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Booking a ticket for Simon Ellis' Inert is perhaps part of the experience itself: when informed that the audience capacity for each performance is limited to 2, and then asked for one's height, a sense of anticipation is inevitable. Why would height be a factor? And, more interestingly, who will be the other lone audience member to share this encounter?

Arriving early, I find myself passing time in the Dancehouse foyer, aware of the young woman similarly distracting herself with show brochures, advertisements for classes and, yes, browsing RealTime. We smile politely, conscious of the fact that we're here for the same reason, but don't make much small talk. All of this, I later think, is an integral component of Inert, whether deliberately intended or otherwise.

Eventually a smiling pair are led out of the performance space and we enter, guided to a pair of upright platforms which seem nothing less than vertical operating tables. We are positioned against these, with cushions placed behind our heads and headphones over our ears. This is where our connection with one another ends.

I'm now prone, though upright, with one of the 2 performers (Ellis and Shannon Bott) positioned before me. Movement begins in silence or, at least, unaccompanied by prerecorded sound. The sounds that I do hear are those of the dancer in front of me, only piped through my headset and increased in volume. Bott is an accomplished dancer, but her performance is consciously restrained, holding back. Phrases begin to appear but are cut short, or a moment of connection beckons but deflates. Gradually, she begins to accept the presence of Ellis, who is performing in front of my fellow audience member. They eventually share a space, if hesitatingly, but before any real correspondence can occur the dancers move to our resting platforms and lower them to a horizontal position. It's a slow descent, but as I sink backwards I become aware of the screen hovering above me.

Projected upon this screen is a fragmented repository of moments: quick cuts of limbs or the corners of the body are offered as snatches of spoken text and sparse music filter through my headphones. The narrative is one of connection and disconnection, of a relationship seen only from one angle. It's a delicate and reflective play of captured movement, both physical and emotive, and it takes some time before I become aware that the performers haven't entirely succumbed to the power of the image. I have to crane my neck up see them, sometimes obscured in positions out of sight, sometimes moving in darkness. I'm forced to choose where I look, but no matter how hard I try there's no way I can view everything offered to me without losing something along the way.

Finally the performance ends, and our platforms are returned to their upright position. The slow transition has an unexpected side-effect: as I become upright, I become acutely aware of my muscles and bones settling into the pull of gravity. When watching the projected images, I hadn't noticed the weightlessness of the experience, but now I feel re-embodied, back in the world as a participant. Upon leaving the space, the woman with whom I'd just shared the performance turns to me and says “It's like waking up from a dream!” And I can't help but agree.


Inert, performance/choreography Simon Ellis, Shannon Bott, sculpture/design Scott Mitchell, videography Cormac Lally, composition/audio design David Corbet, costumes Marion Boyce; Dancehouse, May 10-21

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg.

© John Bailey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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