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Ritual & Dance

On a warm March evening, myself and a handful of other curious souls climbed the narrow steps of the aptly named Tower Theatre. The space is dark, and we are quiet as we enter, cloaked by the hush darkened spaces require. The theatre seats 100, but it feels smaller. It feels close and intimate. We negotiate the darkness and find a seat, production notes in hand. There is the feeling of having entered someplace else. We’ve left the theatre, as it were, and we are seeing what normally we would not be able to see: “[Gu:t] 굿 ”, conceived and performed by Soo Yeun You and Albert David, is a work in progress, and an intriguing part of Dance Massive 2013. Long forgotten is the hubbub of diners in the foyer below.

Performance

Soo Yeun You: “[Gu:t] 굿”

Place

Tower Theatre, Melbourne, Victoria, March 21, 2013

Words

Gracia Haby

“GUT” by Soo Yeun You. Image by Josh Wright

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At this remove, we are viewing a Korean shamanistic ritual. In the small central alcove, two figures can be seen. One lying supine; the other performing the ceremony. Through them a meeting place is brought forth. No longer a theatre, this is ‘a meeting place to redefine landscape in a frame: life-death, yin-yang, two cultures.’ (Soo Yeun You, artistic notes.) We, though formally the audience, are part of the ceremony, the landscape. We are witnessing the final days of Soo Yeun You’s grandmother. She is being tended by the Soo Yeun You’s grandfather. We are drawn into the recollections so personal yet it does not feel intrusive. This is owing to the two dancers, Soo Yeun You, who is trained in Korean traditional dance, and senior Torres Strait Island man and former member of Bangarra Dance Theatre, Albert David. It is also owing to the darkened space created by Priya Namana’s set design with its mirror suspended above reflecting the bodies of the dancers with the transient clarity a pool of water creating ‘the perception of a spiritual space in the dance ritual’ (Soo Yeun You in interview, Massive Chats, February 25, 2013). And it is in the subtle lighting design of Alexandre Malta, which casts the appearance of plant fronds across the bodies of the performers, and creates a red ball of sun too. It is in the sound of two cultures fused, overlapped, balanced in one performance as told through the composition by Gus Macmillan. If there is one thing a festival of dance has taught me, it is the strong reminder of its transformative powers.

“[Gu:t] 굿” concerns the essence of Yin and Yang, and looking at two cultural perspectives from our Korean and Torres Strait Island traditions to draw a landscape in dance space. -Soo Yeun You

“[Gu:t] 굿” evokes and remembers two grandmothers: Soo Yeun You’s grandmother (from the opening ritual), and Albert David’s grandmother, who suffered a stroke. Albert David cared for her before she died, ‘together with his spiritual connection with his ancestors’ (Soo Yeun You, artistic notes), and it is this exploration of the spiritual experience which we are now seeing as both memory, ceremony, and dance. This is the starting point and it is brilliant and rich, and inclusive as it is personal.

For me, the memory that remains is one of both performers’ personal connection to the piece. Such intensity partnered with fluidity. Yin and Yang, remember. Fire and Water. Life and Death. It is in the image of Albert David, as he covers himself in the ceremonial white paint that later Soo Yeun You uses to write upon the floor. It is in the long white scarf that links this world with the spirit world. It is in every considered movement and extension of arm.

In the twenty-minute discussion with the audience that followed the dance, the two artists explained their working process, elaborating upon their personal experiences that directly feed into the work, and sharing their cultural beliefs. The issue of whether so intimate a piece could be performed in a venue larger than the Malthouse’s Tower Theatre is raised, but in answer to this one needs only to look at the intimacy that these two can create in the video of the first stage of the development (filmed by Lindesay Dresden and edited by Cobie Orger). It is filmed in the large and light space upstairs at Dancehouse. This space is the opposite of the dark enclaves of the Tower Theatre and yet the audience (of the film) feels no further away. The intimacy is conveyed by the focus and intensity, the strength of the dancers. It is conveyed by the subject, and enhanced by an audience transfixed. Yes, it could easily work in a larger space, as Soo Yeun You’s earlier work in “Reliquary” with Gina Rings,which looked at the links between Korean and Australian Indigenous spirituality, also shows. A space responds to performance. A performance transforms a space. It makes an intimate ritual one night, and something else the next. And I can only look forward to seeing the evolution of this piece and others similar, to seeing the connections between cultures drawn through dance.

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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