Recently landed: Extra, Gracia's written response to Accumulation, for Fjord Review
With a Dancing Faun at the head and Farnese Hercules at the feet, I know I am in the right place.
In the foyer of the NGV, the gods and heroes of Greek and Roman mythology are draped across a 14-metre long Eternity Buddha. Greco-Roman, Renaissance and Neoclassical sculpture meets the High Tang Dynasty (705–781 CE); West meets East. An interflow of all the big things: life, death, nirvana. Right place, like I said.
Standing before artist Xu Zhen’s monumental 3D-scan of the original reclining Buddha from the Nirvana Caves of China, I am rendered small in scale and self-importance. All compounded things are subject to decay.
I am waiting for Chunky Move’s dance takeover of the gallery, as part of Extra, a ten-day, summertime, after-hours, and free festival nestled within the brand new NGV Triennial. Each night, Chunky Move is giving three performances within the gallery. Curated by Chunky Move’s Artistic Director Anouk van Dijk, Accumulation, like the Extra mantle it nestles beneath, is true to name: a collection of five new performance works created by van Dijk, Antony Hamilton, Prue Lang, and Thomas E.S. Kelly, presented as something Extra to the Triennial experience. As I stand watching an Immortal Persian Soldier Fighting crouch for eternity behind the feet of the Buddha, something tells me more than enhancement but centrepiece is in the offing. And Othryades the Spartan Dying, nestles in closer at the neck.
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.
I grew up watching Lucky and Penny spin about the dance floor. I knew their every line, and, more importantly, their every move, and their every move’s lines. Studied on a Beta video and later a VHS, their moving forms were so familiar to me. And perhaps through my repeated viewings I’d hoped for some sort of talent transference through the screen to me lying in Cobra on the floor, my chin resting in my hands. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, as John ‘Lucky’ Garnett and Penelope ‘Penny’ Carrol, in George Stevens’ Swing Time (1936), were my idols in Primary School. They were natural and joyous to watch when they danced, and it was for the dance that I watched Swing Time.
They knew how to move and glide, and were utterly in tune with the other. Their mutual delight drew me in. They danced for the audience, and for each other, and at the end of each number they appeared to share a look of mutual respect that was outside of their characters, a sort of private yet public ‘thank-you for the dance; you were great.’ Thanks to Astaire’s insistence that all dance pieces should be filmed in as close to a single take as possible, with the whole of the figure visible, the effect now, as was then, is just like watching a live performance. The figure uninterrupted is free to tell its truth. Jean-Luc Godard would later echo this unbroken line sentiment in his films: “the cinema is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie.”
Watching Swing Time, or indeed any Fred and Ginger film, it feels entirely plausible that dance numbers should spontaneously spark into being. That’s how people communicate. It all makes sense. All you need is a body, and we’ve all one of those. Though some, why, some can move with grace and rhythm as they speak their truth. As Martha Graham advised (and we’d all do well to adhere to): “there is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action [when you dance/make/do], and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
And so, as I sit now before the keyboard looking back over what I have seen this year, the pieces I recall are those that conveyed honesty and “an energy.” Unfeigned, full-hearted, call it what you will. With my eye, Godard’s camera, my life coach, Graham, and the effortless hover and charm of Lucky and Penny only in dream, let’s look back at 2016.
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.”
After ten years posting High Up in the Trees, it is time for something new. Welcome to MARGINALIA. A new space, in the margins of Gracia & Louise.
Play catch up on Chunky Move's LUCID, Sydney Dance Company's CounterMove, and a parliament of Tawny owls for Contemporary Paper at Port Jackson Press Gallery.
Tragic, fallen, everyday. Burning bright, buffed, and admired: heroes come in myriad forms. Sporting capes or a guitar slung over the shoulder, some become intertwined with idols to worship. And all can be distilled to an inspirational quote to share on Instagram.
Said Superman, as Christopher Reeve: "A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." Quick, print that on a coffee mug, t-shirt, tote bag. The world needs more tote bags.
And Mark Twain, some time before that: "We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself, there would be no heroes." Hold the print run. That quote’s not ‘upbeat’ enough. Too much self-analysis required.
From the Greek word meaning "warrior, protector," our heroes grace bedroom walls in poster format. Paper shrines to self-made deities, my own teenage bedroom walls were a mashup of posters of the Ramones, the Meanies, the Clash, and Fugazi. Pinned and Blu-tacked, layered and many, they were me and I was them; hero symbiosis. Going by Anouk van Dijk’s new work, L U C I D for Chunky Move, I imagine Lauren Langlois’ walls featured Audrey Hepburn alongside Hank Williams and Sylvester Stallone, a triptych of talent and admirable traits. Oh to move like Hepburn, croon like Williams, and swing a right hook like Rocky. And Stephen Phillips, posters of Willem Dafoe’s Sergeant Elias falling to his knees in the Oliver Stone classic. Cue: Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings a.k.a. the Saddest Song.
Recently landed: Field Notes, Gracia's written response for Fjord Review
Establishing who is a performer and who is actually walking home or on a grocery dash (or crashing the party with their Jack Russell) was a chief part of the playfulness of this piece. Asked to look closely at the obvious and the less obvious, it became a game of ‘spot the performer’ that actually made everyone within frame a part of the work. The mother and toddler that rested under the tree near the corner — were they a part of the piece, like the woman in the red scarf seen purchasing a parking ticket? The joggers too — that was orchestrated, right? My imaginary cast sheet for Depth of Field includes the motorists on the freeway, more than likely oblivious to the work they were a part of. Their credit: moving tail light providers. It also includes commuters on the tram. Their credit: neck ‘crickers’. And a windblown plastic bag seen rising and settling in own reenactment of a scene from Sam Mendes’s film American Beauty (1999).