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Harm Te Kuru, Nerida Matthaei, Nicole Canham, Skye Sewell, Phluxus dance collective program image, Chinese Whispers/Broken Telephone Harm Te Kuru, Nerida Matthaei, Nicole Canham, Skye Sewell, Phluxus dance collective program image, Chinese Whispers/Broken Telephone
PHLUXUS DANCE COLLECTIVE IS AN ENGAGING NEW BRISBANE COMPANY. THEIR FIRST WORK, THE MACHINE THAT CARRIES THE SOUL, WAS RECENTLY AWARDED THE CRITICS CHOICE AWARD IN THE 2007 SHORT AND SWEET AND DANCE FESTIVAL IN SYDNEY, HAVING ALREADY BEEN AWARDED RUNNER-UP FOR BEST DANCE/MOVEMENT PERFORMANCE AT LAST YEAR’S MELBOURNE FRINGE FESTIVAL.

The designation ‘collective’ is a nostalgic one nowadays, and Phluxus seemingly connotes both the name and spirit of the Fluxus art movement of the 1960s. There is a ‘family’ connection across time and across art boundaries, and in the relaxed and playful familiarity of the performers with each other and with their audience. I enjoy the fact that clarinetist Nicole Canham’s creative partnership with founder and performing artist Nerida Matthaei began many years ago singing Count Basie tunes together while decorating the Christmas tree.

We are at the Hot Gossip Lounge, cabaret style. Coloured globes float like planets in space above a minimal stage. There is a joke (at John Cage’s expense?) of a grand piano that is never played. Chinese Whispers/Broken Telephone is an exploration of the children’s party game which, at core, involves “cumulative error and communication breakdown…subtle shifts and changes moving between what you hear and what you see.” New York Counterpoint composed by Steve Reich has the soloist live accompanying a prerecorded tape of herself. Shifts and changes between the two modes of musical presentation create different inflections that extend into literal footnotes of commentary and baroque, Borges-like addenda by dancers Matthaei and Skye Sewell whose entwined hieroglyphic hand and arm movements sometimes evoke Chinese opera or Tai Chi.

The choreography adds different layers of concatenation and syntheses as the music becomes shriller and the moves smaller, tightening into exquisite focus on Canham’s fingers on the clarinet. Although music and dance are non-discursive, formally independent of semantic meaning, they are nevertheless constituted by their own phrases and syntax that, in this subtly abstract and contemplative piece, mix and merge, effecting a kinesiology of signals and signs that achieves a highly satisfying interface. Reich’s aural sculpture, Pendulum Music, with its haunting feedback effects, likewise interfaces with the kinetic installation created by Marisa Cuzzolaro’s video projections and pendulously swinging lights winding down to reinforce the perception of language and the body (by its absence) in fluid permutation but mutually subject, perhaps, to gravity.

Touching on a more accessible human dimension, the vaudevillian take on The Three Etudes on Themes of Gershwin by Paul Harvey, provides a change of pace, looking at role reversals between a ventriloquist and her doll. Matthaei and Sewell are superbly and entertainingly acrobatic in routines involving possession of a chair. Snatches of familiar melodies evoke nostalgia for sense in a world that is constantly being subverted by clowns. There is an interlude for participation, the audience dividing into three sections to be briskly (no time to think!) inducted into the reproduction of simple sounds and dance movements in a good-humoured, non-threatening manner that democratises as well as demystifies what is, after all, a highly sophisticated avant garde undertaking.

There follows a competitive, rapid-fire game-show version of Chinese Whispers with the audience as two teams. The last piece evolves through movement reminiscent of contact improvisation as a choreographed argument which finally subsides through the imposition of a yellow card, orange card and red card. Although well constructed and witty, this is perhaps the least successful as a discrete movement piece as it lacks full expression of the ritual nature of antagonism and its implicit rhythms. This aside, the composition Chinese Whispers by the group Alchemist was given an interesting electronic treatment by Harm Te Kuru “trying to capture the density of texture found in heavy metal music but using less familiar devices.” Canham’s clarinet comes through the filter of an effects processor.

Nicole Canham’s onstage presence was a bulwark of the evening, with Matthael and Sewell compellingly watchable, effortlessly stitching together in their movement work the remarkable (and contrary) strengths of teflon and toffee. Apart from sheer enjoyment, I liked the non-hierarchical nature of the performance (and the dues paid to the ‘silent partners’), a refreshing ingredient in itself.


Phluxus Dance Collective, Chinese Whispers/Broken Telephone, clarinet Nicole Canham, performers Nerida Matthaei, Skye Sewell, video & photography Marisa Cuzzolaro, electronica Harm Te Kuru, sound & lighting Chris Neehause, Ben Hughes, Matt Cody, Don Mackenzie, Corrin Matthews; Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts, Nov 1

RealTime issue #82 Dec-Jan 2007 pg. 30

© Doug Leonard; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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