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15 Minutes of FRAME

This time yesterday I was sat on the floor. This time yesterday, at 3pm, in the van Praagh studio, named after Peggy van Praagh, the Australian Ballet’s founding artistic director, at the Primrose Potter Australian Ballet Centre, I was unsure what I’d see, in the truest and best sense of being uncertain. Having taken the lift to level five, the path ahead was unfixed, something of which many tales of curiosity require. I was there to experience “An Afternoon of Work-in Progress Studio Showings” presented by the Australian Ballet as part of the inaugural 2023 FRAME festival program.

Performance

“An Afternoon of Work-in-Progress Studio Showings” with choreography by Prue Lang, Yuiko Masukawa, Sandra Parker, and Lilian Steiner. Presented by the Australian Ballet as part of FRAME festival

Place

The Primrose Potter Australian Ballet Centre, Melbourne, Australian, March 19, 2023

Words

Gracia Haby

The Australian Ballet. Photograph by Pierre Toussaint

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On a Sunday, in a space I do not normally inhabit, nor see, in the orbit of a small group of people waiting to encounter similar, would I see ideas spark, hide from my viewpoint, only to be coaxed forward once more? What shape would a collage of inquiries make? What would I feel? What can be revealed in 10- or 15-minute time frames? All those unknowns. The excitement, and shared nerves felt through proximity. In the second of two sessions, this was a rare thing, this moment, this time yesterday, to see, feel, be present to works-in-progress.

“Yūgen” by Yuiko Masukawa. Photograph by Sasha Kane

The illustrious location played its part. This was some debut! Hallowed surrounds and all. And so, in the van Praagh studio, I sat and watched choreographer Yuiko Masukawa’s “Yūgen.” Masukawa, a former principal with Melbourne City Ballet, introduced her piece which had been intended for two performers, Samuel Harnett-Welk and Jessica Thompson, but owing to Harnett-Welk sustaining an injury, was presented as a piece for one. On the floor near to where I sat, Harnett-Welk’s costume was laid out neatly in its various components.* Present, still. In this work, Masukawa is interested in exploring the concept of yūgen in traditional Japanese aesthetics influenced by Buddhism, and so an “empty” space is never really empty, but a space of potentiality and depth. A space in which “to contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds;” a walk in a forest with no thought of return, as described in the 14th century by Motokiyo Zeami.

“Siren Dance” by Lilian Steiner. Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

Floor cushions in hand, from there we headed to the neighbouring studio, the Helpmann studio, for choreographer and dancer Lilian Steiner’s “Dance Becomes Her: a performance-lecture.” Steiner imparted that “the dancing body is not one that grows solo. It feeds off those around it, consciously and subconsciously” because “dance wears us, like a costume”[note]Lilian Steiner, Writing & Concepts presents Lilian Steiner, Gertrude Contemporary lecture, June 25, 2022, https://gertrude.org.au/public-program/writing-and-concepts-lilian-steiner, accessed March 19, 2023.[/note], much as Thompson had conveyed when she danced solo, yet with another. With a microphone in hand, Steiner conducted her lecture, through a “predetermined” thread of words that connected “largely improvised” dance, and in doing so she tapped into the lineage of dance in which the self disappears “in the archive of memory”[note]“Dance Becomes Her,” Lilian Steiner at Gertrude Contemporary, June 25, 2022, https://gertrude.org.au/public-program/writing-and-concepts-lilian-steiner, accessed March 20, 2023.[/note] that belongs to all dance. Just as humans are not separate from nature, however deeply many of us seem to have forgotten this, but a part of nature, the same is true of the connectivity of dance to its roots. As Steiner recounted the soft green incline of a patch of grass alongside where she studied dance and observing the movement the elements had upon this dancing plain, I was reminded of the separation we draw between the self-enclosed human realm and nature being very much ‘over there;’ between a single body dancing in a space and its relatedness to something greater: a conduit to “movement pathways.” Nothing is in isolation. “I was a seedling, amongst other seedlings,” continued Steiner. “When sprayed with a fine mist of water, my fellow seedlings and I started to grow. Our roots and branches started to sprout. Growing outwards and upwards until we became a dancing forest.”

As Dancehouse director Josh Wright described, FRAME is “a festival that is porous between the wider community, organisations and dance artists.” Collaboration on “an expanded field.”[note]Josh Wright, quoted by Leila Lois in ‘New dance festival in the FRAME’, Dance Australia, January 23, 2023, https://www.danceaustralia.com.au/news/new-dance-festival-in-the-frame, accessed March 19, 2023[/note] And it was the visual of a unified and very much alive dancing forest that I took with me into the next two pieces: choreographer Prue Lang’s investigation of a “’counterpoint’ both conceptually and compositionally”[note]Prue Lang, “Duet (working title)” Choreographic Note, ‘An Afternoon of Work-in-Progress Studio Showings’, The Australian Ballet, https://australianballet.com.au/performances/an-afternoon-of-showings, accessed March 19, 2023[/note] in “Duet (working title)” in the Williams studio, with performers Jana Castillo and Benjamin Hancock; and in the Albert Studio, choreographer Sandra Parker’s “Safehold,” developed through the inaugural the Australian Ballet Residency, with dancers Emma Riches, Anika de Ruyter, and Oliver Savariego. Though once again short, in timespan, they held a deal greater than time permitted because they dug into how we perceive things, as image after image was laid. Of how when we look deeply, and not just glance, we see something powerful within: a memory in the fabric we are made from, that runs bone deep and is timeless.

“Safehold” by Sandra Parker. Photograph courtesy of the Australian Ballet

This year, next, ten years from now, who knows how things will sprout. If I ever chance upon these works again, they’ll have different leaves, new shoots, extended roots. They’ll have become something else through directional growth towards the sun. This time yesterday, I saw four showings all currently on their way to growing into something else, from the lines of inquiry traced upon the floor by the energy of Castillo to the hypnotism of Hancock, from the linked arms to the separations within “Safehold,” and this is what makes these rare showings so special to me. In an environment of rawness, honesty and openness, a conversation took place. A work in literal progress. A state unfixed, still forming. Glorious. This time yesterday, I can recall certain parts more than others, such is memory. They’ve joined with moments that followed ‘my’ afterwards, but they have not dimmed. They’ve grown, as dance works do, taken on a new life. I said conversation, but perhaps I really mean seed dispersal. Yes, that’s what such showings are: seed dispersal. Dance germinates from such moments. Radiating outward, far and wide, and ensures that a conversation is greater and wider in reach than initially first presented. Each and every one of us present have through action (the choreographers and dancers) or attention (the choreographers, dancers, and those sat dotted around the studio walls) have taken the experience and sown it for future harvest.

The beauty of germination is that you never know where the seeds will land. Carried by fire, wind, water, and animals, where plants or ideas take root, in Wright’s aforementioned “expanded field,” could be anywhere, and this can only be a terrific outcome for everyone. It sustains us all.

* I think.

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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