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.

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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”

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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”

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”