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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
3, 2, 1, go.
Beyoncé ‘borrows’ moves from the Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. She duplicates De Keersmaeker’s Rosas Danst Rosas (1983) in her 2011 clip Countdown. It isn’t plagiarism; it’s homage, it’s a tribute, darling. Besides, what’s original anyway?
Revamped. Resampled. Reconfigured. Influenced by. What’s mine is yours. Following in the footsteps of the dance pioneers. Patti Smith rolls her head back, looks direct to camera: ‘anything is possible.’ History, it’s in my veins. Who’s following whom? Who founded what? Origin or original? Hey, what does it matter anyway?
DADA gave birth to the Situationist International gave birth to punk. No, Valeska Gert gave birth to punk. She did, didn’t she? She who danced “traffic jams, car accidents, slow movie cuts, boxers, babies, orgasms, and most radically, nothing. . . . [She who] managed to put conceptual brackets around “nothing” some thirty years before John Cage would compose his “groundbreaking” silent piece, 4’33.” She was proto punk, born in 1892.
Modern dance is constantly evolving, absorbing what came before it, moulding what is present and pushing towards what is to come. An exploration of the self, of humanity itself, perhaps its only link is that it feels essential to the dancers, choreographers, and the audience, to the makers and the watchers.
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.*