Death by Glitter – Get a Leg Up

The third performance of Friday night, and barely making it in time while snacking on Thunfisch pizza on the tram from Sophiensaele to Dock 11. Unlike the previous two, Get a Leg Up has no programme notes that I can find, and unlike the other two also, it is neither a solo – nine dancers altogether – and is more concerned with velocity than conceptualism.

It took some scruffing around on Clint’s website to find out this piece is a combination of two older works, Side of Splendour and the duet Get a Leg Up, and that it muses on the Bazar de la Charité fire in Paris, 1897 which left some 120 women dead, though only a few men; “‘Le reste détala, non seulement ne sauvant personne, mais encore se frayant un passage dans la chair féminine, à coups de pieds, à coups de poings, à coups de talons, à coups de canne’ (‘The rest ran away, not only not saving anybody, but also pushing their way past female flesh, kicking, punching, pushing with their heels and sticks’)”.

Knowing this now, perhaps I can view the pile of black-clad bodies at the beginning in a different light, and the whole work itself. Last night though, with the unceasing cascade of bodies flung through the air, spinning and sliding across the floor accompanied by the electronic score of Patrick Blasa, I was reminded strongly of the hyper-kinetic ADT in Adelaide.

While much of the aerial and tumbling movement, often carried out in masses, pairs, trios and occasionally all nine dancers, bears a resemblance to the aesthetics of that company, other solos and duos had an uncannily Melbourne Chunky Move and Lucy Guerin feeling, collapsing body parts and joints, staccato shifts of weight and momentum, arms and hands slashing and shunting legs or the whole body against the floor, bodies and their articulations disjointed from thought or agency, almost disconcerting to see the movement culture I passed through in a city about as far from Berlin as possible make an eerie return in Dock 11.

Perhaps most impressive is this full-evening piece was slung together in a mere three weeks, and the often physically and mentally demanding choreography, allowing scant room for mistakes at the likely cost of a foot or limb in the face largely showed up as very well-rehearsed. Towards the end there was some signs of tiring, though equally the end, as in Suites with Rosalind Goldberg came to an almost trance-like state of intensity.

Of the nine, only Clint and Bérengère Valour are not costumed in black, and for much of the work remain together in a duo first begun as dragging each other diagonally across the stage from the upstage wall of lights. For much of the work also, they cling to the walls, climb into the high window frames and avoid the panic and frenzy below.

Below begins with one black-clad wraith wringing her arms and legs from their sockets. coming from the pile of bodies (burnt black? ghosts and the dead? I can only read this into it now, and without programme notes found much of the narrative content of the performance obtuse to the point of frustrating), to be joined by more in duos and singles as arms and legs rise vertically from the heap.

One with orange bob begins screeching, “Don’t touch me!” while the others glide into couples, looking pointedly at her while they do so, until her cries become, “Touch me!”, and she is met by one who gags her with her hand, restrains her and drags her off.

Again, with hindsight of reading the short notes, I look at some of this differently now, but discussed last night with Dy the particular heterosexuality of this scene and of Clint with Bérengère, wondering what I was supposed to infer by this. And even if it is a performance revolving around a historic catastrophe, besides the pertinent question of why choose this incident as the core of a piece, which I feel is not addressed, I wonder about the simplicity of displaying the obvious male-female coupling and its place in such a piece. I also wonder about displaying the tropes of BDSM, gagging, restraint, breath control, dominance and rough scenes, within such a context. What can appear when removed from its context as sexual violation could be exactly how she wished to be touched.

With this, often the movement felt similarly without self-awareness. At times gestures and movements seemed to come from the depths of Modern dance and Martha Graham, the transferral of psychoanalysis and the psyche onto bodily activity, then flitting into aerial and post-post-modern thrash, and in this work not finding in or giving to the means of communication a commensurate attention. As with ADT, the spectacle of the bodies and their capabilities becomes lost in the presentation of the performance.

I often though with ADT, particularly Held and Devolution, they were far more suited to being performed in the studio in rehearsal clothes, where the individuals could be clearly identified and weren’t lost beneath the behemoth of staging, that there was something intriguing and attractive in these works as investigations of pure movement. This applies for me also in Get a Leg Up in that I struggled to work out what it was about, obviously more than just pure movement, yet exactly what I wasn’t able to say. How would it look stripped of costume and taken to where the individuality of each performer is both taken to the fore and subordinated to more involved sense of performed character?

Dragged out through the back doors, bare windows to the outside letting in light and shadows, they gather at this periphery to watch, mute, not intervening. Later a return, into the most physically brutal spinning in the air and headlong across the floor, or equally intense in deep lunges, bodies torqued as if about to launch themselves, the tension and power in their bodies so focussed as if they could by strength of will alone bend themselves endlessly further. The dragging from the corner returns, now a memory also of one stumbling at speed while helplessly looking back, across the floor to collapse in a slide, and the pile of bodies also, into darkness and finishing.