Paula Lay: “10,000 small deaths” / Sue Healey: “On View: Quintet” / Vicki Van Hout: “Long Grass” / Shelley Lasica: “Solos for Other People”
Various venues, Melbourne, Victoria, March, 2015
Thirteen performances in thirteen days: my exhaustive, intense, yet not-nearly-enough, Dance Massive 2015 experience. Dance Massive remains a celebration and exploration of the body in movement and in stillness; the body shown on a screen, through a screen, and in response to a screen; the body pushed, and the body pulled; the body grounded, and the body weightless; the body as a tool for communication, as a vessel, and equally as a red herring; the body vs. the machine, and as a machine; the body’s very matter decomposing right before my eyes in glorious time lapse. This is all fodder to make weary (and perhaps, wary) the traveller. And this is, above all else, fodder to exhilarate said lucky traveller.
Dance Massive maps the type wilderness that makes me (think I can) pen my own manifesto.
Yes to the ongoing play with testing the weight of a human body Yes to shouldering the weight of another human body Yes to embracing physical actions like falling in a heap Yes to putting down roots… in the right place and possibly the wrong place To measuring time and space To making me question… and leaving me the headspace to think Yes, to writing things down and then rubbing them out Yes to testing my (as yet unformed) definition of dance—How about, orchestrated movement? Yes to the balance between transitional states Yes to taking me through new territory For shaking the rule book and seeing how it lands Borrowing heavily from Mette Ingvartsen’s 2005 Yes Manifesto, “Yes to redefining virtuosity Yes to conceptualizing experience, affects, sensation …Yes to investment of performer and spectator Yes to expression …Yes to “invention” (however impossible)”1
But before Dance Massive 2015 is mentally shelved, there is still time to look at a handful of performances not yet covered. Dance Massive may be inescapably about dances’ corporeality, but linking these four works recently seen, for me, is dance’s ability to look at what makes us tick. Paula Lay’s “10,000 small deaths,” in particular, conveyed the beauty of the human condition through its strength and fragility.
Perfectly suited to the dark embrace of Dancehouse’s Sylvia Staehli Theatre, my eyes sought to bring the form into focus, as I was drawn into the very fabric of the work. Its texture: velvet. And earth, sparked by fireflies.
“10,000 small deaths” explored “the poetics and immediacy of the body, …. a contemplation of the inextricable link between life and death and the continuous change and impermanence that mark our existence. The transience of our corporeality and the beauty and sadness of existence are meditated upon; personal and universal images merge; and there is an interplay between the real, the imagined and a seeking of what has not yet come into being.”2
Every fluid arm extension to sickled foot in“10,000 small deaths” appeared as a considered meditation, finely honed, and thus beautifully brief. The sparing use of projections enhanced the work without overshadowing it. As Lay, supine on the floor, was shown as a larger projection on the far wall flitted between real-time and sensory blur, the two, body and its accompanying image transfer, worked together to flesh out a whole.
Yes to limitations that bring about creative and direct means of communication Yes to the evanescence of live performance Yes to playing with recording the ephemeral, not for posterity, but as performance vehicle Yes to voicing an internal dialogue To Ros Warby nestled alongside Jim Jarmusch To drawing sounds with the body To inward and outward gaze Yes to choreography inspired by a text in turn inspired by a dream To inspiration found marvelling at “thousands upon thousands of fireflies all burning brightly above [a] huge lake… gradually fall[ing]… that beautiful light fading with them.”3 Yes to nature and recognising our small place in it Yes to returning to the earth
Sue Healey’s “On View: Quintet” portrait gallery in the upstairs studio of Dancehouse opened with five performers viewed in triplicate, and as with Lay’s piece, the geography it traversed was transcendence. Projected onto five individual screens, the cinematic selves of Martin del Amo, Shona Erskine, Benjamin Hancock, Raghav Handa and Nalina Wait vied for my attention and I readily gave it to them. The effect of these film portraits splintered was mesmerising and, for me, could have been the work in its entirety.
In fantastical costumes as extension of the self, I could not help but marvel at Hancock in a long black dress that beneath the full skirt grew a plastic fantastic forest of lurid flowers and revealed a pair of red sequined hotpants (The effect momentarily reminiscent of Mammy’s red petticoat rustling beneath her servant garb in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind.). When Hancock emerged from behind the screen, all grasshopper elegance and artful contortions, his quiet introspective focus was engaging. So too, by contrast, Wait’s outward focus and engagement with the audience before returning behind one of the five screens placed in an arc. Wait’s expressive and responsive face, especially in a close-up filmed sequence projected on the central screen showed her running through a series of contrasting emotions at a gallop. No sooner had shock registered upon her face before it slid magically into hilarity.
Though no reflection of the dancer’s skill, the lush film portraits proved too captivating for me. Handa in pas de deux with a mare on screen—can one top such a visual? Excess aside, at its heart, as Sue Healey describes, an interest in “what it is the body can say, feel and do… The basis of my quest is being true to the essence if what it is to be human. We move, we feel, we think, and dance says something real about all of these.”4
Yes to a moving portrait gallery To costumed meditations with one’s spirit animal And to excess… (maybe)
Costumes of a different finish, but still with far amount of sequined sparkle and accompanying rustle, denoted the performers in Shelley Lasica’s “Solos for Other People” as (depending on your viewpoint and the frequency of your visits to community centres) perhaps not atypical of a basketball court. A playful homage to Merce Cunningham, with something of a soft-tread and tender caress of the cheek, the work was also created as part of a continued dialogue with the performers, all of whom Lasica has worked with over a twenty-year period. One choreographer and ten dancers, ‘both Lasica and not,’ negotiated, claimed, and commanded the space. As one dancer appeared stationary, another could be seen oscillating like a fan, as a third vocalized thoughts on technique. Inhabiting the court in a tranquil state, even when running, one collective knot of individuals.
“The performance is about me/not about me, will show you/will not show you my choreographic signature, is me/is not me performing. “Solos for Other People” explores choreography and how it functions in this world of shifting contexts, authenticity and expertise.”5
Yes to doffing one’s cap to Mr. Cunningham Yes to challenging traditional modes of spectatorship Yes to drawing parallels between dance and sculpture, seeing a performance from all four sides
The geography of Wiradjuri woman Vicki Van Hout’s “Long Grass,” made in collaboration with Larrakia man Gary Long, was firmly fixed and unforgiving. An unsentimental work which “doesn’t aim to judge, but does aim to share a bit of the cultural magic which can be found in the unlikeliest of places,”6 it is about Darwin’s homeless Aboriginal communities who live in the long grass from which they take their name. Due to a dancer’s injury, I saw a variation of the original work at the Meat Market, Arts House. The dance of the “violent powerful ‘knock-‘em’ storms that flatten the grass and clear the line of sight” was the anticipated “amazing ball of energy”7 that I greedily wanted more of. Violence, hardship and loss when told through movement delivered an emotional kick, with humour and sense of community as balm.
Yes to the feet that pound and stomp Yes to throwing the body with force as if buffeted by the wet season rains Yes to appearing to float weightless in death, whilst being carried by the hands of another viewed fragmented through a screen fashioned from a broken bed
Beginning with the charms of the gloaming revealed to me in Anouk van Dijk’s “Depth of Field” and ending up a part of film noir’s fantastical disintegration in Lucy Guerin’s “Motion Picture,” along my journey’s way, I have participated in the modern ritual of yum cha (“Do You Speak Chinese?”), played air guitar in the privacy of my own bedroom (“Catalogue”) and learned to cast ill-formed assumptions aside (“Nothing to Lose”). A biannual festival, which kicked off in 2009, Dance Massive makes the days following its close feel somewhat lacking.
Five words in conclusion, punctuated by an exclamation: Yes to Dance Massive 2017!
Mette Ingvartsen, “Yes Manifesto” (2004), reprinted in The Swedish Dance History (Stockholm: University College of Dance, 2008), 48
Paula Lay, “10,000 small deaths” programme, Dancehouse, Victoria, March 20-22, 2015
Interview with Paula Lay, “Massive Chats,” Dance Massive website, February 19, 2015
Erin Brannigan, “Sue Healey: Dramatising space,” Bodies of Thought: Twelve Australian Choreographers, ed. Erin Brannigan and Virginia Baxter, (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2014) 169
Shelley Lasica, “Solos for Other People,” programme, Dancehouse, Victoria, March 13-22, 2015
Vicki Van Hout, “Director’s Notes,” “Long Grass” programme, Arts House, Meat Market, Victoria, March 20-22, 2015
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