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.