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Windows on Dance

In a window longer than it is tall, within a white frame, there is a room. A room as a blank canvas. A room as a piece of paper awaiting the first gesture of a drawing. The optical illusion of this window through to a room held within a white frame makes the information it holds appear three-dimensional: my eye registers a room and the white frame becomes a flat two-dimensional screen, on my computer screen, by comparison.

Jill Ogai in Forma for the Australian Ballet's Bodytorque.digital. Photographs courtesy of the Australian Ballet

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My eye registers #FFFFFF, the hex for white, or 0, 0, 0, 0, for CMYK: the frame around this reverse ‘Room with a View’ where I am looking in rather than Miss Honeychurch looking out. Though the depth of field is short, it is present. The proportions are set by video. The proportions are set by now. A series of pixels dance. Data moves. This piece is made for the screen. This piece is Jill Ogai’s Forma, the third work presented by the Australian Ballet’s Bodytorque.Digital 2020 season.

This piece was made to be viewed as a video looping on a screen—any screen, from desktop to handheld. At a neat 4-minutes and 22-seconds, Forma asks, “Can choreography exist in 2D shape as well as in the customary physical form?”[note]Jill Ogai, Choreographer’s Note, “Forma,” the Australian Ballet website, accessed October 17, 2020.[/note] and the answer is YES. Copy and paste the modifier sequence of clapping hands and own skin tone thrice. 👏🏻 👏🏻 👏🏻 *Emoji applause*

The choreography, explains Ogai, was made “physically on myself” but “also ‘choreographed’ for 2D shape on my computer. Both helped inform the movement and choreography for each other throughout the process.”[note]Jill Ogai, Choreographer’s Note, “Forma,” the Australian Ballet website.[/note] The work was made with the digital screen in mind. I am watching it on my MacBook. The tiny rectangular form is one that I now know daily from Teams and Zoom grids in my every room of the house, every day of stage IV restrictions. Little windows or portals into other worlds that while they are 3D on a 2D screen, I know them only though the single, front-facing camera lens. Screen-on is better than talking into the void. Screen-on means you can still read facial expressions. Screen-on is draining. Bursting spring-bright into this screen fatigue is Forma: a celebration of creativity or, as Ogai describes, “a love letter to creativity during the time of the Covid-19 lockdown, and the idea that inspiration can spring from one’s imagination just as much as it can come from the external world.”

Jill Ogai in Forma for the Australian Ballet's Bodytorque.digital. Photographs courtesy of the Australian Ballet

It is light, playful, and timely. An animated pale blue block, colour-picker #DE6EF4, with its 11% Cyan and 6% Magenta, reads like a flower hue. A native bluebell (Wahlenbergia stricta) as a play on a loading bar. Smaller blocks of pink like everlasting daisies (Xerochrysum), to attract the bees and butterflies, tile up and down in time and harmony with both Ogai and the music of Telemann and Bach. Colour blocks in partnership with Ogai’s visual painterly sweep down the page and up again, and a visual representation of sound travelling. At times, these animations, also created by Ogai, remind me of the effects of stage lighting, and later of seating plans in the theatre. Lightly worn notes of colour, sans unnecessary ornamentation, in describing the animation, I could also be describing the movement and the notes of Telemann and Bach as woven by Yi Wang on violin, and Melissa Chominsky on cello.

The window within Forma sometimes means that you cannot see all of Ogai’s form as she moves. It reminds me of the cropped view my mask and hat afford when I am out walking. With limited peripheral vision, recently, I almost stumbled through an iridescent flock of grass parrots as they were feeding on the oval. Their blue-green heads can make them hard to spot at the best of times. To me, grass parrots are as splendid as they are camouflaged, and this letterbox green window to their world, paused the busy flurry of the larger world around me. It, like Forma is a view, a frame, of how we see now. In a #behindthescenes post Ogai shared to her Instagram account, Forma is art made in isolation. It is working from home. It is working with limitations and finding they make something as beautiful as it is meaningful, as playful as it is needed, as direct as it is polished. Something that could not have been made at any other time.

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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