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dancing city—traceries in stone

maggi phillips: tongues of stone


Hayley Schmidt,Tongues of Stone Hayley Schmidt,Tongues of Stone
photo Christophe Canato
Trish Wood, Gabrielle van der Elst & passerby, Tongues of Stone Trish Wood, Gabrielle van der Elst & passerby, Tongues of Stone
photo Christophe Canato
 The Furies, Tongues of Stone The Furies, Tongues of Stone
photo Christophe Canato
PERFORMANCE SPILLING OUT INTO STREETS AND ALTERNATIVE VENUES CHARACTERISES PERTH OF LATE. AIMEE SMITH’S MONSTERS OF ACCIDENTAL MEANING (SEE PAGE 30) SLIPPED HUMAN CONTAMINATION AMID THE MUSEUM’S INANIMATE SPECIES, WHILE CAROL BROWN AND DORITA HANNAH’S TONGUES OF STONE AND WILLI DORNER’S BODIES IN URBAN SPACE SHOVED DANCE DEFTLY INTO ANARCHIC OCCUPATION. SKIN BECOMES METAPHORICALLY TAUT IN SPATIAL TRANSGRESSIONS, IMPOSING ALTERNATING CURRENTS OF FLOW AND RESISTANCE IN MOVEMENT AND STASIS, FLESH AND STONE.

In spite of the accumulations of energy and imagination involved in birthing cities, their monumental structures and half-hidden crumbling decrepitude are forbidding places for performance. The city emasculates human playfulness, tames its makers—well almost. These recent dance invasions suggest that the scribbled traces of bodies can defy the immovable stance of skyscraper and underground labyrinth and tease the automated traffic of corporate workers and castaways.

Human shapes orchestrated into architectural recesses, plastered gecko-like on blank walls or swept like refuse into obscure alleyways comprise the snatched moments of Austrian Willi Dorner’s site-specific choreography captured on video. Faceless, his dancers freeze in tension infused inversions, their geometric interventions creating tensile counterpoints to the wedged planes and joints of construction. Each momentary anti-dance carries movement into the heart of stillness willing a paradoxical negation of the hegemony of buildings. While video clips offered tantalising glimpses into Dorner’s work, his lecture fell short on revealing the thinking that produced the curious shapes.

Gathering at the departure point for Tongues of Stone was quite another story. Here within the stagnant design of the railway station’s regulated flow, the senses prickled. How could performance overcome such drabness and discomfort, even given the careful attentions of the production crew, which proved to be an intrinsic feature of the choreography? Then the journey from civilisation’s underbelly began. I surged with the rest of the mobile audience wearing slightly disorientating earphones into the choreographies of passing traffic to settle around a distracted bride figure, her voluminous tulle swept up in the grime of time. Blinded by a gash-like eye-mask, she thrust herself against a wall, fingers groping and scratching the worded surface while soundtrack intonations dissolved. “My words go home/Fear and fury” rushed towards the past while she continued to dig into the inert stone text’s “I am present.” Distraught flesh, stone and elusive tongues began to map the city’s hidden traceries.

Danced ephemera with textile and text, water and chalk-dust transformed human-made surfaces and conventions: the total experience kneaded the city’s present into its multiple histories. Intentional aesthetic layers, such as the Greek myth of Procne and Philomela and the creation body of the Indigenous spirit Wagyl relayed both through the visual and sonic experience, dissipated somewhere in the complex assault on the senses but the fierce guardians of unborn futures, the red mop-head furies, marked alleys and atriums with ‘attitude’ and breathed exquisite billows of black cloaks across architectural sharpness.

That striking collision of built environment, past and transitory shadows emerged forcefully in another episode when the chorus inhabited the escape stairs at the back of Her Majesty’s Theatre. Serendipitously, the sun’s angle directed the tiered and cascading silhouettes of their toil up and down an adjacent wall. The powerful effect would be the envy of any theatrical designer.

Across main arteries and back alleys, the performance trajectory snaked its way with the Wagyl towards the corporate enclave, producing particular reflections of alienation on the Saturday of my viewing. The emptiness of glinting marble, revolving doors and manicured landscapes seemed woven into the theatricality. Dancers laconically shifted within water features and filled spaces with stunning red satin, but they were not entirely alone. Pertinent accidents occurred: a female guard walked embarrassedly into the spotlight and a white and black bridal party crossed the performance flow creating surreal counterparts to the story being told. The irony of intersecting processions was Felliniesque—tulle bright in one direction, red stained drama in another.

Accidental juxtapositions are crucial to these kinds of performances and, I assume, will be different with each presentation. Mind you, the final destination, the Convention Centre forecourt may invariably be uninhabited for the structure forms a dead end, barring access to the life-giving river beyond. Even the wondrous scrawls of the paperbark trees within which the final de-robing takes place cannot displace the poignancy of hidden waters and raped landscapes that linger after the dancers disappear.


STRUT and the Dancing Cities Network: Tongues of Stone, co-directors Carol Brown (choreography), Dorita Hannah (spatial design), sound design Russell Scoones, Perth Dancing City Event, April 9-16; Willi Dorner (Austria) Lecture presented by STRUT in conjunction with the School of Architecture, Curtin University, April 1

RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011 pg. 28

© Maggi Phillips; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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