Besides some beligerent contact with the Australian Family Association extermination didn’t get many inches in the dead-tree press. Hillary Crampton wrote this (unpublished) piece though, which I think is pretty cool.
Frances d’Ath’s extermination is probably the most interesting dance work seen so far this year. From the beginning the audience finds itself in a quandary. A brief glance at the program note before entering the auditorium leads to expectations of violence and horror. It is, states d’Ath, a meditation on Jean Baudrillard’s book, Symbolic Exchange and Death. Reference is made to heavy metal, Goya, beauty, decadence, the death of God and the end of civilisation, all those confusing catastrophes of uncertainty let loose upon us by the Pandora’s box of post modernity.
Ironically d’Ath almost succeeds in simulating Baudrillard’s thesis of the destruction of “the real”, because every aspect of this production can be read in a variety of ways. What seems beautiful, could also be seen as degrading, what seems ugly could also be seen as fascinating, intriguing. Nothing, it seems, is for real!
The audience enters a bright space, a candy-cane coloured set, with five beautiful bikini-clad young women jumping persistently, incessantly on the spot. As they continue jumping we become uncomfortable, this seems like exploitation, physical torture, sexist exposure. We avert our gaze, it is too troubling.
Eventually they stop. A vinyl record is activated rending the air with heavy metal growls and shrieks and the dancers thrash and gyrate frenetically as if charged with electric current. This ceases and they move casually to disrobe, quietly but not coyly. The manner defuses the shock potential of nudity. One, completely naked, takes various items and arranges them fastidiously at the front of the performance area, then joins the others in donning formal finery, elegant ball gowns, jewellery, gloves, hair ornaments.
What follows is a stately, highly formalised series of tableaux that simulate grotesque violence, each woman is escorted to her place, then manipulated into fearsome distortions, eyes bulging, arms raised, rapiers placed in their hands so that we see Goya’s Disasters of War coming to life, an almost real replica of an artistic interpretation of an imagined real violence. d’Ath has captured that frustrating circularity that permeates the arguments of the post modern French cultural critics.
The performance manner is fastidiously clinical, the dancers maintain a solemn composure and go about their tasks with idiosyncratic attention to detail. The action finally results in a “real” death and two pick over the denuded body, accruing samples- a lock of hair, some skin scrapings. Are they grave robbers, vultures or forensic scientists? Your guess!
Simulated blood also features, the corpse is daubed, the others drink, it could be satanic, or it could be the biblical Last Supper. d’Ath cleverly refers obliquely and indeterminately to many iconic events. Eventually music rends the air again -more heavy metal, and the dancers thrash violently. Chaos reigns it seems. Then all return decorously, though still semi-nude to take their bows.
In fact the weakest element in the whole event is the brief explosion of what most would consider to be dance. It is the non-dance material that carries the show. The heavy-metal driven thrashing serves only to provide bookends for the task oriented narrative, and looks rather too much like a poor take on the frenetic style of another well-known choreographer.
This is a work that disobeys all the conventional rules, it maintains a slow steady pace, avoids overt theatricality, yet is highly theatrical, drawing the audiences into complicity, by staying we condone what verges on the pornographic, but is it really, or is it art?
And another picture from the delightful end of civilisation (Danielle Harrison clicking again)