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The dance life of objects

Varia Karipoff: Sarah Aiken, Set


Sarah Aiken, Set Sarah Aiken, Set
photo Gregory Lorenzutti
The performance venue, stately, two storeyed Victorian with columned entrance, could have been a Masonic Hall in the past. Entering the darkened theatre to see Set, Sarah Aiken’s new work, evokes a sense of secret initiation ceremony. In the murky light, an enormous fabric cut-out hand inches out of the performance space. Aiken then appears in the centre of the room, crouched. With careful manipulation, her body slowly spins clockwise while in a sideways sitting position, the precision akin to a mechanical timepiece.

A mechanism on the floor releases four long cardboard tubes that roll towards Aiken who lies still. Gracefully, feeling in near dark, the dancer takes the cardboard tubes, balancing them, spinning them slowly like cogs over her while still supine. At first toying with them, she then slides them over her limbs, so they become extensions of her body. The effect exaggerates the movements of her limbs—legs and arms wide, the tubes crossing over her body smoothly. Here the body is both manipulated and manipulating. It’s a tightly orchestrated game; is she controlled by the weight and size of her newly acquired alien limbs or is she wielding the power?

With mid-air splits, the seemingly innocuous cardboard tubes underscore the flexibility and velvetiness of the dancer’s movement. Aiken manages to ‘own’ the foreign parts, subjugating them and preventing them from upsetting her balance. She then takes the tubes and uses the liminal spaces of the theatre to continue the game of balance and control. In the dimly lit space, the tubes explore skirting boards, Aiken propping up a hip, a shoulder, her forehead on the tubes, the tubes resting on a wall, finding the most literal kind of connection to the space. Her body becomes a sculptural object as she holds these positions, resting on four impossible points. This part of the performance was beautifully wrought, an exercise in simplicity and innovation.

Sarah Aiken, Set Sarah Aiken, Set
photo Gregory Lorenzutti
The performance then becomes rather more ambitious and less well defined. Aiken tips props out of tubes as another fabric hand slides off a ceiling rail to form a background for projection. As the objects are revealed by being lit from above, video game-like sounds play. Cute. There’s an elephant toy, a large faux diamond, a handful of seashells, a running shoe…These are reflected in the hand but as oversized versions. While the artist explores the space, her image is projected among these large objects in real time so she looks Lilliputian, disappearing at one point behind a sneaker.

The closing spectacle entertains but there’s a sense of disjuncture with the initial scenes. Taking up the tube arms once again in near darkness, Aiken ‘initiates’ an audience member who slides her arms into the tubes and joins in the dancing on stage. Three other dancers also join in, each gathering in an audience member. To much laughter Nick Cave’s “Into my arms” plays as dancers and ‘initiated’ join in a large circle where the tubes are formed into triangles and pyramids, adding a touch of symbolic weight to this dance ritual.


Dancehouse, Set, concept, performance, choreography, Sarah Aiken: set/object design Daniel Arnott, creative collaborator, sound design performance, AV set design, lighting Amelia Lever-Davidson, Dancehouse, Melbourne, 22-26 July

RealTime issue #129 Oct-Nov 2015 pg. 25

© Varia Karipoff; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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