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View from the Still Point

You can fit a lot into three hours. You can span, if you have the reach and vision of choreographer Lucy Guerin, 21-years in a performance installation at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA). A Lucy Guerin Inc production, presented in partnership with ACCA, as part of Frame: a biennial of dance, “Newretro” is 21 works, for 21 dancers, 21 years in the making. It is a recreation, rather than a retrospective, remixed from what was into what is, because this is as much about what the next 21 years might hold as it is about the wealth and expression of the previous 21 years. Propelled ever forward, Guerin offers forth an exhilarating reconstruction meets endurance, for how else can you fit all the hours within 21 years into a gallery space on a Saturday afternoon.

Performance

A Lucy Guerin Inc production, presented in partnership with the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA): “Newretro”

Place

ACCA, Melbourne, Australia, March 25, 2023

Words

Gracia Haby

Lucy Guerin Inc in “Newretro,” part of Frame festival. Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

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The collage of “Newretro” is not in the familiar black box setting of theatre, nor is it a survey exhibition in the white cube framework of a gallery. Instead, it fuses the two, to present a theatre in which you, the audience, have no black space to seek refuge within, and a gallery in which you, in the role of the viewer, can navigate as you please, if you are mindful of the ever-changing, expansive perimeters of the moving installation. And move it did, as a verb, to go in a specified direction, and in the sense of the strong feelings it evoked in me.

Lucy Guerin Inc in “Newretro,” part of Frame festival. Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

At times, during the continuous three-hour performance of “Newretro,” Gallery One called to mind a studio setting, as the audience, though free to come and go as they pleased, sought vantage nooks for themselves and slid down the walls. I, too, settled in, like a ringtail possum who’d discovered a vacant nesting box. If I vacate this spot, will I find another just as good? For a three-hour performance, wall space is premium. I committed to a spot, going against the intended wish in the choreographic notes[note]Please note: audience members are free to roam and may come and go during the performance, “Newretro,” Lucy Guerin Inc, https://lucyguerininc.com/works/newretro, accessed March 25, 2023.[/note] for “NEWRETRO” to be something you stand, observe, and interpret, as per a gallery, and through the act of dipping in and out, make your own collage, “Make Your Own World Visible” (2019), from the offerings throughout the enormity of ACCA. I, like those to my left and right, made a theatre of a gallery. Or, rather, was it an investment, a commitment to the unfolding performance and the performers? Perhaps driven by a fear of missing a gesture or the imperceptible, though very much felt, building of momentum. The invitation of a cathartic moment proved too great an allurement. Does experiencing dance, in my instance, require me to be still? Is that an important part of how I read dance? Is it akin to hearing the flit of wrens and pardalotes in the mid canopy only when you pause mid-walk? Is it a key part of attentiveness? When you are less noisy so as to hear the world around you. When you let go of your own sense of self, do you encounter the work fully, and unencumbered?

From where I sat, I enjoyed watching the rotation of ACCA staff members and volunteers repeatedly asking people to keep the doorways clear as they directed them towards a space on the side-lines; and the occasional wiping of sweat from the gallery floor, lest anyone slip. This health and safety housekeeping somehow added to the juggernaut occurring in the performance zone. Perhaps this is something that comes with moving from a traditional theatre setting. As with Guerin’s “Pendulum” (2021), seen in conversation with an impending thunderstorm, Silver gulls, and in an industrial setting, without theatre walls, the whole world, with all its players, becomes a stage. With lighting design by Paul Lim, and composition and sound design by Jethro Woodward, all manner of landscapes were illuminated and vividly drawn for Deanne Butterworth, Geoffrey Watson, Lee Serle, and Rebecca Jensen to scan and transmit. An electrical storm, a subterranean pulse, a murmurous seabed one moment and surface breached, breaking waves the next. Did I also hear birdsong in this mashup?

Lucy Guerin Inc in “Newretro,” part of Frame festival. Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

Alice Dixon, Amber McCartney, Caitlin Mewett, Claire Leske, Cora Hughes, and Georgia Rudd. Lilian Steiner, Melanie Lane, Ngioka Bunda-Heath, Raina Peterson, Stephanie Halyburton, and Tra Mi Dinh.[note]The seven performances of “Newretro” (2023) feature 21 dancers, including guest artists (for select performances), Stephanie Lake and Alisdair Macindoe.[/note] New faces and those more familiar, exquisitely collide, as the movement swells from calm to frenetic, in rolling sequences for one or two, three or all. “Newretro” has room for everyone as it hybridises “Split” (2017) with “Melt” (2002), and, of course, the unmistakable, long-skirted, black-bustled silhouettes from the pages of “The Dark Chorus” (2016) history books. In a square delineated by tape on the floor, Benjamin Hancock, Harrison Ritchie-Jones, Michelle Heaven, and Samantha Hines engage in a playful dance-off of free-flowing interpretation that covers how do you roll, leap, enter a room, and remove your costume.

In Gallery Two, 21-screens make an archival library of earlier works, in “Video Retrospective”; in Gallery Three, a dancer learns “the repertoire in dialogue with a large projection”, in “Choreography Transference”; and in Gallery Four, “five sets of female dancers perform duets from past LGI works,”[note]Anador Walsh, “Newretro: Out of the black box and into the ‘gray’ zone’, “Newretro” foldout program, 2023.[/note] in “The Duet Room,”[note]In “The Duet Room” you can see excerpts from “Melt, Part One,” “How To Be Us,” “Incarnadine,” “Robbery Waitress on Bail,” and “Split,” “Newretro” A5 map, 2023.[/note] all of which I’ll kindly have to take Anador Walsh’s word for, as I remained transfixed in Gallery One. I could see a little of Gallery Two through the open doorway opposite to where I sat, and the glow from the space served as a frame to the dancers as they mapped new pathways. As various dancers peeled off to inhabit “The Duet Room” or otherwise, together with the applause I could hear from the gallery spaces further from me, this heightened the curious sense of missing out, but still I remained committed to the earth I’d rooted myself to. Full immersion or perhaps fuelled by what Guerin describes as being “a bit uncomfortable. As spectators we are on display, we are part of the performance and there is no hiding in the dark. Sometimes the dancers look at us and we are not sure whether to meet their gaze or look away. What response do they want?”[note]Lucy Guerin, “A Note from the Choreographer: No Magic,” “Newretro” foldout program, 2023.[/note] What response, indeed: I love this conversation. This still and seated consideration with this moving body of action. This contrast of states, like the contrast of different dancers at different stages of their careers, different works from different time periods. Perhaps next time, I’ll take Guerin’s sound advice and “exercise other ways of watching,” and smudge further the divide between audience member and dancer in the celebratory act of a transference of ideas, states, and ways of being. A glorious reconfiguration awaits.

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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