The noise of the day drops away as I make my way to the upstairs studio of Dancehouse. I am one part of an increasingly hushed procession assembled on opening night to experience Sarah-Jane Norman’s The River’s Children (2013), and Take This, For It Is My Body (2010) paired with Heirloom (2013), and Nacera Belaza’s The Shout (2008), presented as part of Melbourne Festival.
Reaching the small landing, I peel away from the line. I remove from my bag a small pair of folded sports socks and hand them to the usher. With an air of quiet solemnity, she pins my socks together with a clear tag. My socks are marked laundry item number two, and I log the particulars of my white laundry on a form pegged to a clipboard. In this context, my washing looks limp and exposed. Beside me, a man hands over an equally unassuming, soft t-shirt. These items, my socks, and his t-shirt, are two of a handful that will be washed in water drawn from the Murray River on Wiradjuri country at Albury with permission of the Albury Aboriginal Lands Council. The usher gently informs me to hand my washing to Norman when I feel comfortable.
And so I enter the darkened landscape of The River’s Children with a pair of socks in my hands; a pair of socks that I can, if I choose, hand over for someone else to wash. In the short distance from the landing to the studio, my limp and humble socks have transformed in status; I am master and Norman my servant, and this is as uncomfortable, possessive and confronting as it sounds.
Down, instead of up. That is how things fall when they are dropped. But in the worlds of circus and dance, the body doesn’t have to give the appearance of being a servant to gravity. In the worlds of circus and dance, the body can defy gravity. And gravity is what pulls three pieces by three different choreographers together in Les 7 Doigts’ Triptyque, presented as part of Melbourne Festival at the Playhouse late on a Sunday afternoon. A swirling galaxy is made, beginning with Marie Chouinard’s Anne & Samuel, and Victor Quijada’s Variations 9.81, before pulling up the bed covers with Marcos Morau’s Nocturnes. Gravity is a beautiful force to test.
To see performers on the stage or beneath the big top, testing the laws of gravity through orchestrated movement is also one of the reasons I head to the theatre or circus. From where I sit, motionless, I can, through the art of transference, feel what it is like to soar. This is freedom: freedom from my own heavy and uncoordinated limbs; freedom from any kind of physical injury or mental anguish; freedom from routine. This is escapism. And in the hybrid landscape of dance paired with circus, or rather, in the case of Les 7 Doigts, circus with dance, I am afforded the jolt of liberation I crave.
A composite state of circus meets dance affords freedom not only from gravity, but from rules, and expectations. And so a perturbed postman glides through the scene on a unicycle, before colliding into mime, and the tails of the Spanish web recall those of giant unseen animals as they thwack the stage. With Frida Kahlo and Restless Dance Theatre’s Michelle Ryan in mind, I had come for Anne & Samuel — to see how a body can move when a pair of crutches is required for mobility, be it due to injury, disability, or age; to see movement through perceived limitation; to see reinvention and resilience — but it is beneath the covers of Nocturnes that my heart curls.
We are delighted that our artists' book, Closer to Natural, currently being exhibited as part of the 2016 Libris Awards, has been acquired by Artspace Mackay. The exhibition runs until the 16th of October, 2016.
Civic Centre Precinct, Gordon Street, Mackay, Queensland
Recently landed: "My heart overflows with a longing to tell you so many things," a new article on Marginalia (by Gracia) takes you to Speak Less Than You Know by the Tinalley String Quartet with special guest John Bell at the Melbourne Recital Centre
On a Tuesday night, I fancied myself carved from the pages of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. I cast myself as Gwenda Reed from Sleeping Murder. The year was 1951, and I pinned a bakelite Bluebird of Happiness brooch to my coat lapel. I swapped The Duchess of Malfi for Coppélia because this was fantasy, and made for the Palais Theatre in St Kilda. And true to the liberties of daydream, 1951 rolled into both 1962, when the Australian Ballet first performed Coppélia during its inaugural season, and 1979, when founding artistic director Peggy van Praagh and former theatre director George Ogilvie revived the production.
On the stage in ’79, Ann Jenner had assumed the role of the wilful Swanhilda, Kelvin Coe, her foolish fiancé, and Ray Powell had donned the many-eyed cloak of Dr. Coppelius, Keeper of the Girl with the Enamel Eyes. But on this particular night, soloists Dimity Azoury and Jarryd Madden were to be my mischievous two, and Jacob Sofer, my misunderstood doctor of mechanical dolls. Entering the theatre, the company’s return to the Palais stage 22 years since their last appearance was infectiously nostalgic (hence the unexpected appearance of Agatha Christie). Currently wrapped in covers and scaffolding as it undergoes major restoration, the theatre conveyed a sense of also being bundled up in sentimental longing.
As recalled by current artistic director, David McAllister, “I feel like I’m surrounded by ghosts of dancers past…. It’s an extraordinary theatre and I started my career here as a dancer so it’s very exciting to be back…. It was Dame Peggy, it was George Ogilvie, it was Kristian Fredrikson. It has this feeling of great pride in our repertoire. So all the dancers coming to this production for the first time feel like they are stepping into the history of the Australian ballet.”
Recently landed: Tea and Toast, and an Electric Guitar, a new article on Marginalia (by Gracia) takes you to Caroline Meaden, Alice Dixon, and William McBride's Blowin' Up, and Deanne Butterworth's, with Evelyn Morris, Two Parts of Easy Action, presented by the Substation as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival
The warmth of the spring day did not hold in the Substation. Inside the capacious, high-ceilinged, former industrial space, it is never warm. It is resolutely sub-temperature. Seated for the first of three solos presented under the collective awning of Blowin’ Up, I sat, cleared my throat, and cleared my throat again. The cold of the building crept inside my chest with the intention to make me the spluttering, wheezing, noisy audience member. My defence of stoicism and Soothers was going to be tested.
So when Caroline Meaden stood upright from an investigative, languid Cat pose, advanced to the front of the stage, a hair’s breadth from the audience, and sniffed, an exaggerated under-the-weather, nose crinkle in want of a handkerchief, my body involuntarily mirrored the waiting room action, and I coughed. And I coughed again, and once more for good measure. In a game of call and response, I was not the “silent animal…. out there somewhere, watching on.” Into Meaden’s solo, ‘Sneaky Bastard,’ I crashed into the “thick silence and …. deep restraint.” But my performance etiquette mortification was soothed by the sense that Meaden, Alice Dixon, and William McBride feel like the type of performers that make me want to ask: could your trio become a quartet?
Following on from their work together in This is What’s Happening, at the preview performance of Blowin’ Up, presented by the Substation as part of this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival, Meaden, Dixon, and McBride tell their three tales through their familiar occasional whisper and brief twiddle of the thumbs. They tell their tales with a wink that seeks to make colluders of the audience. Earlier, before ‘Sneaky Bastard’ had unfurled their “attack as life strategy,” arm movements like that of an elephant’s trunk gingerly sensing it’s way, Meaden, Dixon, and McBride had made themselves store mannequins behind the glass doors in the hallway. Still, playfully posed, and wry, Meaden in forest green, Dixon in a shade of midnight blue, and McBride in scarlet, their attire reminded me of a late '50s, early '60s art student. A tap on the shoulder and an invitation to return to their digs for tea and toast around the radiator would not feel out of place. Challenge as a coping mechanism need not ascribe to a set range of movements that fit every body, as this moment and following solos convey.
Vaslav Nijinsky could hover in the air, such was his art; such was genius.
His name is synonymous with movement, yet no moving footage exists of him performing. The images of fashion photographer Adolph de Meyer are perhaps all the crueller and more static for this. We can only imagine how Nijinsky slithered, leaped, flitted, and prowled.
We have words and pictures. Luminous pictures by no less than Jean Cocteau, Léon Bakst, and Oskar Kokoschka; and the plaster and bronze works of Georg Kolbe and Auguste Rodin; all seeking to harness the ephemeral and in turn activate, in a different medium, a little of the energetic burst that was Nijinsky. Written accounts from history, Nijinsky’s own diary (published in 1936 and partly censored by his wife, Romola), and the treasured pieces of memorabilia in collections both public and private can help animate his form, but it will never quite be like sitting in the theatre, seeing him become the Golden Slave in Scheherazade. Such was and remains, the allure of Nijinsky.
Recently landed: Rolling Stones, Gracia's written response to Melanie Lane and Juliet Burnett's Re-make, and Jo Lloyd and Nicola Gunn's Mermermer, presented at Chunky Move Studios as part of Next Move 9, for Fjord Review
"The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” To me, this is what the creative process can feel like. Creativity is resilience and determination that comes to the fore when tested; when we “re-visit, re-spond and re-invent.”
And so Re-make, one of two commissioned works in Chunky Move’s ninth Next Move performance season, began with Juliet Burnett repeating the same steps over and over, returning to the same marker. “The stage sets collapse[d]…. and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday and Sunday [operated] according to the same rhythm,” but as they did, the steps slowly changed. This is growth and reinvention through repetition.
In Re-make, references to Greek Mythology and Camus’s philosophy of the absurd, to the eternal labours of Sisyphus and his boulder, abound. And Burnett is stronger than her rock and the likelihood of hearing her effort is zero. At best, you will see a circle of sweat at her armpits and in the small of her back grow in size. And in her descent, she will turn into a bird; a silver-winged Phoenix, with a guitar plectrum for a beak and red heeled talons. This work may be the result of a conversation with choreographer and performer, Melanie Lane, but I cannot help read it as a portrait of Burnett’s own artistic career as she finds her true creative voice. This is “a solo for two.”
As two windows come down (farewell, On the Verge Festival in Obus and Collected Works, you were great), a vitrine of collages and drawings for Betwixt fleshes out its form, as part of the forthcoming Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia.
(In addition to our part in Betwixt, we will also be conducting a kids' workshop inspired by The Seven Ravens.)
A twin entity! A double life, sprung “from matter and light, envinced in solid and shade,” our Salvaged Relatives, collaged and drawn, toss gauzy film over the certainty of your consciousness.
A shadow, rendered, of a life imagined; or is that the other way around? In a game of Chicken and Egg, call and response, surely, the drawings echo the collages on cartes de visite. And were they to be “separated from one another by the whole length of the building… [the] distance between [them would] seem monstrous… as is they had taken half [their] bodies away. [They would lose their] sense of balance… feel dizzy… fall.”
Creeping through these unknown time-eaten spaces, memories splinter; with nature as your theatrical backcloth, you’d do well to borrow a stained costume from the Ballet Russe, while things reconfigure.
My tail, Léon Bakst, what do I do with it in this lonely place “newly with grass o’ergrown”?
 Edgar Allan Poe, ‘Silence (a sonnet),’ version published in The Raven and Other Poems, 1845
 Ágota Kristóf, The Notebook Trilogy, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2016), p.23
 Edgar Allan Poe, ‘Silence (a sonnet)’
Along with fellow alumni, Vincent Fantauzzo, Nicola Gunn, Katie Collins, Kieren Seymour, and Xanthe Dobbie, we were invited to take part in 'Developing your career in art: Being enterprise ready,' presented by the School of Art in collaboration with Careers and Employability, at Storey Hall, RMIT.
To illustrate our words and thoughts, we created two screen recordings, 'Digital portfolio strategies and examples' and 'Developing a niche market as an artist outside the established systems,' in advance, especially for RMIT School of Art students.
And you, too, can now see them, should they be of interest.