siege of Troy. Across the first hour, as the Greeks argue (WHY ARE THEY FIGHTING?), the colours of the evening shift and fall, from white birds to, per Christopher Logue’s adaptation of the poem–

Honey.
Onion.
Pearl.
Rat:

The colours lingers in the loft, it being so open and so spacious. It is Simone Weil who calls Homer as “impartial as sunlight”. And the body of the air is white and silver. Continue reading “Ben Speth: Iliads”

David Maney: White Spots

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1.

David Maney’s White Spots is not what you expect from a one-man show about multiple sclerosis. It’s more an experiment in form than an attempt to speak directly about his experiences. He doesn’t, or not in any straightforward way, tell us the story of his illness. He is more interested in exploring — nervy and fractured, energetic, playful yet insistent — new ways of structuring the affective flow. The result is a work that is erratic but enthralling, awkward but original, often evasive but everywhere full of courage.

2.

What are white spots? They are diagnostics signs. Nerve fibres are protected by a layer of water-repelling fatty cells called a myelin sheath. Multiple sclerosis is characterised by the deteriation of this protective sheath. Excess water is retained in areas where the myelin has been damaged. This shows up on an MRI scan as a bright white spot.

3.

Maney’s work is like an avant-garde autobiography, if it’s like anything. We know that Maney has multiple sclerosis and this gives his story real poignancy; but he doesn’t want his audience to feel the emotional discomfort normally associated with this sort of staged disease memoir. He is ambiguous about what he is showing us. Is it trauma? There has been trauma, certainly, but Maney is still young. He is making lifestyle changes. He is managing the disease. People can’t see his MS, he tells us, so he has to explain it. If it is a trauma show, perhaps it’s more the trauma of not knowing how to adequately explain trauma? Continue reading “David Maney: White Spots”

James Batchelor: Island

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But the line stops. There is no unity. All
logic and life are made up of tangled ends like
that.

–TE Hulme’s Cinders

1.

James Batchelor’s Island is an enthralling combination of dance, sound design and installation art, a fascinating approach on problems of perspective and positionality, all pulled together by an intriguing, ultimately elusive, utopianist dream logic. Entering the Sylvia Staehli Theatre, we are encouraged to find our own place in the room. We can move wherever and whenever, even after the work begins, exploring different views on the action and the architecture. Orderly lines – the bank of seats, the rows of eyes – are broken off. The audience stops. We are standing, then we are moving. We are that tangle of ends, the loose strands, tossed, as the daughter of John of Elton throws back her head.

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The work has a has a slick, cyberpunk theme, with suggestions of the uncanny and post-human. Given this general sort of sci-fi feel, the literary influences cited by Batchelor in his program notes are pretty wild, and perhaps counterintuitive.

TE Hulme’s Cinders is mentioned. Astonishing! TE Hulme, proto-modernist poet and amateur philosopher, big and bluff and always chucking people down the stairs, a self-declared enemy of Romanticism, a prig and a reactionary, who volunteered as an artillery man and was blown-up in 1917 in West Flanders. Has anyone else thought of TE Hulme recently? Besides John Gray? Hulme had no truck with progressive politics of any kind, and especially not with any belief in the perfectabiltiy of society — of islands and utopias. But Cinders is a kind grimoire for modernists: whatever spell you need, you will find it in Cinders.

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He also cites Aldous Huxley. TE Hulme is interesting enough, but to pair Hulme with Huxley is something else. Among the modernists, Huxley is  Hulme’s antithesis. Huxley is a political progressive, a gentle, would-be-mystic, a pseudo-scientist and a pacifist: four reasons for Hulme to despise him. Batchelor cites both Huxley’s Island and The Doors of Perception as inspirations for his own Island.

We can  guess what Batchelor finds in The Doors of Perception, Huxley’s account of his “experiments” with mescaline. It is the search for some hidden hatch in the back of the skull, an escape from the suffocating embrace of selfhood: a utopia for the mind. But what does dance have to do with it? Can the dancer lift her audience from the ruts of ordinary perception? Can dance transcend spatial relations, or only reveal them? What is Batchelor really up to with his Huxley? What good is choreography which only imitates the feeling of a sacramental experience of reality? Continue reading “James Batchelor: Island”