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.
A single bicycle wheel upturned and mounted upon a stool (Bicycle Wheel, 1951, third version, after lost original of 1913). A snow shovel (In Advance of the Broken Arm, 1964, fourth version, after lost original of 1915). A painted window (Fresh Window, 1920). When Marcel Duchamp placed a mass produced ‘readymade’ before us and disrupted how we thought about and interpreted art, the “ordinary object [was] elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.”
The objects were important not because of what they were, but because they were selected by the artist. Removed from their ordinary function and thereby stripped of their usage, the object became art. With the integral addition of the onlooker witnessing the work and responding to it, the ‘readymade’ “created a new thought for [the particular] object.” We, the spectators, in accepting the role of transference through the act of looking, choose what we see in Duchamp’s ‘readymades’. Under our gaze, objects can take on entirely new and obscure meanings.
To my mind, following this train of thought, both Reckless Sleepers with Nat Cursio’s performance of A String Section (2012) and Sarah Aiken’s SET, (2015) celebrate the utilitarian object, redefining its role and how we regard it. After all, ‘readymade’ (tout-fait) is a homophone for ‘to-make’ (tu fait); it is up to you to make of it what you will.
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: 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.