Posts in Dance/Film/Exhibition
Stamping Ground

Recently landed: Stamping Ground, Gracia’s written response to Sylvia presented by The Australian Ballet, for Fjord Review

In Stamping Ground, choreographed by Jiří Kylián in 1983, before Bangarra Dance Theatre was sparking, Bangarra presents a work they were always meant to perform. The first work the company have presented by a non-Indigenous artist, as artistic director Stephen Page remarked, they waited for the “right time for Stamping Ground to come back to its cultural roots.” Seeing Lillian Banks, Baden Hitchcock, Rika Hamaguchi, Ella Havelka, Tyrel Dulvarie, and Ryan Pearson embody every part of this homage, its spirit, with their own spirit and ‘bring it home’ is an absolute joy.

Stamping Ground sprang from Kylián’s “experience in 1980, when he and his colleagues worked with communities and organizations to arrange a large corroboree on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria . . . . Over a thousand indigenous men, women and children from all over the country, including the Kimberley, Cape York and central desert lands travelled . . . . to attend the week-long event.” In the documentary that resulted, Road to the Stamping Ground, Kylián remarked, “dance is absolutely tied with nature here. It cannot be separated.” In the excerpt which screens before Stamping Ground, Kylián continues, for “the dancers here, it is part of their life. They cannot divide their normal life and dancing life; their normal life is dancing, and dancing is part of their normal life. I think there is not another culture which has this melting of private life and dance like they have it here.”

Stamping Ground draws inspiration from the expressive use of hands and moves derived from the movement of animals. From the “hundreds of different ways of walking,” depending on the animal, be it an emu or a kangaroo, or the significance of the dance. It draws on the “phenomenal way of jumping without preparation—they are already in the ground and a spring releases and they are in the air and you don’t know how it happened—” and on the use and importance of counter moves to give length to the movement, so that as one part of body reaches one way, another part reaches the other way and in doing so it “prolongs the drive of the movement.” From his own understanding, in his own vocabulary, working from “the point of view of inspiration not imitation or theft,” in Stamping Ground you see movement dropping “down like lightening”.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Courtney Radford, Tyrel Dulvarie, and Gusta Mara performing in to make fire (image credit: Daniel Boud)

“In the heavens for all eternity”

Recently landed: “In the heavens for all eternity”, a new article on Marginalia (by Gracia) takes you to Stanton Welch’s Sylvia

Artists of The Australian Ballet in Stanton Welch’s Sylvia, 2019 (image credit: Jeff Busby)

Melody and Mythology

Recently landed: Melody and Mythology, Gracia’s written response to Sylvia presented by The Australian Ballet, for Fjord Review

I have long wished to swim through the other-worlds created by Georges Méliès, and Stanton Welch’s Sylvia, a co-production between Houston Ballet and the Australian Ballet, gives me the opportunity to do just that; to submerge myself in a fantastical landscape that delights in the play of model making and storytelling; in how we tell a story and the story itself. Theatrical and larger than life.

To me, the beauty of Méliès’ 1903 film, The Kingdom of the Fairies (Le Royaume des Fées), is derived in equal measure from the magical figures that appear to swim and the visibility of the harness around their forms that lets the performers achieve this sensation. I love the aquatic underworld Méliès has created for the detectable mechanics of his illusions as much as the effect of the creative illusions themselves. It is the freedom to dream while still being tethered to the practicalities of a set. It is the tension between the trick and how it is done, and between character and performer, and by extension between fairy and human, god and mortal that draws parallels between Sylvia and The Kingdom of the Fairies.

Both permit me one stage-front perspective. The painted grotto in The Kingdom is outward facing. (The camera doesn’t weave through the landscape as lighter and smaller technology permits now, rather it is before a stage in which elements roll in from the left and right, and curtains of landscape lift and lower to create movement and depth of field.) My mind knows that the grotto is a façade that if viewed from behind it would reveal the raw timber support. The very essence of this magic trick from over a century ago is in Sylvia. Indeed, both feature a painted grotto, and projections not so very different in reach. Where Méliès gives us a layered collage of fish swimming over the scene in order to suggest water, Wendall K. Harrington gives us projections onto the interchangeable surfaces of Jérôme Kaplan’s set design.

Robyn Hendricks and Adam Bull in Sylvia by Stanton Welch (image credit: Jeff Busby)

MIFF 2019, from present to past tense

Recently landed: MIFF 2019, from present to past tense, a new article on Marginalia (by Gracia) unspools forty-four films seen over seventeen days

Nissrine Erradi and Lubna Azabal, in a scene from Maryam Touzani’s Adam (2019)

Near to the lake’s edge

Recently landed: Near to the lake’s edge, a new article on Marginalia (by Gracia) takes you to Jean-Christophe Maillot’s LAC

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in LAC by Jean-Christophe Maillot (image credit: Alice Blangero)

Light and Shade

Recently landed: Light and Shade, Gracia’s written response to LAC presented by The Australian Ballet, for Fjord Review

A bevy of black swans circled our car parked near to the lake’s edge. It was my first encounter with a black swan, nose to beak, separated only by a wind-up wind-down window pane. I would have been no taller than one of the swans, had I’ve been out of the car. I remember feeling awestruck by their scale, their very presence. And yet as I was four-years-of-age, or thereabouts, is this a later addition stitched to a memory derived from family folklore? My Mum recalled one of the swans hopped up on the car’s bonnet, but wonders now if such a spectacle is likely. A small car buried beneath a mountain of feathered bodies, it is almost a cartoon image — better yet, a cinematic one — when viewed from a human perspective. In territorial union to our intrusion, the swans rallied, and looped for me a definitive impression of swans, lakes, and Tchaikovsky.

The swans of my memory and family folklore were not so unlike the hissing, awe-inspiring Chimeras within Jean-Christophe Maillot’s
LAC, a modern telling of Swan Lake, performed with attack by the renowned Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Imposing, glorious, memorable.

In
LAC, Maillot, together with writer Jean Rouaud, resurrected “these buried experiences”, albeit against a more “Machiavellian, family backdrop …. to present a ballet of contrasts. The change from animal into human being infuse[d] the entire work and question[ed] our own nature. We believe that we differ from animals because of our ability to make choices. But is this all we are capable of? …. Perhaps our humanity ultimately lies in this unsophisticated insatiability that defines us from our first cry — We want everything!”

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in LAC by Jean-Christophe Maillot (image credit: Alice Blangero)

Windigo

Recently landed: Lurking Within, Gracia’s written response to Windigo by Lara Kramer, for Fjord Review

Max Porter’s novel Lanny begins with Dead Papa Toothwort slipping “through one grim costume after another as he rustles and trickles and cusses his way between the trees”. He is the Green Man myth of decay and renewal, of chaos growing into hope; “he pauses as an exhaust pipe, then squirms into the shape of a rabbit snare, then a pissed-on nettle into pink-strangled lamb. He plucks a blackbird from the sky and cracks open the yellow beak. He peers into the ripped face as if it were a clear pond. He flings the bird across the forest stage, stands up woodlot bare, bushy, and stamps his splattered feet.” He is tree bark and discarded Western rubbish. He changes form. He is unfixed and without end. He pauses, roughly the size of a flea, to listen to and gargle the fizz of human sound.

And I am reminded of this shapeshifting ability each time I enter Dancehouse not knowing where I will go and what the space will be, pausing, in my own way, as an exhaust pipe before later mutating into a flea. I am especially reminded of this as I enter the upstairs theatre space for the white-cell artifice and confinement of Lara Kramer’s
Windigo, were performers Jassem Hindi and Peter James wait.

Hindi and James are two sunken forms, slouched into (and possibly becoming) two mattresses. They continue to mark time as the audience fills ‘their’ space, their no-man’s land, and assume it for their own: that’s the one-sided deal, right? They are wasting time, in a wasteland of debris and mattresses. And they are in a way, jangling in their “various skins, wearing a tarpaulin gloaming coat . . . . tingling with thoughts of how one thing leads to another again and again, time and again, with no such thing as an ending”.

Windigo (image credit: Frederic Chais)

Dark Night

Recently landed: Dark Night, Gracia’s written response to Dark Night by Jill Orr and Quake by Hellen Sky, presented as part of Dance Massive 2019, for Fjord Review

It is the smell of composted ingredients I notice first as I make my way along the passage. A blend of animal manure, rainforest mulch, leaf mould, washed river sand, and loam, giving off that warm garden smell. A mound of steamy soil, piled high in the Magdalen laundry of the Abbotsford Convent; a soil mix for holding moisture in a space still damp from its history. Soil might be a source of nutrients for growth, but in the dirt and dust and sadness of the laundry, its steam is overpowering on a humid autumn night.

Change the location, and a normally pleasing smell of pottering about in the garden alters how it is felt. This cavernous space is airless. I feel like I am being herded into a shed, like livestock penned in against the night and her predators, albeit gently, curiously, by a raft of smiling ushers who motion with torches “mind the cables,” “there’s room along the side wall.” Sand, sphagnum peat moss, perlite, overwhelming! Overhead, a moth crashes into the light. It flutters. I stand. There are not enough seats. (Earlier, audience members who most needed a seat had been asked to come forward.) Grass clippings, fungi, and bacteria! Vermiculite, from the Latin vermiculari, to ‘be full of worms,’ too. The urge to flee, or at least stand near to an exit is strong: I don’t want to put down roots here, in neither laundry’s past nor soiled, oppressive present.

And yet I do, for atop this mountain ‘full of worms’ sails Jill Orr. Majestic and unassuming, simultaneously. Both as assured captain of the craft and as a canvas for the audience to project their own thoughts upon. Legendary. Orr and her boat. Her surname alone, an oar, a navigational means, but I reckon she’d be pretty tired of hearing that. Presented by Dancehouse in partnership with the Abbotsford Convent as part of Dance Massive 2019, “emerging from an installation conceived for the Venice Biennale as a response to the terrible fate of asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australian shores, Dark Night explores the crumbling humanitarian ideals of a world in crisis. In this embodied installation, embracing the dramatics of scale, volume, tone, rhythm and movement, a series of images are performed.”

Dark Night  (image credit: Gregory Lorenzutti)

Dark Night (image credit: Gregory Lorenzutti)

Distant Sky

Recently landed: Distant Sky, Gracia’s written response to Stephanie Lake's new work Skeleton Tree, presented as part of Dance Massive 2019, for Fjord Review

Thirteen dances. Thirteen stages. “13 meditations on death and loss.” Stephanie Lake’s new work, Skeleton Tree is about death and loss, and in being about death and loss it is also about love and hope. Someone to farewell, to grieve over, an ache to feel and perhaps to heal. A recognition of presence: I existed; I ended. I live on, hopefully. I am remembered; remember me.

Thirteen songs as “a ‘funeral playlist’ . . . describing particular emotional states and the insistence of time.” Just as Lake cautions that the thirteen “vivid portraits” do not follow a thread of narrative or consequence, the portraits depict more than one experience of death and loss from more than one point of view. The performers, James O’Hara, Nicola Leahey, and Marlo Benjamin are the body that passes, and the mourners that live on; they are the departed and those left behind.

And at times, their pulsating movements even read like separate yet interconnected organs within the human body as it begins to shut down. As the pulse increases and the body temperature swings from hot to cold, they skitter. They throb as a red rash above the heart and across the back of the kidneys as blood gathers to answer the alarm call of the major organs. Dance movements like failing organs: this look at death is bodily.

This look at death is frank: death is certain. This look at death is affirmative, unsentimental, and clear-eyed.

Stephanie Lake Company in Skeleton Tree (image credit: Pippa Samaya)

Lady Example

Recently landed: Lady Example, Gracia’s written response to Alice Dixon, William McBride and Caroline Meaden's work presented by Arts House, as part of Dance Massive 2019, for Fjord Review

“Women of the world, take over, because if you don’t the world will come to an end and we haven’t got long.”

I am looking up a YouTube video of Ivor Cutler’s single ‘Women of the World’ from 1983, recorded with Linda Hirst through Rough Trade Records. Google’s Ad Rank Algorithm complements the experience, while revealing my search history, and now a physiotherapy advertisement appears poetic.

Floating in a ‘click-me’ image box, a photo of an extended leg, shown from the knee down, rests on what appears to be a couch or some form of bedding. In the background of this modern day chiaroscuro composition, an open cat carrier sits. Its small blue door is ajar, but no cat to be seen. The mood: everyday dismal. The illuminated leg occupies most of the frame: barefoot, yellowed big toenail. Around the ankle, a red ring from where a tight sock has cut into the flesh. Not breaking the skin, just too tight. Uncomfortably tight. Beneath this image, the poem, ‘4 Signs Your Heart is Quietly Failing You’. I have also been searching/finding/reading Anne Carson’s woe and odds and phosphorescent-by-lamplight chalk foxes, which Alice Dixon, William McBride, and Caroline Meaden feel convey what it is to be alive in this “heartbroken little era”. I have been swimming in the words that pool together photographs of refugees “pressed flat against one another” and mushroom collecting with John Cage by way of an ordinary lakeside dip. And it is all in there, the poetry and Google searches, the typing in caps lock, bold. The tragic and the everyday. The signs your heart is quietly failing you. All of this and more poured into
Lady Example, presented by Arts House as part of Dance Massive 2019.

Alice Dixon, William McBride, and Caroline Meaden’s Lady Example (image credit: Mischa Baka)

“I help you to make your own world visible”

Recently landed: “I help you to make your own world visible”, a new article on Marginalia (by Gracia) takes you to the world premiere of a new work by Lucy Guerin, as part of Dance Massive 2019

Lucy Guerin Inc. perform Make Your Own World (image credit: Pippa Samaya)

Make Your Own World

Recently landed: Make Your Own World, Gracia’s written response to Lucy Guerin’s new work, at Arts House, as part of Dance Massive 2019, for Fjord Review

Five minutes late to the world premiere of Lucy Guerin’s Make Your Own World and I had to wait to be admitted into the Magic Theatre of the North Melbourne Town Hall.

Together with a handful of latecomers, we waited by the door. Our timing marked us a group. Some of us bristled at being painted tardy: “Locked out!? How rude!” Me, I believe it added to my excitement: what awaited me behind the door? How quickly would my eyes adjust to the transition from foyer’s glare to theatre’s embrace? But above all: what was I missing? We’d come from the 6.45pm session of Paul White and Narelle Benjamin’s Cella at the Meat Market located around the hind leg corners of North Melbourne. We’d not been at Cella together, and yet, now, in our lateness, we had. We’d raced from one venue to the next, and owing to the first performance finishing later than scheduled and the second starting on time, we were a group. How fitting, given that Make Your Own World is “inspired by groups, communities and societies in flux …. through timing and spatial formations.”

MAGIC THEATRE

ENTRANCE NOT FOR EVERYBODY

I do not know what I missed as I felt my way in the dark. (I do know that I stepped on a few toes of the people sitting in the back row as I clambered to the furthest seat in the theatre. And I know that in arriving late to the larger, seated group, I was on the outer once more. In flux, indeed, this belonging.) Yes, dropping away the realities and constraints of physical time and space, I do not know what I missed, but I was free, after all, to make up the beginning to my Own World. Invitation accepted and impulse taken, I was time-muddled within the pages of Hermann Hesse’s novel Der Steppenwolf in Dance Massive 2019.

Lucy Guerin Inc. perform Make Your Own World (image credit: Pippa Samaya)

Dancing Qweens

Recently landed: Dancing Qweens, Gracia’s written response to James Welsby’s exploration of 50 years of queer dance history, at Dancehouse, for Fjord Review

There is a photo of me dancing in the lounge room of my family home. My arms are flung wide overhead, making the Y shape to the Village People’s Y.M.C.A.. My mouth is parted in a smile, mid pronunciation of the letter Y. Caught in a moment of bliss and expression on the imaginary dancefloor before the fireplace. I am dancing with my younger cousin, following the playful choreography. The letter M: let your elbows point like rabbit ears on your head. The letter C: hug a beach ball to the left-hand side. The letter A: arms overhead once more, fingers touching to create a triangle. My favourite record is spinning, and I am happy. In the adjoining room, the grown-ups are presumably talking about grown-up stuff, missing all the fun, until my Dad picked up the camera and recorded this moment for posterity.

The year captured in the discoloured photograph is 1980. I am five years old. My memory can no longer tell me what costume I imagined myself to be wearing, but I feel certain there were feathers and sequins in there.

***

“Patterns or sequins?” enquires “Mad Fox” Maggie. Sequins, please, I think. Anything, I say. “How about this black dress with sequins on the hip?”

Valerie Hex (James Welsby) in Dancing Qweens (image credit: Matto Lucas)

Be a warm note of embellishment

Recently landed: Be a warm note of embellishment, a new article on Marginalia (by Gracia) takes you to Soliloquy, a one-hour performance of Georg Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute performed on recorder by Genevieve Lacey, conveying that music lies in the soul, beyond one’s control

39 volunteer participants (including Louise Jennison) and Genevieve Lacey performing in Soliloquy, 2018 (image credit: Pia Johnson)

Soliloquy

Recently landed: Soliloquy, Gracia’s written response to Genevieve Lacey’s recent performance of Georg Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute, directed by Gideon Obarzanek and Stephanie Lake, with 38 volunteers, for Fjord Review

Soliloquy is a revelation of the intimate, shared. In the embrace of lights lowered to a fireside glow, from their seats in the theatre, the volunteers rise and softly thread their way onto to the stage to join Lacey as she plays. Summoned by Lake’s cue, and also by a call in the music, and perhaps a call within to respond, here is a rare gift! Together, a new autonomous structure grows through repeated motifs. Lake makes a sundial of her hands, and the participants follow suit. Fingers echo rainfall, puff an organ’s bellows, hug a cloud. Whether all moving as one mass (seated on the stage) or in their own interpretive swim (dancing around Lacey), truth is offered, felt, and, it feels, collectively accepted. Within such a gift, the self dissolves. Dive in!

In the lead-up to
Soliloquy, a call for volunteers with “no music or dance experience necessary” was answered by 38 people, including my partner, Louise Jennison, who leapt at the opportunity to become a flowing quaver motion. Just as Lacey’s connection to Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute is wound up in the personal, for Jennison, accepting the open invitation was also of a personal nature: a chance to prove to herself that her body can continue to deal with the limitations placed upon it by post-surgical chronic pain and emerge triumphant. Facing our fears and vulnerability takes courage, and here was the opportunity to open oneself up to new rhythms.

Here, too, was the opportunity to view things from a different perspective: moving from a seat in the theatre to participating on the stage; from far to near, so close you could hear the sound of Lacey’s fingers upon her recorder as she played; from inward to outward, allowing oneself to be a part of a framework bigger than the self. And like all gifts shared, this was for us all. For those in the audience, like me, moved to tears of joy and release. Whether you are transmitting joy through a “noodling” of arms twirling in characterful rhythm or seated in the audience, joy permeating your every fibre, when the opportunity to nestle within birdsong chimes, accept.

Volunteers performing in Genevieve Lacey’s Soliloquy (including Louise Jennison in blue) (image credit: Pia Johnson)