“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.
“Women of the world, take over, because if you don’t the world will come to an end and we haven’t got long.”
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.”
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.
In Edward Hopper’s painting, Night Windows (1928), a woman in her illuminated apartment goes about her private affairs unaware of my gaze. A voyeuristic composition, Hopper has made me a ‘peeping tom’ whether I wish to be or not — to view the work is to peep. Is she, too, postponing the tasks of her tomorrow? The emphasis here is not upon Tennessee Williams’ “kindness of strangers,” but rather their loneliness, a shared loneliness, one shadowed by intimacy. In a pink slip, she is bent over, spot lit against the black of night as I, the viewer, lean nonchalantly against a lamppost. And in Melanie Lane’s new choreographic work, Nightdance, she is Lilian Steiner in flesh-coloured pants rendered golden goddess by lamplight. One thing is certain: night is made of shadows and in said shadows one can lurk. The cover of darkness, the ability to conceal, magic made not by sleight of hand but by the shift change between the sun and the moon. You can watch and not be seen.
From folklore’s werewolves to the Porto Rican coarse-haired Chupacabra (“goat sucker”), come the full moon, come the descent of night, all creatures come out to play and give rise to night terrors and thrills. Ghouls and golems not detectable during the day are made manifest by night. From the margins of medieval manuscripts come men with dogs’ heads, the Cynocephali, to tap at your windowpane. As Steiner, Gregory Lorenzutti, and Lane prowl on all fours across the darkened stage, such are my thoughts. In dog pose, their collective gait is stiff (humans do not have the supple spine of canines, no matter how fit) and otherworldly. Beguiling too. Nightdance reveals this awkward-easy transition into another world distinct from day to be liberating and emboldening. Come the night, you can reinvent yourself. You can release your alter ego. You can strut. You can prowl. You can shimmy. You can seek to entrance. You can even become your own kind of werewolf. Or muscled were-mouse, as Lorenzutti, shows. You can watch and be seen.
Recently landed: Walking on Clouds, Gracia's written response to Chunky Move's Anti-Gravity, Nat Cursio's Tiny Slopes, and Lucy Guerin's Split, three performances presented as part of Dance Massive, for Fjord Review
The Bureau of Meteorology La Trobe St. Weather Station, near to the Carlton Gardens, has always intrigued me. A triangular wedge of fenced-off green on the city’s fringe, it looks like an art installation or a performance space. With a tiny garden shed, and unfamiliar equipment to measure climatic changes and patterns neatly dotted and connected by pathways, it is not so unlike the world Chunky Move’s Anouk van Dijk and Singaporean artist and filmmaker, Ho Tzu Nyen, have set up for their collaborative work, Anti-Gravity.
Presented as part of the Asia Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts and Dance Massive 2017, the stage is an ordered maze of forms that are familiar but whose role is ambiguous. The business of forecasting sounds and looks poetic, but it is serious stuff. Wind measurements, temperature, humidity, and precipitation are all recorded by tiny, unassuming sculptures that appear in need only of an artists’ statement. Working with clouds has the air of romance, to me, and in literature, dance, and art too, but I suspect that it is the data not the tools and their subjects that must interest those who chart meteorological quantities.
Darkly, silvered, a grassland of manmade forms grows. It grows in the North Melbourne Town Hall. It is, for now, neatly contained within the designated performance space, but like all things in nature, it is as predictable as it is unpredictable. This constructed grassland of “over 270 poles, strips, or sheets of aluminium, brass, copper and sprung steel” hums with life. Its presence felt from the moment I enter the space.
Two blocks make an imperfectly perfect grid. One block is comprised of nine shake tables, arranged in three ordered bands. The second block is longer, and it is comprised of six shake tables divided by two narrow pathways that lead to a central path. A central path in a metal wilderness is a safe place to get one’s bearings. As the grassland sings and shimmers, you’d be well advised to stick to the path; those rods have teeth and they are not afraid to bite. And perhaps like all things that can bite, it is beautiful to behold. A vibrating platform2 of interconnected wooden panels that simulate an earthquake, this is also a musical instrument, a living sculpture, a stage, and a potential disaster zone. Fashioned from timber and springs, it “is a kinetic sculpture and performance where vibration is heard through our ears, seen through our eyes, felt through our bodies, but understood with our imaginations.” Upon encountering it, I want to walk around this sculpture, to see it from all sides. To get up close and see how the light bounces differently off the varied components, but for this 360-degree picture I will have to use my imagination. I take my seat in the dark. I wait.
This feels personal. With choreographer, Ashley Dyer, I have spluttered and choked in the smoke (Life Support, 2013). With dancer, Nat Cursio I have sat cross-legged and built lego houses (In the Middle Room, 2014), grieved (Recovery, 2014), and sawn the legs off chairs (A String Section, 2015). This is personal, and yet not. This is bigger than me. In part, this work is a response to the 2011 magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Early on a Tuesday afternoon the ground shook so violently, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand. 100,000 buildings were damaged, and 10,000 needed to be demolished. Tremor is, by definition, ‘a seismic shaking movement of the ground before or after an earthquake or volcanic eruption.’
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.
Recently landed: In the Fold, Gracia's written response for Fjord Review
Where Merge thrashed and rhythmically pulsed, Do You Speak Chinese? proved a quiet meditation. Equally, where Merge hurtled through time, Chiu’s worked seemed almost to stop the tick-tock of the clock, as she rolled herself into a giant fold of paper and the small theatre filled with the sound of paper’s pleasing crackle as it creased. In Merge, bodies emerged from black rock-like forms, whilst in Do You Speak Chinese? paper’s adaptability was explored to the hilt: paper as a tent-like structure; fortune cookie; paper boat; tablecloth for yum cha; scroll; telescope through which to peer through; and mask; before finally serving as encasement for a body.
Inanimate materials: quite the opposite.
Recently landed: Double-Cross, Gracia's written response for Fjord Review
(Outside in the city, at night, briefly. Opening credits begin. Extended tracking shot. A man marches purposefully into the San Francisco Police Department. I follow the back of his suited form. A disinterested Police Office leaning against a column directs him down a second long corridor. At 1 minute and 40 seconds, the music (evocative of striding) fades. Our Sympathetic Everyman (whom I’ve been tailing with the camera) reaches his destination, 44 Homicide Division, and enters.)
— Can I help you?
— I’d like to see the man in charge.
— He’s in here.
(Shown into an office. Note: the standard fan atop a filing cabinet and a small desk lamp casting strong shadows. Decipher: I am in film noir territory, the land of the gumshoe private investigator who is always two steps ahead of the cops.)
— I want to report a murder.
— Sit down.
(Slumps into chair.)
— Where was this murder committed?
— San Francisco, last night.
— Who was murdered?
— I was.
(Close up. I see our Everyman’s face for the first time. Loose necktie. Five o’clock shadow. Crumpled appearance.)
— Well… do you want to hear me out or don’t you Captain, I don’t have very much time.
— Your name Bigelow, Frank Bigelow?
(Long eye blink.)
— That’s right.*
Recently landed: The Body Politic, Gracia's written response for Fjord Review
Seated in my own 'best seat', frankness, humility, humour, experimentation and a willingness to question link for me Kate Champion's Nothing to Lose, Rawcus' Catalogue, and Nat Cursio's Tiny Slopes (a work in development presented in association with Malthouse Theatre). Three performances seen recently as part of Dance Massive 2015 that, in liberal interpretation of John Cage’s words to suit my own form, have asked me to 'pay attention to what is, just as it is.'
In doing so, I was appreciative of the intimacy and trust that the performers in all three works placed in me as I sat in the audience. Though different in their approach and finish, I responded to their candour. From Catalogue's invitation to create my own composition with the material presented to Champion and Kelli Jean Drinkwater's exploration of the movement vocabulary of larger bodies, which owing to its very nature cannot dodge body politics, I remain grateful for the questions posed. Whether they were answered or not, either during the performance or in quiet reflection in the days that followed, to me they remained open to experimentation with a good dollop of play.
Recently landed: Shout Out Loud, Gracia's written response for Fjord Review
If Chunky Move’s Depth of Field, the beginning of my Dance Massive 2015 marathon, was to show me a seasonal pattern unshaped by human hand, Meeting revealed a pattern defined by sixty-four small-scale robots whilst Overworld writhed in a chaotic pattern of YouTube fragments tethered to the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. The tenuous link between these Dance Massive performances is solely that of my own programming: one night, two performances seen back-to-back, separated by an hour, at the North Melbourne Town Hall.
As with all festivals, cinema, dance, or otherwise, the festival patron looks for common threads in the works they’ve elected to see. Processing, reeling, and ruminating, before bouncing to the next performance: what is the best palette-cleanse? Perhaps the answer lies in making myself something of an automaton using the technologies of homeostasis. Perhaps with a stack of programmable cams at my core, stable equilibrium could be maintained. I’ll let you be the judge.