in the bones of children

In William Forsythe’s Improvisation Technologies dvd, he demonstrates the drawing of lines in space as an exersise in geometric analysis. The visual appearance of the lines is done in post-production, an addition to help clarify various operations on pre-existing objects. Adam Synnott started his development showing of In the bones of children in much the same way, except in eight years or so the ease with which technology can allow us to do really complex things means we get to see dancers Alison Currie and Kynan Hughes do all this is real time.

I would characterise this showing as something of a lecture as much as a work in progress. Adam received a grant from SA Youth Arts Board to develop visual and audio tracking techniques, and his work with Jason Lam in designing the software and hardware and Sasha’s audio is as much the focus of this research project as the choreography and narrative structure of the emerging work. Conceptually what they are doing is close to Frieder Weiß in both Glow and with Emily Fernandez in sense, though their use of infra-red triggers on the dancers’ bodies and begins from their bodies rather than a development in interactive lighting.

I’m struggling with the difficulty of making a rather dry descriptive log of what was said, who moved where and what happened, and the far more thrilling, visceral performance of bodies extended by objects. I suppose it is convenient to imagine our bodies finish at our skin, a surface between self and other, but how far does the haze of influence, of heat, the faint electro-magnetic fields, the aura of bacteria and other symbiotic organisms neither us nor individual. So I don’t really ascribe to the conceit of bodies merging with technology, rather it’s objects that unfold what is already present; our world becomes larger because of this.

So, the showing was divided into two sections, the first a clear description from Adam and demonstration from the dancers of the results of the research, and the second being In the bones of the children itself. Holding the triggers, the dancers draw lines that appear on the back-projected screen behind, improvising, and looking a lot like early Chunky Move choreography from the days of Luke Smiles. There’s something really amazing about this simplicity, what Forsythe originally could only make apparent in post-production now is done easily in real time through the incredible flowering of simple, accessible technology in the last ten years.

Technology certainly gives me a thrill in a very geeky way, but it’s the poetic ability to cause gasps of pleasure that is for me what makes it so human. One of the demonstrations was Rain, that could bounce off extended limbs, and flow like water over the outlines of Alison and Kynan’s bodies, and when they touched hands creating a small pool that slowly filled, then pulled their hands apart, the puddle splattering and dropping away … something quite sublime.

Following that was the Quake Arena frag-fest of Blood Guitar, drawing portraits in blood across a 9-square grid on the screen, sucking it to a point, moving in and out to generate it in myriad ways, and maybe to add gravity, wind, turbulence, then rotating it in space to pour down in torrents. Then the pin grid, combining all the ideas shown previously as individual concepts. From what Adam was showing me in January this year, in early stages of coding, it’s astounding how far he and they have all come.

Something I thought with Emily Fernandez’s sense was the nature of projection, the need to back-project in order to eliminate the issue of shadows cutting the video, and the general lack of intensity of the projector light source itself. This tends to under-lighting on the dancers becoming wraiths and shadows lost in the transfixing luminance of the screen. The screen itself is also an issue, being structurally no different from a cyclorama behind a proscenium arch of a classical ballet mise en scene of previous centuries. Within the wonderful play of technology there also needs to be a critique of the elements used to frame it. Modular led screens, stacks of televisions, multiple overlapping projectors, archaic Baroque illumination, so many ways to not fall into the easy choice of a background. Illumination, both of the dancers and of the projection is something that can’t be one compromised to the other.

Some things I was also thinking of was of piping the information sucked in from the cameras instead of into a video projection to go into avatars in Second Life, to have them moving and performing as sinister split personalities, not necessarily even human, maybe avian, maybe not even of Earth. For us we would see the real performers and the projection of Second Life, and for those in 2L, they would see the avatars then the real performance as video.

And on to the work itself, a somnambulistic nightmare in a witching hour nuclear facility, Mr Stewart-Baxter and Miss Cumberdale meet at 1:11am, the old lag handing over the reins to the new girl. I thought if it was November 11, that would have also been appropriate. My immediate thought was of the creepy BBC nuclear terrorism drama from the 1980s, Edge of Darkness, ghosts, spies, treachery, a hidden facility beneath the guttering bowels of vertiginous subterranean caverns, part of the blackness of the late 80s nuclear desolation of Thatcher, Reagan and the eviscerated Soviet Union.

Also was a reminiscence of Chris Morris’s Jam, slow-motion, unfocussed, a narrative not begun on the first page, maybe a commencement of hostilities, maybe a duel of preternatural wills, maybe the correct protocol for nuclear training. Narcoleptic gongfu, occluded pronouncements, words drifting in and out of focus, tension and a horrid waiting for something to happen. Then both of them standing, a dim background of heavy metal, Alison stuck hand extended like a car crash, jumping and getting shoved, damaged fighting bodies. Alison as a dancer and performer is vastly more confident from a few months ago, possessing a clarity, sharpness and ease in moving, making time to dance in the choreography. Together with Kynan they have become one of those duos who seem to have an unearthly connection, that only grows the more time they are together.

For me the first chair-bound confrontation was the most successful and coherent in terms of choreography, the second duo was perhaps diminished by steps. There is a vast territory to explore within the context of the narrative in these aerial collisions and destruction of orbits, that didn’t really get satisfactorily developed. Perhaps that’s just my current disinterest in making steps and the profusion of sameness in movement that on occasion In the bones of children got so far from.

This dissatisfaction also extended to the soundscape when it slipped into ambient beats and electronic blandness. It’s just too easy and sounds like a bunch of random loops in GarageBand. Contra this, the audio of the first section was entirely suited, slowing the progress down as if holding back time.

I think a lot of any criticisms I have are probably minor given that this was a two week development, and one thing Adam repeated constantly was that, yes we could do that but we didn’t have the time. The time to develop the technology should be measured in months and years, and the choreography and narrative needs a separate block of months just for itself. Two weeks is a painfully small allotment.


A lazy lunch with Bonnie Paskas, one of the dancers in Emily Fernandez’s Sense, on for one more night tonight at 45 Downstairs, and while talking about this performance, I realised I was giving a fairly uncompromising critique of the performance to Bonnie when she still had one more night to go. I also realised the depths of my uncomfortableness in not praising effusively shows that my friends are in here.

45 Downstairs, is the utter basement of what a long time ago was Robert Lindsay Gallery, and is a breathtakingly beautiful space, no less so for being punctured into nine smaller cubes by the vertical presence of structural beams. Vast windows line two walls, though blacked out, and the wooden floor arranged so the audience looked back onto the white internal wall. This is a new performance space in Melbourne, and one that immediately I felt attached to, and certainly a perfect venue for dance.

Emily and Frieder have been over from Germany for the last month working with Bonnie, and another friend I haven’t seen for years, Tina who recently returned also from Germany. Joining this group was sound designer Adam Donovan. The duo, plus projected extras from Frieder is succinctly explained in the programme notes: “In ‘sense’ people appear to be virtual characters and virtual characters are made to seem human; a look at ourselves in this digital age, a sense of dependancy, a sense of disorientation? A sense of humour?”

What is attempted is extremely complicated both technically and, I guess you could say philosophically, in which the perception of singular identities constantly sliding across each dancer and back and forth with their projections, computer-generated or from time-shifted video, is something of an exposition of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. To mention Baudrillard could easily be a mediocre ruse to imply this work has substantial depth, but the technical considerations of what’s being attempted I think make it a not unfair comparison.

However, as with much performance that attempts some kind of commentary or discourse on new technologies and the status of individual identity within them, it is frequently oversimplified or a bit naive. Compare the proliferation in Second Life of avatars (I was thinking of Kazuhiro Aridian here), the motivations behind, and consequently identifications of self that is truly fascinating and sense seems to be more representative of thinking from the late 90s.

I was wondering why Becky, Jodi and John, despite absence of costumes, props, sound, unfinished bits in a studio showing managed to be the only performance this year that in fact was a performance, a finished coherent piece, and besides the obvious advantage three dancers who have been close friends for almost twenty years incurs, it is a question of directorship. Sense lacked a single coherent thread to bring together the various elements that otherwise would bang sharp corners against each other.

From a strictly choreographic perspective, the movement at times was very formal and precise, duos that slipped in and out of unison, demanding a high degree of control, and indicative of Emily’s own style of moving, at other times hard slapping body-throwing spasms at the floor, grotesque possessed rictus and contortions. Occasionally definite identities would unfurl, emotions riding their bodies. There wasn’t a clear reason for any of this though, and the indecision evident in going between, and the difficulty in the transitions caused a drift in my attention.

Having danced with Bonnie for years, and seen her in two very different duos one with Gala Moody and now with Emily, I saw last night her quite incredible ability to … not mimic or dance perfectly in unison, it’s more as if she becomes the living shadow of her partner, their identities merging into a thing like twins. I thought when dancing with Gala it was because they’d known each other and danced together before, but no, it’s actually a very special artistry she has, and dancing so close to Emily, together both being quite formidable, tall, powerful dancers, this is one thing I wanted to see more of.

Frieder’s interactive video projection, that most of Australia’s dance scene will know from Chunky Move’s Glow was strangely understated, and only infrequently imbued sense with the subterfuge of identity grown beyond human that was nominally the heart of the work. Again, this I think is a directorial concern, in which the performance often strayed far from the idea’s coherent line and became somewhat lost.

The least interesting part of sense was the soundscape, that once again was an ambient electronic mist occasionally coloured with vaguely quirky noises. It seems that since Aphex Twin released Selected Ambient works Vol. 2 thirteen years ago, sound for dance has been content to play safe within the inoffensive, so devoid of meaning it could mean anything, the sound to use when you don’t want to say anything. I really didn’t hear it beyond as a mask or filter for the noise of the dancers’ bodies.

As usual for dance in Australia, sense has been put together under all the trying conditions that cripple the art form, distracting all involved from the actual point of making dance, it is boring to mention this, as it is always the same, and so is the killer of dance here. I would like to see sense continue, for what works within the performance, the communion of bodies and technology to become intensified, and the remainder left to fall away, there is a vast well of possibilities here only barely touched.

sense at 45 downstairs

Bonnie is back from Sydney, tired and exhilarated after the season of Glow, and as I walked through Faulkner Park this early sun-hazed morning on my way to class I saw a beautiful girl with long tanned legs walking towards me. Of course she would have to be Lily who has only now returned from the distant north of Australia’s east coast. So, a reunion and talk of dance and other things and much happiness.

Not content with sleeping, Bonnie is performing again this weekend in Emily Fernandez and Frieder Weiß performance sense at 45 Downstairs also with Tina McErvale who not long ago returned from Europe and Adam Donovan. There is an audiovisual installation on both Friday and Saturday night at 7pm before the performance at 8 30pm.

I don’t know much beyond what’s on the flier, except Saturday night is also the last night of the Greyhound in St Kilda. I have crawled out of there on occasion (at least once with Luke George), and it has forever been my favourite pub, even though I don’t go there much anymore. I have a memory of arriving in the back bar at someone’s wedding also a karaoke night, and everyone was quite enthusiastic at the extra guests. The jukebox is the best, the carpet is sticky.

glow in sydney

Chunky Move’s Glow, one of the performance of year in 2006 (that I managed to miss) is in Sydney opening tonight and running till Sunday. Amazing lighting (the word really does no justice to Frieder Weiß’ organism illuminating the sole performer) and spellbinding performers including Kristy Ayre, straight off the plane from Chicago and Bonnie Paskas. On at the Sydney Opera House Studio.