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Dance, for the time being

Organs, teeth, flesh, bone. Part indestructible, part fallible. That the body is a marvellous tool none would deny. All this and more one knows and during a thirteen-day festival expects to see in someway put to the test. The body and its limits. The body and its brilliant workings. It can bend. It can turn into liquid silk. It can roll and it can convulse. It can operate as if possessed. Faces can be blank. They can be expressive. Fun can be poked, and the mirror proves always a fascination. Literally, in the sense of Anouk van Dijk’s new work for Chunky Move, “247 Days” (premiered as part of Dance Massive 2013 at the Malthouse), in which dancers engage with their reflections. And less literally, in the sense of the dancers in many of the performances I have seen as part of the festival, reflecting something of ourselves, our thoughts, hopes, worries, and dreams. They serve as a canvas for us to explore our own ideas about why it is we are here and what it is we do with this time allotted us. Stephanie Lake’s work “DUAL” reflects and reveals with its ‘choreographic puzzle that fuses jagged yet slippery pieces’ (Stephanie Lake, artistic notes), and “dance for the time being—Southern Exposure” directed by Russell Dumas ‘explores audience empathy through the relationship between quotidian and the performative’ (Russell Dumas, artistic notes).

Chunky Move performing Anouk van Dijk's “247 Days.”

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The body marvellous and relationships in the broadest sense are what links, for me, the three varied performances seen at Arts House, Meat Market, in North Melbourne; Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse; and upstairs at Dancehouse late in the afternoon. Relationships are tricky things to negotiate, “DUAL,” “247 Days,” and “dance for the time being—Southern Exposure” show us. Relationships with each other. Relationships with our own bodies. The body in relation to the world. From the languid, meditative “dance for the time being” to the one-plus-one-does-not-always-equal-two equation of “DUAL,” to the more angst driven “247 Days'” ‘kaleidoscope of impressions echoing in the room’ (Anouk van Dijk, artistic notes), there is more than one way to explore, confront, and address this.

In “dance for the time being,” the set design is the time of day. 5pm upstairs at Dancehouse yields a beautiful early autumn light. Four long windows temporarily lay four increasingly longer light patches on the floor. These slow shifting rectangles are in turn reflected on the wall opposite the windows. On any given day, sunlight’s participation permitting, this performance occurs. Such beautiful simplicity. Throughout the 60-minute performance, the light moves in echo of the dancers and vice versa, it seems. I cannot help but wonder if those who saw the performances at 7pm and 7.30pm (on other nights throughout the Dance Massive 2013 festival) knew what they were missing.

At Chunky Move, something else entirely less natural even though the reflection is true. Sixteen tall panels are employed to create one giant mirrored back wall. Upon arrival, it reflects the audience. Reflecting the slow fill of the theatre, the palpable anticipation, the wait. The sensation of seeing yourself on stage, albeit unrecognizable and part of a sea of faces framed by a red backdrop created by the momentarily empty seating, is curious, but this soon is obscured. The mirrors come to reflect the dancers, but as the mirrored wall is made up of a series of joined panels, the lines created at each join fragment the vision. An ordered grid of intersecting lines that run vertically and horizontally, the multifaceted staging distorts the figures as they run, leap, caress, break down, and writhe. Six dancers multiplied, you would expect to see the cast reflected reach dizzying figures, but the mirror is chiefly used as distortion throughout. The mirrors are used to particularly beautiful effect in the beginning with dancer Lauren Langlois rotating before each panel and engaging in repeated part playful, part exploratory face-pulling. And later when the mirrors are literally pulled apart and divided into four separate columns too. Sixteen panels divisible by four, each foursome bent into a right angle. A mirrored right angle is a brilliant plaything. If you stand before a mirrored right angle, you will see yourself reflected four times. So far, so simple. And yet, from the audience, this appears more than smoke and mirrors. Suddenly five dancers appear where previous there was one. Moreover, which one is the “real” dancer and which four are the reflections alone? Suddenly, all is not so simple. Here, the private face and the public face meet. Dancers are shown caught in unguarded moments. And in moments of study. The dangerous play this affords creates so beautiful and confusing a visual image. The darkness of the set enhancing all trickery a simple mirror can work.

In “DUAL,” there is no literal mirror but a conversation between two bodies that serves as one. A solo is performed by Alisdair Macindoe in part one. A second solo by Sara Black, forming part two, follows this. Two separate solos, two separate worlds, two contrasting tales. However, this again is not what seems. One plus one does not always add up to equal two, you will recall. In part three, we are presented with their duet and it is now that the story makes sense, interlocks, intercrosses. Where once it appeared that Macindoe was playing with pressing imaginary buttons on the floor, scrambling their code or perhaps toying with pieces of debris, come part three, we see he is actually lifting the arms of fellow dancer Black. She is lying supine on the floor, he is squatting over her. He toys with her limbs the way couples, people, families, animals all do. The beautiful push and pull of relationships and the familiarity of intimacy. It is part playful and part controlling. In the third part, where the two dancers come together the story is no longer fragmented and we see the “whole.” We see how their stories combine. The strong connection between the dancers perfectly conveys their shifting emotional states as we see their relationship fuse. Their dance is the mirror, the reflection. Its soundtrack (composer, Robin Fox) naturally follows this considered pattern. Two distinct musical scores that then meld together to present a new and thus supposed complete meaning.

In the Russell Dumas piece, the soundtrack is created by the sounds of the dancers breathing. Sitting close to the stage, you can hear them inhale and exhale throughout the performance. This minimalism is paired with the squeaks bare feet make upon polished floorboards, a sound similar to (but altogether friendlier in pitch) basketball sneakers on court. As with the third part of “DUAL,” where figures interlock and wrap around one another, here, once more, limbs are used to intertwine, to restrain, playfully or otherwise. Forearms can be used to mask the face. Arms can loop around the middle of another dancer’s body ensuring that one is fastened in place, held back, restricted. As one tries to break into a canter, the other holds them back, a tender awkwardness created. Just as two people at opposing ends of the stage can engage in a humorous game that makes tennis spectators of its audience. As the dancers pass an imaginary ball of sound between each other, the audience seated along two sides of the stage that is central, move in unison our heads from left to right and back again. We follow the ball Macindoe tosses to Black that she in turn lobs back to him. Such playful moments in both performances beautifully executed. With seven dancers performing in “dance for the time being,” for the paired sequences, one dancer exits the stage, proving Chunky Move’s anxiety correct: there isn’t always someone for everyone. Someone misses out. Someone loses himself or herself in another. Someone steals another away. And relationships, in all their complexities, are shown as an endless loop. This is the ongoing pattern of things, over and over and over. The incorporation of spoken word in the performance leaves little room for ambiguity. Things repeat. This is the way of the world, and nothing changes.

Like the ceiling fans above, the dancers in “dance for the time being,” are not in time with one another. They operate on different settings, speeds, and yet they are all doing the one thing and they are all on time. This ties in beautifully with “DUAL,” for me, with how things look the same, or mirror, but are distinct. The common thread I have drawn between these works may turn out to be invisible; such is the intensity of the festival experience. Night after night, a different performance is seen. Links form naturally and one work feeds into the next. This is harmony and there is much play, the end of all things signaled by a dancer’s sneeze.

Gracia Haby

Using an armoury of play and poetry as a lure, Gracia Haby is an artist besotted with paper. Her limited edition artists’ books, and other works hard to pin down, are often made collaboratively with fellow artist, Louise Jennison. Their work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia and state libraries throughout Australia to the Tate (UK). Gracia Haby is known to collage with words as well as paper.



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