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Movement study, dance magic

Eleanor Brickhill


Rosalind Crisp Rosalind Crisp
photo Heidrun Löhr
In Dance and Dance + Music Rosalind Crisp elaborates on her current field of movement study. As the titles suggest, there’s something about both works which seems self-evident and easy to watch, so that you might wonder why no-one else has thought of it before. Or maybe they have, but have missed the skill and lambent flow with which Crisp’s ideas unfold here.

Dance starts in a small way, before the audience enters. As people walk in, stand around, beginning to orient themselves to the dimly composed space, Lizzie Thomson is the first dancer to be seen, in a spotlight, surprisingly quite close to the door. She is engaged in something like a private conversation with herself, almost secret, but very determined. Her gestures unfold like a monologue, abstracted and then dimly reminiscent, bits and pieces arriving from all sorts of places—a child’s game or a sophisticated dance. Distantly, another dancer begins her private mutterings; later there’s a third, and then there are 4, each isolated in their own spot and involved in their own flow of thought. Gestures sometimes drop suddenly away, abruptly incomplete, or they change their minds in a nanosecond. It’s comic in a perverse sort of way—nothing arrives anywhere, repeatedly.

We watch the dancers’ faces for clues; relaxed, but with gaze inward in fierce concentration. Such heightened intent attached to such apparent lack of purpose creates a kind of gormlessness which makes me smile—a perfect antidote to the polished perfection of many dance performances. With towels and water bottles stashed at the sides, the dancers become progressively hotter and sweatier—in a curious sense, this physical response to their mental work provides a kind of narrative for the piece and measures the passage of time.

Each is at first quite alone in the space, dealing with what appears to be a gauche and unwieldy task, but over a longer period, their physical mutterings gently transform into a truncated beauty, expressing a kind of deferred completion. The structure of Dance seems simple, each dancer moving through her spot and then out of it, with spatial relationships imperceptibly becoming more and more complex according to where and how many dancers there are. On occasions all 4 dancers are working at the same time, but it’s impossible to watch them all as they are often too widely spaced, and sometimes disappear behind the mobile audience who shift around looking for the optimal view. This changes all the time, depending on where the dance focus is, so there is a continuous murmur, a tidal eddying of the crowd throughout the work, which adds a further layer—one of conscious looking—which becomes an integral part of the work.

About halfway through, a momentous shift in lighting suddenly creates escape routes from spot to spot and opens out the space for the dancers to change places, or dance in the same space together. Duets, trios and quartets manifest themselves and, without fundamentally changing the structure of the movement, the four begin to move like a colony of something not human, not touching—like bees or ants.

And the movement is infectious. Now and then you catch a glimpse of someone in the audience almost unconsciously mimicking the dancers, trying to get inside their skin—wondering visibly how the whole thing works. This infectiousness too is a kind of theme running through both Dance and Dance + Music. People relate strongly to the apparent ease with which the dancers continually dissect the duration of a gesture, its rhythm, which body part might be leading, and the effort each move requires. But the result is far from simple; it is often extreme, gauche, almost anti-organic, as if a camera has caught each action in mid-flight, and then joined all the shots together.

Because the quality of incompleteness is quite purposeful, the sketch that begins to emerge is of a state of mind—an individual striving in isolation at what seems a futile epic struggle, as if without common consciousness, although laying bare a very particular way of thinking, each dancer finally carving out a space for herself by sheer doggedness. They move complexly, ceaselessly—composing, rearranging, fitting together, finding places for things that one would never imagine could appear in one’s compendium of dance. In short, it is quite visible thinking, trying to be inclusive, trying to make room for a much larger world of events and ideas than one might suspect can exist together.

As the dancers make micro-decisions about how the interruptions occur, a dynamic becomes discernible, a “style” in itself bordering on the codified. It is not alien enough to be inaccessible, nor familiar enough to make you think you’ve seen it all before. Comic, disconnected, Chaplin-esque, but not garbled; it is clean and elegant.

Our focus shifts from circle to circle of light, as if recreating the micro-shifts in which the dancers are engaged. While the material is technically derived from the same set of parameters, it is mediated by each individual’s physicality (including ways of thinking), and so highlights individuality rather than sameness.

Looking at the dancers’ faces, it seems they stand outside of their own actions, a higher organising principle in operation—both a collection and a dissipation of visible thought; expressions both of rapt attention, so that they surprise even themselves, but also as if their minds are empty, merely along for the ride.

Suddenly there’s a shocking, brief burst of heavy rock. It stops just as abruptly as it begins, but at that moment, you become suddenly all the more aware of the breathing and sweating, and of a long time having passed. For a moment the bodies of the dancers are silhouetted like the bodies of the audience, in attitudes of contemplation, attention, inertia, brushing hair with small fidgets; twisting, waiting, sitting, plunging, walking from space to space, not thinking. Shadows lengthen, and time passes, and it seems like time to leave the stage. One by one they finally stop, pick up their water bottles and cross the space to the exit door.

The following week, Nigel Kellaway adds a further touch to the Dance material in Dance + Music, where his rendition of a piano only version of Schumann’s Dichterliebe makes an amusingly strange bedfellow for Rosalind Crisp’s solo dance performance. Essentially working with the same physical material as in Dance, the structure is more game-like, and Crisp and Kellaway play off each other in congenially competitive spirit. It is a longish recital—at one point, Kellaway leaving the stage for a cigarette. He can be seen through the back door discreetly ‘practising’ a few of Crisp’s moves. Similarly, Crisp makes her presence felt with 3 perfect notes on the keyboard. Together they provide a simple, beautiful and unassumingly funny evening of dance and music.


Dance, Rosalind Crisp, Olivia Millard, Joanna Pollitt, Lizzie Thomson, lighting Simon Wise, Nov 23-26; Dance + Music, Rosalind Crisp, Nigel Kellaway, lighting Simon Wise; Performance Space, Sydney, Dec 1, 2005

RealTime issue #71 Feb-March 2006 pg. 6

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

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