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.

2.

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.

3.

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”

Secretive Dance Team: Funny Forest

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TIMON: What wouldst thou do with the world, Apemantus, if it lay in thy power?
APEMANTUS: Give it the beasts, to be rid of the men.

-Timon of Athens

We let go of one another from time to time, simply letting ourselves quiver with cold: our bodies were quivering like two rows of teeth chattering together. The wind made a wild sound in the trees. I said to Dorothea in a stammer (I was stammering and talking wildly), “… My skeleton … You’re shivering. Your teeth are chattering … ” I stopped and lay on top of her, heavy and still, panting like a dog. Abruptly I clasped her naked buttocks.

-The Blue of Noon, Bataille

1.

On a misty, drizzly winter’s night, nipping cold, Melbourne’s Secretive Dance Team perform the second of their delitescent “works of wander”, this time a pastoral farce spoofing animalism, totemism, rituals of initiation and ludic Orphism.

2.

Why a secretive dance? Is a secretive dance the same as a secret dance? No, I think a secret dance would be a samizdat dance, a forbidden dance, performed underground, in private or in a private code; even then, say, in the living room or the bedroom, the performance would involve some great personal risk, both for the dancer and the audience. That risk is the meaning of  the secret dance. Secretive dance, on the other hand, is performed in an obscure zone neither public nor private. The secretive is playful, wilfully obscure: it places itself in both or neither. What is at stake for the secretive dancer, and for her audience, is never clear, and perhaps never can be clear. What is at stake is an enigma. The enigma – which might be an invitation or an initiation, or some other formal gesture – is the meaning of secretive dance.

back of a tree3.

Where does the work wander? Forth, in forest glades, among the solemn elms. It is indeed a funny kind of forest. What sort of place is this for sacred play? What sort of Arcadia? What sort of Arden? What happens in the Carlton Gardens after the sun goes down? Is there a more storied or more sordid lurking-beat in Melbourne? The gardens were planted out in 1856, and as early as 1860 local residents were complaining to police about La Trobe Street hookers touting along the terrace. In 1870 we read in The Argus of Mary Brien, fined £10 for indecent behaviour in the gardens. She got off lightly: on the same day the same justice sent “a very loud-voiced virago” named Nora Horne to gaol for 12 months for being a “disorderly” prostitute. Even now, on the very night of the performance, one of the dancers is propositioned by a shady male skulking by the playground. But what else should we expect? Such inner-city parklands always show the underside of nature, its rough backend. Continue reading “Secretive Dance Team: Funny Forest”