Recently landed: Cutting Loose, Gracia’s written response to the Keir Choreographic Award semi-finals at Dancehouse, for Fjord Review
At the Kier Choreographic Award semi-finals my shoes cut loose. At the Kier Choreographic Awards semi-finals, independent of me, that is, my shoes cut loose. Lobbed by an enthusiastic audience member, relishing their liberty, my left shoe, it flew across the dance floor, airborne and free. It landed with a thud. The right shoe, it was a log that tripped another audience member mid-dance, before it transformed from obstacle into a fish flipping on land. My shoes, free of me, had the night of their lives, I expect. And when it came time to collect my shoes from the stage, I thought, yes, I am at the Keir Awards at Dancehouse. (In truth, I also thought, why did I wear my new shoes tonight? I’d spent the day treating them like a newborn kitten.) Spread over two nights, four different works presented on each, the brilliance of the unexpected hit me in the heart. Moo like a cow on one, jangle your keys on two, applaud on three, shake it all about. This hokey pokey was the creation of Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters (Branch Nebula) and the invitation to explore the uncharted was lapped up by my chattels a little more than it was by me.
Branch Nebula’s Stop-Go toyed with their definition of performance being “in essence, just one thing after another,” and the audience, furnished with different sets of printed prompts (which had been left on each seat) when asked at timed intervals (at 01.45 to 02.00 “Pass all shoes to the right” / ”applaud for 15 seconds”) were indeed “foregrounded throughout the performance.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.