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The writer discusses a new dance and film project entitled Premonition, with choreographer-performer Sue-Ellen Kohler, writer-dramaturg William McClure and filmmaker Mahalya Middlemist.

Remember Hybrid (The Performance Space, 1999)?

A woman falls... slowly...her weight shifts...her naked body begins…to slip…frame by frame…she…falls…out of sight.

I thought I saw someone shake my body from a sleep of death, but I could not swear to it.


SK Premonition is about dance history. William talks about it in terms of creating a space between two moves: One move, and then the decision—what comes next? And in the gap between the moves is the premonition. Waiting for the next move. You don’t know the next move until…

EB Why is film such an important part of this project?

SK Certainly the idea for this project has come out of the past work Mahalya and I have done together, even if it hasn’t happened in a logical way with Premonition as the next step. For instance, Mahalya couldn’t have made the film Vivarium in 1994 without the particular way that I moved my particular body. And neither would I ever have imagined Vivarium the way Mahalya did, but somehow the two visions went together well. When you put movement on film, something happens which you can’t necessarily predict. The results come through an intensely creative process, and that for me is the best thing about it.

MM We’ve been talking about the multi-screen set-up for a long time, three full-sized screens, side by side, showing simultaneous but variant images of Sue-ellen’s dancing body. The camera is straight on and fixed, so the perspective is the same as you would have of the performing body.

In the end, due to budgetary constraints, we had to shoot one screen on film, and the other two on video. So we’ll have those three different textures: two video bodies, a film body and a real body. And we’ve also got the Falling film from Hybrid, very large in space, and we’ll bring that in at the beginning.

In the daytime, I can see things very clearly. I know just the right moves for the right moment. It is as if all my training directs me down a path that I have walked before. This is a path that I know very well. So I lie down and go to sleep.

SK I’ve encountered so many different kinds of movement in my training and performing. Premonition is about past and future understandings of my body; my past body informs my future body; and those understandings can get mixed up, squashed together. Premonition is about a feeling of how things are, and on that feeling rest the possibilities for how things might be.

SK We both originally wanted the work to be all on 16mm film rather than video because of the better quality of resolution. And certainly for both of us, film in performance is actually about light. Using videos can bring in a whole lot of other things.

MM Film technology is not so laden with ideas, and it’s so accepted that you hardly think about it. And it’s more elusive, ephemeral, because it’s made out of light beams. There’s a sense of the photographic image being projected on screens but travelling further than the screen. And an important part is the way Sue-ellen is lit, floating in space, not bound to the ground, with the screens like doorway-shaped pools of light.

We worried that video might force people into reading the work in unintended ways, imagining that Sue-ellen is talking about some kind of body mediated by technology, when she’s not at all. We’re really just interested in Sue-ellen’s body and images of it, not in highlighting the technology that creates those images.

Now, in my dreams, I still keep on moving and in the same way that I have always done. I meet my balletic body and we dance together. I meet all my modern and postmodern bodies and we all dance together three times, or is it five, around in circles. I can’t be sure right now, but neither does it seem to matter.

SK I’m not a dancer who’s been totally codified and rigidly formed by some particular style. There’s a lot of slip, and within that slip I often feel quite at sea. Being at sea is not always very comfortable. It’s hard to feel authorised, confident as a creator of new dance; I often feel like I can’t do anything original. And it’s also about not being able to succeed in any kind of dance structure, because all set-ups are about not succeeding.

There is an inherent failure in being placed in Australia as a dancer. It doesn’t matter what you do, you’re never the original article and your referents are always somewhere else. Your judges can never be pleased with what you do, because Australian identity is bound up in mimicry of the rest of the world. And the perceived failure lies in failure to be the real thing.

None of this seems strange, rather it all seems perfectly natural, and so I continue on in the same way as I have always done.

WM Often people look at dance in terms of where it has come from, but that way of seeing is questioned here. Premonition is engaging with the fact that its sources may lie somewhere else, but what we end up with in the here and now is what is important.

SK Still, there is something I do that is different from anyone else.

Then—but it wasn’t really a ‘then’—as if from nowhere, a flash, a disgusting premonition of my present state was given to me. And in this state, all the while, I kept on moving in precisely the same way as I have always done. But only now, my body smelt of putrid flesh and the movement itself seemed to rise up before me as tombstones.

WM Premonition is about exploding the reality of the moment, the reality in what you can pin down in an accepted format. So it tries to hollow that out, and to give access to something built of the limitless possibilities of choice. It’s a piece about many voices.

EB The way you describe screens and images makes it seem very vertical.

MM Yes, the vertical screens suit that constrained, frontal, upright, balletic kind of presentation that we are very much talking about.

EB The Falling film is something I remember vividly from Hybrid. How does that relate to what you’re doing in Premonition?

MM I’ve always liked the idea of starting this work with Falling. It was a good ending for Hybrid, that falling away right out of frame at the bottom of the stage so that there’s nothing there. Now we want to start again with that. It has a link with that verticality which is so balletic. The structure seems to make a lot of sense.

SK But there’s no sense of a resurrection of the fallen body. I don’t especially want to make that kind of statement, even though I know that some people will want to see that. Falling was originally set on top of the proscenium arch—the epitome of female presentation and ballet presentation. That little balletic dance that I did in Hybrid across the stage underneath Falling, I never knew what it was then. But now I can bring it back into this work, showing how so much of my training is implicated in the way I am, and how it can’t be extricated from anything that I or anyone might want to say about dance. I’m trying now to speak about that in a more conscious way.

WM There’s an uncivilised part of a person that cannot accept the seductive power of tradition and the kinds of decisions made from that stance, without testing them. So, it’s in the testing, the evolving relationship you have to those decisions and those traditions. That’s important, not the traditions themselves.

Premonition is about playfulness in and around the choices from one moment to the next. It’s an attempt to reach a non-apologetic place in the world.

There is now a convulsion and a deep agitation going on in my limbs. They are stretching—as if they want to speak in phrases not seen before. I am out of myself and running away and a body is now moving in a very dark place.

Can you see this body?


Premonition, choreographed and performed by Sue-ellen Kohler; assistant choreographer Sandra Perrin; filmmaker Mahalya Middlemist; writer-dramaturg William McClure; composer Ion Pearce. The Performance Space, Sydney, October 8-19

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 10

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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