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— Fjord Review
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.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
—Mark Strand, 'Lines for Winter' from Selected Poems (1979)
Like snow falling on exposed skin. Bare and burning. The crunch underfoot, sharp.
Open to interpretation, suggestive of so much. So much said and unsaid. Reading, not between the lines, but between the musical notes, and the body. Always, the body. For in all three pieces, from the opening of Sol Léon & Paul Lightfoot’s Sehnsucht (2009) through the snow of Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo (2012), and finally, Léon & Lightfoot’s Stop-Motion (2014), they are above all about the human vessel. How it moves, responds, feels. What it is to be human. To create in the face of opposition. To use the body as a means to begin again.
In winter, three pieces evocative of the season and its slap across the cheek. Senses, awakened. On a wild night, blown into the theatre on the heels of a strawberry moon, a salute to the long, dark nights. And a welcome return to the Melbourne stage by Nederlands Dans Theater, who last appeared here in 2011. Breath, bated.
Offered forth. Greedily accepted. My feet, thawing. The woman in the row before me, a recently discarded (faux fur) coat draped across the back of her seat like a giant black bear skin. I am reminded of the costumes we wear in anticipation of winter’s bite. And the costumes we wear, to shield ourselves, from feeling, largely. Protective layers, in every sense. A shield to isolate ourselves, more often than not, in what feels an increasingly uncharitable world where we place our own needs above others.
Tragic, fallen, everyday. Burning bright, buffed, and admired: heroes come in myriad forms. Sporting capes or a guitar slung over the shoulder, some become intertwined with idols to worship. And all can be distilled to an inspirational quote to share on Instagram.
Said Superman, as Christopher Reeve: "A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." Quick, print that on a coffee mug, t-shirt, tote bag. The world needs more tote bags.
And Mark Twain, some time before that: "We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself, there would be no heroes." Hold the print run. That quote’s not ‘upbeat’ enough. Too much self-analysis required.
From the Greek word meaning "warrior, protector," our heroes grace bedroom walls in poster format. Paper shrines to self-made deities, my own teenage bedroom walls were a mashup of posters of the Ramones, the Meanies, the Clash, and Fugazi. Pinned and Blu-tacked, layered and many, they were me and I was them; hero symbiosis. Going by Anouk van Dijk’s new work, L U C I D for Chunky Move, I imagine Lauren Langlois’ walls featured Audrey Hepburn alongside Hank Williams and Sylvester Stallone, a triptych of talent and admirable traits. Oh to move like Hepburn, croon like Williams, and swing a right hook like Rocky. And Stephen Phillips, posters of Willem Dafoe’s Sergeant Elias falling to his knees in the Oliver Stone classic. Cue: Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings a.k.a. the Saddest Song.
Lake has replicated ideas behind the Milgram experiment with its snaking red and blue electric cables, but in a broad and visual sense, and in doing so, other psychological experiments were referenced. We also learnt that the human form, once hooked into the amplifier, is a noisy beast; a tap-tap on the shoulder of another sounds like a jackhammer. Clipboard in hand, in this session, where you stood ethically was also pulled from the recesses. In keeping the work open to interpretation, but precise in its choreographic execution, for me, a wealth of imagery, from the twisted surgical experiments of Vladimir Demikhov’s two-headed dogs to the deprivation of Harry F. Harlow’s tragic monkeys isolated within steel ‘pits of despair,’ leapt to mind. Thanks to the subterranean lighting of Bosco Shaw, pit ponies and canaries in a coalmine also got a look in. Bedded in a viscous sludge was every bit as alienating as the white noise confines of a sterile laboratory.
And it was this hideous and macabre imagery that Lake’s choreography hauled from the dark cavity as Haines appeared in a second position plié over a kneeling Macindoe. Her elbow upon his head, they moved as a surgically grafted Cerberus. Operating like an inkblot to interpret, this ‘wrong’ cohesiveness, this mutant form soon shifted. Haines appeared as controller over Macindoe, where she willed him to move, he followed suit. Before again, in role reversal, he donned a laboratory assistant’s rubber glove and appeared to ‘blow’ into her forearm.
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.
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.
In this Cinderella, nothing is fixed and quite as it seems: From the Fairy Godmother tipping her bowler hat to René Magritte, to the topiary in the royal gardens inverting the laws of nature, converting at midnight to Man Ray worthy metronomes, Ratmansky’s Cinderella remains a conduit to a parallel universe. For me, it called to mind the Golden Age of Magic, from a time when Harry Houdini could make elephants vanish, and handcuffed and chained, he himself could escape from a box of solid iron. The art of illusion and escape typified by such magicians is not so very different to the theatre. A terrific showman, Houdini would stay submerged in his watery cell for longer than he needed to escape in order to build tension and increase the suspense; not so very unlike the explosive arrival of the ardent Prince—at last!—in act II epitomised by both Gaudiello and Guo’s seeming defiance of gravity as they soared higher and higher. In Ratmansky’s Cinderella every character knows how to make an entrance.
Illusion lies at the heart of this fairy tale. If I looked closely, I could see how Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother transformed her attire from rags to Christian Dior New-Look style gown of pure white tulle and gold lamé. If I looked, I could see Cinderella’s 'magical appearance' at the ball was actually one of 'look over there' staging. If I looked ... But this of course is not what I chose to focus upon. I chose to focus upon the magical effect. I submit completely to the offer of escapism, be it within a play, film, opera, or ballet. Uninterrupted escapism is a rare treat only a fool would choose to squander. Moreover, in doing so, it makes a marshmallow of me at act II’s heartbreaking close.
'To feel' is where it all begins. It is the thread that binds Choreographer and Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela’s premiere work Frame of Mind to William Forsythe’s Quintett, a so-honest-it-hurts love letter to his dying wife.
Presented side by side, both works, uniquely tender in their fragility, give a physical framework to heartache. Born from the tight knot of personal experience, both works spiral outward and give expression to longing and vulnerability. To be entrusted with something deeply personal yet universal, raw yet understated, is a rare gift.
Opening with Forsythe’s Quintett, which premiered in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1993, it is shown through action and heard through repeated stanza, that a state of longing and a kernel of hope can appear temporarily fixed. And so for 26 beautiful minutes, I found myself suspended within a constant sensory loop as an elderly man sang a simple refrain: Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.
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.