I was lucky enough in leaving England that I landed myself back in Oz for the creative Melbourne dance festival: Dance Massive.
Dance Massive is a biennial festival that began in 2009 and involves collaboration between three dance theatres in Melbourne: Arts House, Dancehouse and Malthouse Theatre.
In 2009, I remember a night deemed “180 seconds in (Disco) Heaven or Hell”, a performance that promised everything from a fortuneteller to a comedian. Red, sparkles and Rubix cubes flash through my memory, performances in flashy costumes that occurred in disparate locations. It was a night I recall most by it’s engagement with the small but passionate audience that is the foundation of Australian dance in Melbourne, a party of sorts what invited those from every corner of the city.
This year’s Massive was equally if not more impressive…. I was only able to see a selection from the last week of performances but the turnout was encouraging: there were many faces I hadn’t seen in years, and those I hadn’t seen at all.
There’s a familiarity to Australian dance – and one that is a little difficult to articulate…almost imperceptible perhaps, unless you are the one experiencing it. I’m curious to know…anyone else know what I’m talking about? It’s an aesthetic: experimental, technical and articulate. I find Australian dancers to perceive things in a less experiential way, their concepts often rigorously calculated and therefore very well verbalised (for the most part), but this causes a change in movement – whether in process or realization (or both?).
But…onto the shows…
Review: Matthew Day’s Intermission
This work was the third in a trilogy. It may have been to my disadvantage to not have seen his previous two works, but it by no means foreshadowed my experience of this work.
The audience, taken one at a time through a corridor of large black curtains to their seats creates a sense of isolation, unease. The music and the space streamlines the audience’s perception: a cloaking of time and place. Day arrives on stage, covered head to toe in body gripping black, all except for his face, a blank expression that promises nothing.
If you were expecting grand gestures in this work, you’d be disappointed. I came to this piece expecting to be wowed and instead I was fundamentally, almost imperceptibly…shifted. Day begins to shift from foot to foot. A wave begins in his body, hypnotizing. For the next forty-five minutes, not much changes and yet this repetitive gesture never bores. The movement gradually increases and decreases in energy, space and focus. The movement and the music allow space for the audience to think, and yet remain tethered to what’s occurring on stage. This work I could describe as a meditation, and yet I was suspended in a way I rarely succeed when alone.
What’s left is a sensation. A throb, and ebb rather than elation. But creeping through oneself, this sensation is contagious.
Review: Lucy Guerin Inc: Conversation Piece
I arrived, quite boldly, without a ticket, on opening night. As part of my trial of a come-what-may attitude I was enjoying the freedom of picking and choosing work’s as I could visit them. I didn’t realise how much I wanted to see this piece until I was on the second waiting list, hardly top priority of the night.
But… I made it, and I was once again impressed and excited by the work of Lucy Guerin and dancers.
Conversation Piece: comical, impulsive, and interesting began with an 8 minute conversation between three dancers. This conversation was entirely improvised and recorded on three separate iPhones covering questions of parenting, wasabi-sniffing, and tea drinking. These particular elements of conversation formed the basis to morph and develop the rest of the piece into a larger social commentary that was the backbone of the work.
In Guerin’s last work Untrained, non-dancers were offset against the professionals with movements that accepted the comedic and unifying aspects of dance. In a finely tuned navigation, Guerin was able to tap into movement as a source of enjoyment and embellishment that could have been the instigation for this newest piece treading along similar pathways. Rather than pure movement, conversation was the pivotal point, and shortly after the dancer’s finished their conversation, three actors walked in to take their place, and their conversation, reiteration the situation word for word via playback on individual phones.
The set was minimal, three rows of unassuming orange chairs that were manipulated to create sets mimicking travel, or waiting rooms. Each of the six performers on stage inhabited their own world, playing on their device and in a quirky formulaic way either interacted with one another or through a set of hanging chords broadcast new music to move to toward the audience. There was never a stationary point: conversation was the pivotal flow of understanding, relationships and audience yet verbal communication was not the sole factor. At one point a dancer and her actor (the actor communicating her third of the conversation) entered into a competition: at first movement based, and later a one-sided verbal sparring which was both clever and cutting.
I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. Themes from these original 8 minutes never grew tiresome, yet flavoured the personalities of the performers and allowed discussion, bonding, challenge and transgression. It’s a work expertly considered and cleverly reenacted.
Sadly, there were many shows I was unable to see in this festival, because of time and other commitments my affair with the festival was brief, but not without it’s rewards. It’s beautiful and encouraging to be back amongst talented Australian dancers, I’m beginning to see new names blossom and old morph into something increasingly supportive and helpful.