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.
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.
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: Post Phase: The Summit is Blue, Gracia's written response for Fjord Review
In 1924, Captain John Noel, with the aid of his hand-cranked camera (and steel nerves, I wager) captured footage of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine’s infamous attempt to climb Everest in all its beauty and brutality. The footage, recently restored by the British Film Institute National Archive and with a score composed, orchestrated and conducted by Simon Fisher Turner, saddles a backpack to the shoulder of the viewer even by today’s standards, and leaves me in little doubt as to the majesty of such an environment. Alongside the earliest film records of Tibetan life, the harsh landscape presented is one part awe-inspiring beauty to one part endurance test, and it is this punishing survival element that links an expedition with Chloe Chignell and Timothy Walsh’s new work Post Phase: The Summit is Blue. The landscape traversed in both film (The Epic of Everest: The official record of Mallory and Irvine’s 1924 expedition) and dance is one that covers vulnerability and exhaustion, against a backcloth of extreme conditions.
Post Phase: The Summit is Blue may not have the epic quality of Everest, nor the presence of yaks*, but it does yield a suitable chill in proportion to its means and positioning. By comparison to Everest, a small mound of ice at the back of the upstairs studio space provides the required brrrr to make the teeth chatter. The tone is set, and time marked by the process of watching ice melt.
* "The negatives were sent down the mountain and across the Tibetan plains by yak to Darjeeling where Noel had set up a special laboratory to process the films." Restoring The Epic of Everest, Bryony Dixon, BFI, 17th April 2014
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.