temperance 16mm film

With all the adding of video and making newness on, I started looking at the footage of temperance again. It’s been years since then, reading my blogging on the project is a curious reminder of that time, and the process of forgetting, the certitude of thinking one remembers.

I decided then, to do some rough cutting of the film, beautiful 16mm stock that had been sitting in a fridge for decades, wondering if I could work around the limitations of some of my decisions in the filming. A good deal had already been done. Paul had synced the cameras and also done a first cut – though what I have done, while retaining some of this, is far from it, and also conditional, preliminary.

A thought early on, a week or so ago, was what to do about music. For the rehearsals, we’d been using a track from the Boredoms, which fitted well the mood of the rehearsal as well as of that time. It didn’t fit now, or rather it did but didn’t say or add anything I particularly cared about.

In addition to the film, there was also all of Bart’s sound recordings, including boom from the floor – also all synced. I wanted to leave this in place, as the sound of feet, breathing, scraping, knocking the floor, the hum of the cameras, was all things I felt belonged.

So to music. I thought perhaps something Cello or otherwise, but then was listening to Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations and one track, the 15th, somehow suited. Perhaps it is a bit long, perhaps one that was four minutes would have been better, but strangely the rhythm of Bonnie and Gala matches that of the piano.

This then, is a first cut. I am really not a film editor, though I can stumble and thrash my way through Final Cut enough. I decided to stop here as the only real option is to spend weeks on familiarising myself with all the footage, and carefully assembling it, for which I don’t have the luxury of such time, nor do I think I am capable; and I also know if I don’t at least call something ‘finished’ now, it will remain in the darkness of my hard drive forever.

There are a couple of edits I’m a bit cringy about, where the continuity is very off, and other places where more tightening and timetimetime would make me smile more, but there is also much in here I like. The dancing and attentiveness of Bonnie and Gala, the camerawork of Paul, the sound of Bart, the Temperance Hall, those two weeks when we made this.

You can also watch temperance on


Alison Croggon said to me, “I like drinking with theatre types, and those whom I drink with are pretty cool about the reviewing thing. There’s this kind of unspoken pact that I am there to be honest, and we all have to put with it.” So, seeing two of the choreographers I’ve already worked with, and several of the performers (who are often the choreographers also) are good friends, for me there’s still this nervousness about how much detail do you want?

Ausdance SA’s Choreolab is something of a development showcase for both emerging artists in Adelaide and those who have been around for a bit who are trying things out. In this context, and in a venue that is only really able to present the works as showings, I thought there were two works that I regarded as in some form of development and three others of the seven performances and films that whether or not in actuality finished had achieved something of a coherence that made me see them as complete.

Watching Sarah Cartwright dance, I realised my seat was perhaps not the best if I wanted to see someone lying on the floor through a forest of heads. So much of Where I’ve got So Far… was missing behind the lack of a clear line of sight. She was dressed in almost rehearsal clothes, comes in, lies down, and has this kinda corporeal almost smutty movement, part way through pauses, lies down a bit further upstage and partially caught in the uncovered mirrors of the studio vaguely repeats.

I’ve seen Sarah in class and in Melbourne in a workshop with Roz Warby, where I got curious about Barebones, and what they were doing hanging out with Roz, but never performing, so there’s been this wondering what she actually becomes on stage. Sarah also has been spending time with Becky Hilton, and like none of the other pieces, this looked straight out of Melbourne. It was a really pleasant surprise to see her perform, and become this other person, who is intriguing to watch move.

Far from Becky, John Jasperse and all the rest of the New York thing, I guess this is the isolated evolution of a style. Sarah understands kinesthetically what she is doing when she moves like Becky, but so removed from the roots of this aesthetic, she’s making it into something else, maybe softer, maybe less aggressive or precise or conscious, something new. Sometimes I did want to see her move twice as fast, or get carried away in the frenetic momentum of it, but this was one of the pieces I thought really was in development and would like to see go somewhere further.

The other piece that seemed like an excerpt, like reading a chapter from the middle of a book was Daniel Jaber’s Swanhilda is a Punk. Before the show, I’d been sitting in a bookshop trying to read all of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a menacing, dark work of Norse deities and unhealthy decay, worlds he has been an expert at since his graphic novel days of Sandman. As a violent, neck-slashing assault of nihilism I thought Daniel should be reading this and William T. Vollman’s Viking crypto-histories, the scope for derangement and upsetting preternatural narrative subtexts could really be taken to extremes in his choreography.

There was in the style and execution a distinct ADT feeling, but like so much stuff in Melbourne a few years ago that looked like Chunky Move, it’s more because the dancers in the company themselves make up the movement, which does engender a troubling notion of the Artistic Director as choreographer. Daniel I think has already a clear idea of movement beyond the repertoire of steps that I would love to see where it goes. I did want louder, dirtier, scarier, something verging on the monstrous sex fiends in Ghost in the Shell, and really, Alexandra Jezouin should be in ADT (and I did feel nervous that I was sitting next to Daniel).

The three other works that I saw as closer to finished if indeed already there were all films. Firstly Alison Currie’s whom I’ve been staying with and saw Mr Potato Head in her lounge. Long, languid shots of a foot, clad in stocking or shoe, so I was thinking, “mmmmm foot porn”, then vulnerable close-ups of her looking into the camera, somewhat in part profile as if not wanting to submit a direct gaze, and long unsteady handheld voyeuristic glimpses of her in public places, doing headstands in the railway station to the consternation of a black-clad woman sitting on the same bench, or in a busy concourse.

Post-Tracey Emin, there is a glut of shoddily made and embarrassingly personal video art by and about the artist, styled as the conceptual art of this decade is me, and often it achieves some semblance of art through sheer repetition but mostly is derivative, boring, mediocre and just crappy. Alison, possibly because she’s making dance is nothing like this, though superficially in the vaguely the same conceptual region. I was reminded more of Cindy Sherman’s untitled film stills or Laurie Anderson’s 1980s New York performance art. And she has a development coming up soon, so more dance for Adelaide.

Sam Oster and Felecia Hick’s Circuit to me looked like an advertisement for an airline or an electricity company, slick and with much post-production. As a dance film it just washed over me, coupled with what is the contemporary dance equivalent of elevator music, the ambient electronic soundscape.

There were a number of pieces that used this non-committal soundtrack, including Sarah’s and at times Amanda Phillips’s 3XPERIMENTIA, with Alexander Mitchell who is a highly talented composer. His score mostly was far from this but occasionally slipped back a decade to Squarepusher’s drum-machine freakouts that were unheard of then but now … it seems too easy. For dance, electronic music is dangerously close to being an unmemorable dead end.

Amanda’s film with special 3-D glasses and LSD psychedelia is only an early development of a larger interactive performance, but as a film I thought it should be shown everywhere, now. Gala Moody and Lisa Griffiths perform, occasionally with a black horse, a store full of mannequins, and themselves in reflection and across time and haircuts. Visually the 3-D effect is magnificent and makes for phenomenal dance, even without the glasses, the subtle effects on the video, grading, contrast, saturation make for a dreamlike swirl of inky blackness and luminous bodies.

My one criticism in this is the use of an effect something like solarisation, that leaves the bodies mostly as outlines. I thought this was really an effect for the sake of it, and heavy-handed at that. The beauty in the film lies in its subtlety, the use of stereoscopic filming and projection is complex and vital enough in itself, that only the softest of changes are necessary to induce striking differences in feel and emotion.

The first time I saw it, Lisa with the mannequin’s arm, a slow-motion seduction, then both of them hidden amidst the torsos and limbs, it was straight from Kes in Bladerunner. Amanda said she’d done some extra filming of Gala, then with shoulder length blonde hair, now with shaved head, and the two bodies overlapping, arm and fingers reaching out, caressing an invisible face, one Gala with hair the other without is the most unsettling, powerful and human moment in the entire film and evening.


forget me not

The past week I’ve been rehearsing with Ivan Thorley and a bunch of dancers for his film Forget me not then getting up at 4am for a dawn shoot and going to bed at 4am after a night shoot that was last night and so I’m feeling peculiarly delirious right now. It’s been lots of fun, Hadean volumes of smoke and haze, so much food I couldn’t say no to, fake blood and real dirt, learning to be crows, getting costumed and make-up’d by Anita from the wonderfully strange and beautiful Bird Girl (and dining on chicken curry and other delicacies) in Fitzroy, playing and dancing and then the filming, Cobie and an awesome crew smoke-machine inferno and Dantean parcans, more eating, freezingness and hysteria in semi-nudity 2am splitter-splttering around puddles and across cobblestones, in and out of an empty warehouse and Dickensian alleys off Moor St, I’ve forgotten quite a few things, but Ivan is flying to Italy, or is it Spain next week, and rumours of a quick cutting of film and then for everyone to see. (Some photos from my now unequivocally antiquated camera I have dropped far too often.)


temperance – photos from rhys

Lucky that almost a gig of photos that Rhys took during the filming on Sunday turned up this morning, or I’d have nothing interesting to blog about.


temperance – 16mm anamorphic zeiss porn

Sunday was a smooth rush through six minutes of dancing bookended by a 7am stagger out of bed and a 6pm return to the Chesterfield sofas, and containing some 30,000 watts of white light, a pea-soup of undulating smoke, a salacious box of Zeiss lenses, two 16mm cameras shooting black & white anamorphic and a glistening frittata seeping golden olive oil.

This is the third film I’ve made with Paul Williams, and once again Marcus joined in operating one camera, along with Tim doing gaffer/grip/everything, Rhys taking stills, Bart recording every sweaty breath and footfall, Yvonne painting Gala and Bonnie’s faces, and a truckload of gear.

The last two weeks have been a strange, fast ride, from conceiving the film to rehearsing and shooting, all fortuitous because Gala was in Melbourne and had spare evenings, the Temperance Hall was empty of rehearsals these two weeks, Paul had a fridge stacked with film stock and everyone seemed to be around.

Shooting on black and white, on a stock that Paul thinks is a couple of decades old and has an unbelievable amount of contrast and lack of grain in a black hall, even setting up there was a dreamy lack of colour, a monochromatic palette of flesh tones in-between the lightless matte black of the interior and over-exposed glare of the smoke haze.

Mostly I got to sit and eat, and take photos, occasionally give some notes and look busy with a pen and paper. Actually I was just doodling. For me it’s finished, now the four rolls of film – some 45 minutes – are off to the States to be developed, then the editing begins.


temperance – a stranger knocks at his door; fang decides to kill him

When I was using Life Forms as my main tool for choreography, one of the best things about it was not having to worry about dancers or being in a studio. Which sounds a little cruel. Mostly, if I go into a studio on my own to ‘make dance’, I end up lying on the floor lost in an existential funk. If I go in with dancers and don’t have some really solid ideas about what I’m going to do – not just a general and vague conception of the work, but exactly what I will do from 1 till 2pm and so on – then again it’s wasted time. So having an animation programme that let me make a whole bunch of movement phrases – movement that I would not come up with on my own, then learn them and do things with them removed that often yawning chasm between ‘vague idea’ and ‘real dance steps’.

I haven’t used Life Forms since carnivore, but my well-battered PowerBook has always been the centre of my choreographing universe. Temperance has ended up being a work (and a film) made in Final Cut Pro. To video rehearsals, edit the results until there remains a series of short clips that might be usable and assemble them in something like a coherent order in Final Cut is the dance equivalent of story-boarding a movie using scenes cut from old movies or generating the whole thing inside a gaming engine. The alternative is to imagine it inside my head and on scraps of paper (hard to do and even harder to interpret my notes once in rehearsal again) or do it during rehearsals.

In a completely different same part of my brain, I’ve been reading the chapter “Incompossibility, Individuality, Liberty” in Deleuze’s The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, especially the reference to Jean-Luis Borges’ Le jardin aux sentiers qui bifurquent in Fictions:

Borges, one of Leibniz’s disciples, invoked the Chinese philosopher-architect T’sui Pên, the inventor of the “garden with bifurcating paths,” a baroque labyrinth whose infinite series converge or diverge, forming a webbing of time embracing all possibilities. “Fang, for example, keeps a secret; a stranger knocks at his door; Fang decides to kill him. Naturally, several outcomes are possible: Fang can kill the intruder; the intruder can kill Fang; both of them can escape from their peril; both can die, etc. In T’sui Pên’s work, all outcomes are produced, each being the point of departure for other bifurcations”.

— The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque


temperance – monster curves

When I was a student at VCA, I somehow blagged a copy of William Forsythe’s Improvisation Technologies which was largely responsible for the theoretical basis of the actual dancing in my work up until extermination when I was coerced into a satanic black metal cult. I was surprised to find I’d kept it not buried in some ready-for-the-garbage archive, but on a dvd that has travelled around with me for the last four years. The practical development of movement for temperance depends heavily on this stuff.

On its own, many of the approaches to analysing space and movement fall into fairly narrow Euclidean and Cartesian geometry. It gets interesting for me when momentum, residual motion and instability generate stochastic iterations that spread across a moving body in ways that can’t be predicted and are almost painfully complex to repeat.

I was talking about fractals and chaotic dynamics on Friday night, and how while both can be used as a somewhat facile metaphor for developing complexity in improvisation, there is a literal exactness, for example in which the flow of motion is sensitive to the initial conditions (the boundaries imposed by the very precise improvisation techniques). Unlike a mathematical or geological fractal though (eg the Mandelbrot set or the coastline of Australia) which are genuinely fractal at any scale, the fine structure on the scale of a body stops at the smallest joints.

As usual, everything currently refers back to Leibniz, and the idea of recursive self-similarity is as much in his scientific theories in topology as it is in his philosophical theories of optimism. So in this I think the current interest for me is how to define a system of improvising which is as clear in its understanding and quantifying of chaotic dynamics and fractal geometry as it is about Euclidean and Cartesian analysis of space.

Coming back to the practicalities of making temperance, we spent Friday night compressing all the techniques we’d been working with earlier in the week down onto our fingers, hands and upper body, then watching video of stuff from earlier in the week and beginning to learn it. There is a haunting, alien atmosphere that comes from watching these improvisations in the black box of the Temperance Hall under a de-saturating florescent light almost like Macbeth’s witches. It is something to do with the obvious thinking that goes on while the possessed bodies describe fiendishly intricate baroque designs.


temperance – Théodicée

In The System of the World, demented Jesuit fanatic Édouard de Gex is meditating on Satanists, and to paraphrase says there are two kinds, one far worse than the other. The Satanist who believes in and genuinely worships the Devil, while depraved is nonetheless of a different order of heathen to the Satanist who affects and performs belief out of an atheistic desire to annoy Christians. The former no matter how deep they have sunk is redeemable because they still believe that God exists; the latter is forever damned and is the most reprehensible beast of all humanity, because at their heart, they believe in nothing. Of course I’m one of the latter.

I’ve been watching the video of the first two rehearsals, and editing out short cuts that will very soon form the core of the eventual performance and film. It’s sort of a continuation of a method of making complex movement that I left off with carnivore, but instead on using computer-generated animation to make the base movement and then operating on it with a variety of spatial and temporal tools, this is being made initially with the tools, and then we video the improvisation (which is often a dirty word). I’d been wanting to work this way for a while, as a means of not making the kind of movement I know I would normally make, but as to how it will work, I’m not sure.

The reference to Satanism in such a piece of apparently ‘pure’ dance is a result of Leibniz who in no small way was concerned with God, and his Théodicée, where the dream of Sextus Tarquin is a model for an infinity of possible worlds, which comes back to Monads and the black box of the Temperance Hall.


The last couple of days have been intensely busy, usually to the degree that dinner doesn’t happen, and even climbing has taken a pause. Last week, after some weeks of talking, amazing dancers Bonnie Paskas and Gala Moody and filmmaker/tyrannical Bastardo-swilling pirate Paul Williams and I got together realised we would be making a short performance and dance film over the next two weeks.

We are rehearsing in the Temperance Hall in South Melbourne, that for some years has been a rehearsal venue and is one of the last remaining spaces in inner-city Melbourne for such a thing. It’s a black-box with a small proscenium arch stage at one end and heaters to prevent spring frostbite while we make dance.

I’m currently either rehearsing or researching for three separate works that have some kind of crossover but are also thematically distinct. Some of my time lately has been spent in the absolute boudoir of the State Library, reading delightful gems like Bubonic plague in nineteenth-century China, and some of it has been a return to Leibniz, who has lurked behind much of what I read in the past year anyway, and has surfaced again through Gilles Deleuze’s monograph, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque

Temperance then is something of a return to pure dance, that I last left off four years ago with 吃肉的人 carnivore at the Guangdong Modern Dance Company. As usual when I’m making a new performance I’ll try and blog about it after every rehearsal, though I’ve been remiss so far.

As an individual unit, each monad includes the whole series; hence it conveys the entire world, but it does not express it without expressing more clearly a small region of the world, a “subdivision,” a borough of the city, a finite sequence.


The condition of closure holds for the infinite opening of the finite: it “finitely represents infinity”. It gives the world the possibility of beginning over again in each monad.

— The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque