Gracia Haby
Type Wilderness, for Fjord Review
March 2015

As part of Dance Massive 2015

10,000 small deaths
Paula Lay
Saturday 21st March 2015

On View: Quintet
Sue Healey
Saturday 21st March 2015

Long Grass
Vicki Van Hout
Arts House, Meat Market
Friday 13th March 2015

Solos for Other People
Shelley Lasica
Dancehouse at Carlton Baths
Sunday 22nd March 2015


Thirteen performances in thirteen days: my exhaustive, intense, yet not-nearly-enough, Dance Massive 2015 experience.

Dance Massive remains a celebration and exploration of the body in movement and in stillness; the body shown on a screen, through a screen, and in response to a screen; the body pushed, and the body pulled; the body grounded, and the body weightless; the body as a tool for communication, as a vessel, and equally as a red herring; the body vs. the machine, and as a machine; the body’s very matter decomposing right before my eyes in glorious time lapse. This is all fodder to make weary (and perhaps, wary) the traveller. And this is, above all else, fodder to exhilarate said lucky traveller.

Dance Massive maps the type wilderness that makes me (think I can) pen my own manifesto.

Yes to the ongoing play with testing the weight of a human body
Yes to shouldering the weight of another human body
Yes to embracing physical actions like falling in a heap
Yes to putting down roots… in the right place and possibly the wrong place
To measuring time and space
To making me question… and leaving me the headspace to think
Yes, to writing things down and then rubbing them out
Yes to testing my (as yet unformed) definition of dance — How about, orchestrated movement?
Yes to the balance between transitional states
Yes to taking me through new territory
For shaking the rule book and seeing how it lands
Borrowing heavily from Mette Ingvartsen’s 2005 Yes Manifesto,
"Yes to redefining virtuosity
Yes to conceptualizing experience, affects, sensation
…Yes to investment of performer and spectator
Yes to expression
…Yes to "invention" (however impossible)"[i]

But before Dance Massive 2015 is mentally shelved, there is still time to look at a handful of performances not yet covered. Dance Massive may be inescapably about dances’ corporeality, but linking these four works recently seen, for me, is dances’ ability to look at what makes us tick. Paula Lay’s 10,000 small deaths, in particular, conveyed the beauty of the human condition through its strength and fragility.

Perfectly suited to the dark embrace of Dancehouse’s Sylvia Staehli Theatre, my eyes sought to bring the form into focus, as I was drawn into the very fabric of the work. Its texture: velvet. And earth, sparked by fireflies.

10,000 small deaths explored "the poetics and immediacy of the body, .... a contemplation of the inextricable link between life and death and the continuous change and impermanence that mark our existence. The transience of our corporeality and the beauty and sadness of existence are meditated upon; personal and universal images merge; and there is an interplay between the real, the imagined and a seeking of what has not yet come into being."[ii]

Every fluid arm extension to sickled foot in 10,000 small deaths appeared as a considered meditation, finely honed, and thus beautifully brief. The sparing use of projections enhanced the work without overshadowing it. As Lay, supine on the floor, was shown as a larger projection on the far wall flitted between real-time and sensory blur, the two, body and its accompanying image transfer, worked together to flesh out a whole.

Yes to limitations that bring about creative and direct means of communication
Yes to the evanescence of live performance
Yes to playing with recording the ephemeral, not for posterity, but as performance vehicle
Yes to voicing an internal dialogue
To Ros Warby nestled alongside Jim Jarmusch
To drawing sounds with the body
To inward and outward gaze
Yes to choreography inspired by a text in turn inspired by a dream
To inspiration found marvelling at "thousands upon thousands of fireflies all burning brightly above [a] huge lake... gradually fall[ing]... that beautiful light fading with them."[iii]
Yes to nature and recognising our small place in it
Yes to returning to the earth

Sue Healey’s On View: Quintet portrait gallery in the upstairs studio of Dancehouse opened with five performers viewed in triplicate, and as with Lay’s piece, the geography it traversed was transcendence. Projected onto five individual screens, the cinematic selves of Martin del Amo, Shona Erskine, Benjamin Hancock, Raghav Handa and Nalina Wait vied for my attention and I readily gave it to them. The effect of these film portraits splintered was mesmerising and, for me, could have been the work in its entirety.

In fantastical costumes as extension of the self, I could not help but marvel at Hancock in a long black dress that beneath the full skirt grew a plastic fantastic forest of lurid flowers and revealed a pair of red sequined hotpants (The effect momentarily reminiscent of Mammy’s red petticoat rustling beneath her servant garb in the film Gone with the Wind (1939).). When Hancock emerged from behind the screen, all grasshopper elegance and artful contortions, his quiet introspective focus was engaging. So too, by contrast, Wait’s outward focus and engagement with the audience before returning behind one of the five screens placed in an arc. Wait’s expressive and responsive face, especially in a close-up filmed sequence projected on the central screen showed her running through a series of contrasting emotions at a gallop. No sooner had shock registered upon her face before it slid magically into hilarity.

Though no reflection of the dancer’s skill, the lush film portraits proved too captivating for me. Handa pas de deux with a mare on screen — can one top such a visual? Excess aside, at its heart, as Sue Healey describes, an interest in "what it is the body can say, feel and do… The basis of my quest is being true to the essence if what it is to be human. We move, we feel, we think, and dance says something real about all of these."[iv]

Yes to a moving portrait gallery
To costumed meditations with one’s spirit animal
And to excess… (maybe)

Costumes of a different finish, but still with far amount of sequined sparkle and accompanying rustle, denoted the performers in Shelley Lasica’s Solos for Other People as (depending on your viewpoint and the frequency of your visits to community centres) perhaps not atypical of a basketball court. A playful homage to Merce Cunningham, with something of a soft-tread and tender caress of the cheek, the work was also created as part of a continued dialogue with the performers, all of whom Lasica has worked with over a twenty-year period. One choreographer and ten dancers, 'both Lasica and not', negotiated, claimed, and commanded the space. As one dancer appeared stationary, another could be seen oscillating like a fan, as a third vocalized thoughts on technique. Inhabiting the court in a tranquil state, even when running, one collective knot of individuals.

"The performance is about me/not about me, will show you/will not show you my choreographic signature, is me/is not me performing. Solos for Other People explores choreography and how it functions in this world of shifting contexts, authenticity and expertise."[v]

Yes to doffing one’s cap to Mr. Cunnigham
Yes to challenging traditional modes of spectatorship
Yes to drawing parallels between dance and sculpture, seeing a performance from all four sides

The geography of Wiradjuri woman Vicky Van Hout’s Long Grass, made in collaboration with Larrakia man Gary Long, was firmly fixed and unforgiving. An unsentimental work which “doesn’t aim to judge, but does aim to share a bit of the cultural magic which can be found in the unlikeliest of places,"[vi] it is about Darwin’s homeless Aboriginal communities who live in the long grass from which they take their name. Due to a dancer’s injury, I saw a variation of the original work at the Meat Market, Arts House. The dance of the "violent powerful ‘knock-‘em’ storms that flatten the grass and clear the line of sight" was the anticipated "amazing ball of energy"[vii] that I greedily wanted more of. Violence, hardship and loss when told through movement delivered an emotional kick, with humour and sense of community as balm.

Yes to the feet that pound and stomp
Yes to throwing the body with force as if buffeted by the wet season rains
Yes to appearing to float weightless in death, whilst being carried by the hands of another viewed fragmented through a screen fashioned from a broken bed

Beginning with the charms of the gloaming revealed to me in Anouk van Dijk’s Depth of Field and ending up a part of film noir’s fantastical disintegration in Lucy Guerin’s Motion Picture, along my journey’s way, I have participated in the modern ritual of yum cha (Do You Speak Chinese?), played air guitar in the privacy of my own bedroom (Catalogue) and learned to cast ill-formed assumptions aside (Nothing to Lose). A biannual festival, which kicked off in 2009, Dance Massive makes the days following its close feel somewhat lacking.

Five words in conclusion, punctuated by an exclamation:
Yes to Dance Massive 2017!

[i] Mette Ingvartsen, 'Yes Manifesto' (2005); reprinted in The Swedish Dance History (Stockholm: University College of Dance, 2008), p. 48
[ii] Paula Lay, 10,000 small deaths foldout programme, Dancehouse, 20-22 March, 2015
[iii] [Massive Chats] Paula Lay, 10,000 small deaths, 19th February, 2015
[iv] Sue Healey in interview with Erin Brannigan, 2011, ‘Sue Healey: Dramatising space’, Bodies of Thought: Twelve Australian Choreographers, edited by Erin Brannigan and Virginia Baxter, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2014, p. 169
[v] Shelley Lasica, Solos for Other People, Dancehouse, 13-22 March, 2015
[vi] Vicki Van Hout, 'Director’s Notes', Long Grass foldout programme, Arts House, Meat Market, 20-22 March, 2015
[vii] Djon Mundine OAM, 'A Memoir: Knock ‘em Down', Long Grass foldout programme

10,000 Small deaths
Original Concept, Choreography and Performance: Paula Lay
Video Artist and Dramaturgy: Martyn Coutts
Composer & Sound Design: Kelly Ryall
Filmmaker & Photographer: Mischa Baka
Lighting Design and Operation: Amelia Lever-Davidson
Creative Consultant: Helen Herbertson
Production and Marketing Assistant: Jordine Cornish

On View: Quintet
Film: Sue Healey
Choreography: Sue Healey, in collaboration with the dancers
Performers: Martin del Amo, Shona Erskine, Benjamin Hancock, Raghav Handa, Nalina Wait
Director of Photography: Judd Overton
Music: Darrin Verhagen and Justin Ashworth
Lighting Design: Karen Norris
Producer: Pippa Bailey, MAPS NSW, Performing Lines

Long Grass
Director and Choreographer: Vicki Van Hout
Cultural Consultant and Voice/Sound: Gary Lang
Sound Designer: Phil Downing
Designer: Clare Britton
Lighting Designer: Clytie Smith
Dancers: Darren Edwards, Thomas E Kelly, Katina Olsen, Caleena Sansbury, Taree Sansbury
Creative Consultant: Ben Graetz
Co-Producers: Harley Stumm, Steph Walker
Production Manager: Richard Whitehouse
Stage Manager: Natalie Ayton

Solos for Other People
Choreographer & Director: Shelley Lasica
Music: Milo Kossowski
Composition: Anne-Marie May
Lighting Designer: Rose Connors Dance
Costume Designer: Belinda Hellier
Performers: Natalie Abbott, Deanne Butterworth, Timothy Harvey, Jo Lloyd, Daniel Newell, Bonnie Paskas, Lily Paskas, Deborah Saxon, Lee Serle, Kylie Walters
Producer: Kyle Kremerskothen

Related post,
March, sparked by fireflies


Additional written pieces, from 2012 through to today, can be found side by side on Fjord Review, nestled under 'Dance' on Marginalia, and loosely archived on the now-retired High Up in the Trees.