Last night I finally got to see one of the several dance companies in Australia I’ve not yet seen. Either because they don’t often tour to Melbourne or because I was not there when they did, I’ve never seen Australian Dance Theatre since Gary Stewart became the Artistic Director. Last night they weren’t performing either, so I can’t really say I’ve seen a performance from the company, but their open rehearsal of HELD was the most powerful performance I’ve seen in from an Australian group, and one of the most transfixing works of dance I’ve seen in any country.
ADT live in a ballroom, and the rehearsal was devoid of the monolithic screens images of the dancers photographed during performance are projected onto. Also missing was the lighting, just plain studio lights here, and Gary was careful to point out that some of the dancers were new to this stuff (including Gabrielle Nankivell), they were still getting ready for the Japan/Europe tour, and this was the first run of the work in front of an audience.
None of this detracts from the singular intensity of the performance. The attitude and insane commitment of the dancers, separate from the aesthetic stylisation of HELD is something I’ve been missing in Australian dance for a long time, and something I don’t really often see anywhere. That they did terrifying things with their bodies and their costumes were like from the most hardcore Goth club of the 80s where Alien Sex Fiend would be playing was only part of it. As a group, they could hold my attention doing nothing or hanging out on the side.
When I returned to Melbourne I heard about Honour Bound which deals with David Hicks in Guantanamo, I thought finally there was a choreographer in Australia who was doing something relevant and not pissing around with suburbia and the vacuous self-indulgence of so much empty contemporary dance. So seeing HELD, despite thinking the work needed a far more coherent and unified sound score, the throwing-yourself-at-the-floor routines got a bit predictable, and a bunch of other things that would normally have me announcing I was leaving early to kill myself because contemporary dance truly sucks balls, this time I was sitting there feeling like the dork in bottle glasses and braces who stumbled into the cool kids party and was really hoping somehow it’d magically turn me into one of the cool kids too. ADT – saviour of Australian dance.