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.
Darkly, silvered, a grassland of manmade forms grows. It grows in the North Melbourne Town Hall. It is, for now, neatly contained within the designated performance space, but like all things in nature, it is as predictable as it is unpredictable. This constructed grassland of “over 270 poles, strips, or sheets of aluminium, brass, copper and sprung steel” hums with life. Its presence felt from the moment I enter the space.
Two blocks make an imperfectly perfect grid. One block is comprised of nine shake tables, arranged in three ordered bands. The second block is longer, and it is comprised of six shake tables divided by two narrow pathways that lead to a central path. A central path in a metal wilderness is a safe place to get one’s bearings. As the grassland sings and shimmers, you’d be well advised to stick to the path; those rods have teeth and they are not afraid to bite. And perhaps like all things that can bite, it is beautiful to behold. A vibrating platform2 of interconnected wooden panels that simulate an earthquake, this is also a musical instrument, a living sculpture, a stage, and a potential disaster zone. Fashioned from timber and springs, it “is a kinetic sculpture and performance where vibration is heard through our ears, seen through our eyes, felt through our bodies, but understood with our imaginations.” Upon encountering it, I want to walk around this sculpture, to see it from all sides. To get up close and see how the light bounces differently off the varied components, but for this 360-degree picture I will have to use my imagination. I take my seat in the dark. I wait.
This feels personal. With choreographer, Ashley Dyer, I have spluttered and choked in the smoke (Life Support, 2013). With dancer, Nat Cursio I have sat cross-legged and built lego houses (In the Middle Room, 2014), grieved (Recovery, 2014), and sawn the legs off chairs (A String Section, 2015). This is personal, and yet not. This is bigger than me. In part, this work is a response to the 2011 magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Early on a Tuesday afternoon the ground shook so violently, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand. 100,000 buildings were damaged, and 10,000 needed to be demolished. Tremor is, by definition, ‘a seismic shaking movement of the ground before or after an earthquake or volcanic eruption.’
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: 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.
Recently landed: All that Glitters: highlights of 2014, Gracia's written response for Fjord Review
Before a new year is ushered in with fireworks and resolutions, there is just enough time to reflect on what has been, and prepare a list of dance highlights from 2014. The only trouble being, it quickly transpires, I am no good at list making. Some may rank higher, but all offered something; all enabled me to feel. My belief that you cannot see a work unfold without finding some gem to pocket was not tested this year, and so ‘if you look, you will find’ remains my unchallenged maxim.
Nestled up high on my list, the Australian Ballet’s performance of Wayne McGregor’s serpent slithering, electrified abstraction, Chroma (2006), and the foil-tipped sharpness of Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort (1991) paired with Sechs Tänze (1986) (presented in the company’s triple bill with Stephen Baynes’ 2014 work, Art to Sky in June). Part languid wave one moment and trumpeting hyperextension the next, I reveled in Chroma’s unfamiliar vocabulary and orchestrated conflict. And, as I knew I would, I lost myself to the theatrical and poetic dark undercurrents of the Mozart double act of Petite Mort and Sechs Tänze with its exploration of what it means to be human, exposed and vulnerable, even if wigged and dusted. On tenterhooks, wearing similar fine corseting and black crinoline, these are the works I wish to experience on repeat and feel prickle on my skin.
Recently landed: In Recovery: Delicate and Disarming, Gracia's written response for Fjord Review
In the yawning space of the machine hall, we assembled. A small group of mourners cloaked in suitable attire, our number countable upon my fingers, no need for the toes. We came in pairs to Recovery, to a space formally the domain of pigeons and vandals, to witness “a delicate duel with time". I brought with me my curiosity and an expectation to become unmoored.
Though instructed to before entering the space, we formed something of an instinctual, loose knot around the performers, Nat Cursio and Shannon Bott. We formed, it quickly transpired, not a band of ghoulish spectators, but a family. Having read through the programme notes before my arrival, I knew that the work was born from grief, and based on earlier works involving Nat Cursio I felt certain of one thing: that I would be surprised. And in the former electricity Sub-station with its Neo Classical proportions of grandeur, I was to feel both dwarfed by the cavernous space our number barely filled and part of something bigger, greater. I had not expected this connectedness to others to form so easily, if at all, and it is testament to the stripped back, real and still (possibly always) raw work. On a quiet Monday evening, Cursio and Bott offered forth a work, absent of sentimentality and decorativeness, about how loss affects every cell of the body, and what could be more disarming and delicate than that? On a run-of-the-mill weekday, we were being entrusted with something intensely personal and particular; this was my surprise.
Recently landed: Into the Unknown, The Middle Room (Gracia's written response for Fjord Review)
This is a performance that begins before you’ve walked through the front door. It begins with the address you are sent: your location, your X marks the spot. Furnished with the kind of details you would send to a friend, local signposts are highlighted: a one minute walk from the train station, a synagogue opposite, the brick colour of the building. I sight the landmarks of my mental map and note that this is one quietly thrilling introduction. Walking into this “theatre” is different to other performances. I take the stairs as directed up to the top floor. My tread is silent on the steps, and my heart is galloping. The unknown awaits.
As instructed in the notes, I am to let myself into the apartment-theatre-performance space-cum-doorway-to-alternate-world and to take a seat on the small stool. A moment of panic: or was I to sit on the floor near to the performer on the stool? Have I remembered the rules of play correctly? I quietly close the screen door behind me and my eyes adjust to the half-light of the space. I sight the small white stool but a metre from the door and elect to leave my bag just a little way behind me. It slumps to the floor and I immediately second guess my decision: have I placed my bag in the way on the stage? I sit down on the kids’ stool, right next to the performer quietly seated on the floor nearby. All correct thus far. I note my breathing. I wonder if my perfume is too intrusive in the space. I tuck my legs in closer to the stool and I note that I am on the stage. I am the participant not mealy the audience. There is me and there is Nat Cursio, the performer and choreographer of the piece. She is sitting close to me, her eyes downcast. All is still. I am both in her personal space, her home, and I am on her stage, her carpeted, small stage. This is quietly confronting and unlike anything I have experienced. This is 10.30 on a Friday morning. This is a doorway to an alternate world. Outside I can hear the comforting noises from the street: a train rumbling, a car parking, a splintered conversation. There is still a link to the outside. There is still a way out.