Recently landed: Count me in, Gracia's written response to More up a tree at Melbourne Festival, for Fjord Review
Within their glass enclosure, White sat in the corner behind his drum kit. He had cast off his boots, and was using them like two soft vessels to hold his sticks. From where I sat, I could see his socked feet at the pedals, lending an air of spying-on-the-neighbours candour to the performance. He exchanged a quiet smile with de Serpa Soares as she mapped out the space with increasing intensity and pace. Caught unawares, as they teased out movement in response to sound and sound in response to movement, for the main, their containment appeared a liberating sanctuary. Hidden behind a wall of noise, de Serpa Soares could yell at the top of her lungs, but I couldn’t fully hear her. She shook sound from her body as if coaxing it all the way from her little toes, up her legs and torso, and out of her mouth. There goes the hard day; and over there, the weight of the world, discarded. They were playing, releasing, experimenting, and I was watching, experiencing, vicariously. The two of them, to paraphrase the filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (when he wrote of the distortion of time as a means of giving it rhythmical expression), “sculpting in time!” Later, a little ‘cha-cha-cha’ sing-song movement, which I defy anyone to say or do huffily; some words and actions are happy making, no matter how you spin them.
Earlier the space had evoked a zoo enclosure, with de Serpa Soares stalking like a panther in a cage. Back and forth, her feet on repeated loop, wearing a hole in the carpet. In her march, she paused for a moment, in the corner of her confines and looks upward at the wall, her expression was one of steely focus: I will scale these walls and escape. Wild creatures confined, they break my heart, and this was perhaps why I enjoyed seeing de Serpa Soares later shake loose with high kicks, and roar, falling in and out of time.
The Rear Window style voyeurism, illumination of mundane fragments, and human modifications to architecture and personal space in Sussman’s earlier video works, Wintergarden, Balcony, and Seitenflügel (Side Wing), created with Simon Lee, is embedded within More up a Tree. Watching White play, he could well have been an unassuming inhabitant in his lounge room, in the large Berlin apartment building of Seitenflügel. To me, reflective imagery in Sussman’s work references the two sides of the one coin: time and memory. More up a Tree holds a mirror to time and memory for the performers and the audience alike. The circles de Serpa Soares drew with her bended knees pressed together at the beginning were there at the end. Her slow motion, cat-like prowl, high on all fours, also. It repeated, and yet it changed. And when the performance ended with the mirrored screen once more reflecting the audience, we were in the same position, and yet we’d changed, hadn’t we? Not so static after all.
The noise of the day drops away as I make my way to the upstairs studio of Dancehouse. I am one part of an increasingly hushed procession assembled on opening night to experience Sarah-Jane Norman’s The River’s Children (2013), and Take This, For It Is My Body (2010) paired with Heirloom (2013), and Nacera Belaza’s The Shout (2008), presented as part of Melbourne Festival.
Reaching the small landing, I peel away from the line. I remove from my bag a small pair of folded sports socks and hand them to the usher. With an air of quiet solemnity, she pins my socks together with a clear tag. My socks are marked laundry item number two, and I log the particulars of my white laundry on a form pegged to a clipboard. In this context, my washing looks limp and exposed. Beside me, a man hands over an equally unassuming, soft t-shirt. These items, my socks, and his t-shirt, are two of a handful that will be washed in water drawn from the Murray River on Wiradjuri country at Albury with permission of the Albury Aboriginal Lands Council. The usher gently informs me to hand my washing to Norman when I feel comfortable.
And so I enter the darkened landscape of The River’s Children with a pair of socks in my hands; a pair of socks that I can, if I choose, hand over for someone else to wash. In the short distance from the landing to the studio, my limp and humble socks have transformed in status; I am master and Norman my servant, and this is as uncomfortable, possessive and confronting as it sounds.
Down, instead of up. That is how things fall when they are dropped. But in the worlds of circus and dance, the body doesn’t have to give the appearance of being a servant to gravity. In the worlds of circus and dance, the body can defy gravity. And gravity is what pulls three pieces by three different choreographers together in Les 7 Doigts’ Triptyque, presented as part of Melbourne Festival at the Playhouse late on a Sunday afternoon. A swirling galaxy is made, beginning with Marie Chouinard’s Anne & Samuel, and Victor Quijada’s Variations 9.81, before pulling up the bed covers with Marcos Morau’s Nocturnes. Gravity is a beautiful force to test.
To see performers on the stage or beneath the big top, testing the laws of gravity through orchestrated movement is also one of the reasons I head to the theatre or circus. From where I sit, motionless, I can, through the art of transference, feel what it is like to soar. This is freedom: freedom from my own heavy and uncoordinated limbs; freedom from any kind of physical injury or mental anguish; freedom from routine. This is escapism. And in the hybrid landscape of dance paired with circus, or rather, in the case of Les 7 Doigts, circus with dance, I am afforded the jolt of liberation I crave.
A composite state of circus meets dance affords freedom not only from gravity, but from rules, and expectations. And so a perturbed postman glides through the scene on a unicycle, before colliding into mime, and the tails of the Spanish web recall those of giant unseen animals as they thwack the stage. With Frida Kahlo and Restless Dance Theatre’s Michelle Ryan in mind, I had come for Anne & Samuel — to see how a body can move when a pair of crutches is required for mobility, be it due to injury, disability, or age; to see movement through perceived limitation; to see reinvention and resilience — but it is beneath the covers of Nocturnes that my heart curls.
Roll up, roll up, and watch these muscles flex. With white feathers on his shoulders and a little of Dr. John the Night Tripper beneath his hat, ringmaster Elyas Khan has brought his ensemble to town. On the banks of the Yarra River, direct from the U.K., Limbo is here as part of Melbourne Festival. Unpacked from the chest, the death-defying, hand-balancing, internally-sprung tomfoolery of Danik Abishev; the Chinese pole and beat-boxing smooth stop-and-start controlled hijinks of Mikael Bres; the out-of-this-world fire-breathing, sword-swallowing, gum-chewing sass of Heather Holliday; the magnificent ‘mind-bending’ contortions of the tattooed Tigris (with forearms not unlike Popeye’s, and something of a measured roar); and the heavenly aerial acrobatics of Allard. With Mick Stuart on ‘polymba,’ drums and bass, and Eamon McNelis (of The Band Who Knew Too Much and Flap! fame) on trumpet and sousaphone, bringing a little of the New Orleans brass band sound, the objective is clear: if you’ve a pulse, you will be entertained.
Limbo draws not only on circus stock roots, but also on the titillation of cabaret. With my waist un-synched, I may not quite have been transported back to Le Chat Noir in Montmartre in the late 1880s or Le Lido on the Champs-Élysées in the 1940s, but on a balmy spring eve, it came close, this melange, very close. In the blue smoky haze and dim lighting we all became a little of our own inner Toulouse-Lautrec or Marlene Dietrich.
Motion builds slowly. In the form of a wave that ripples through the body. Omri Drumlevich moves as if possessed, eyes fixed on a point somewhere behind me. With his left arm outstretched in counter balance and his supporting leg bent, the right side of his body gives over to an undulation of controlled movement. His right hand rests upon his bent suspended right leg, his forearm in direct line with his shin, as if fusing two parts of the body previously independent. The hand now fixed on the knee, the familiar line of the body altered, through Drumlevich’s body courses an inward sensation made outwardly visible. As his stirring builds, the pace quickens, and I am mesmerised. Without theatrics and pomp, he appears to have altered the range of movement in the ball and socket workings of his knee joint.
Motion is steady. In the form of a lone dancer on a treadmill, tirelessly running. Dressed in bright blue, the runner remains a constant, adjusting how I perceive time and space. The pace never alters, the direction never changes, the destination, never reached. The runner remains steadfast as the dancers on the stage before and around explore an impossible range of motions. The juxtaposition between the runner’s enduring pattern and the uncertainty of the dancers, itself a beautiful conversation. Both represent unwavering determination, but both runner and dancers reach it differently. The message I read in Ohad Naharin’s Last Work (2015): more things unite us than divide us.
Finding my seat at Ohad Naharin and Batsheva Dance Company’s Decadance, the performance has already begun. In his own private world, on the stage of the State Theatre, Shamel Pitts, in a loose black suit and untucked white shirt, is dancing and I am so glad I have arrived with enough time to catch his playful, loose-kneed, liquid groove. To the side-to-side sway of early samba and late ’50s bossa nova, his moves call to mind how we might all dance if no one were watching. It is the contented, inward, and liberated dance of getting ready for a party, ironing one’s pants to the sounds of Jackie Davis at the console playing the danceable 'Glow Worm Cha-Cha-Cha,' and later changing one’s earrings as Peruvian soprano Yma Súmac’s pours her allure into the 'Gopher Mambo.' Unhurried, undeterred, pleasurable. The mood is smooth, ripe, and expectant. And as Pitts mimics a wriggly glow worm on the floor, the still-settling audience applauds. With house lights still on, the tone is set.
I am in the hip-swinging, toe-tapping world of Naharin, where movement is transmitted from one to another, from dancer to dancer, from dancer to audience, summoned from within the body to outside of the body. This is what movement looks like when the body does the listening and responds accordingly to its own secret writing at its core. This is freedom. This is unlocked expression. And it is euphoric. It, too, like our crooners earlier, ought be bottled and dispensed on grey-mood days. Watching Pitts, I want to shake like that. Moreover, watching Pitts, I want to be him, the embodiment of the John Buzon Trio’s 'It Must Be True;' and so it shall be, if this beginning is as true as it feels.