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tensions of form and affect

jonathan marshall at strut’s dance #2 2007


DANCER AISLING DONOVAN RECENTLY DISTINGUISHED HERSELF AS THE LEAD IN AIMEE SMITH’S COURAGEOUSLY HEROIC GALLANTRY, A DEMANDING PIECE WHICH EMPLOYED HARD ARTICULATIONS AND FOLDS OF LIMBS SPRINGING BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN AWKWARD AND ABSURD POSITIONS (RT 78, P33). A NEW WORK FROM DONOVAN FEATURED IN STRUT’S LATEST PROGRAM, DANCE #2, CONTRASTING REVEALINGLY WITH NEW WORKS FROM FLOEUR ALDER AND DEBORAH ROBERSTON.

aisling donovan

Donovan’s choreography, like Smith’s, also employed fierce limb extensions, carving up a corner with her arms and legs. Nevertheless, her Room With A View suggested a goth, if not melodramatic, ambience, unlike the bleak humour and cool detachment of Gallantry. The willowy dancer’s swathes of long, flying hair supported the work’s emotional tenor, Donovan presenting a figure on the verge of emotional self-destruction. Never quite fully dramatic, after a relatively static and introspective opening the dancer’s frenetic pacing and jagged twists were suggestive of the dark night of the soul. The ‘never-quite-there’ of the emotion was part of the work’s appeal, as well as its weakness. Theatrically, Donovan provided little to guide the audience through the emotional journey presented, beyond the heavy-handed music by Tool. This created a strange vacuum at the heart of the work around which Donovan’s muscular, bony poses moved. Overall, Donovan has established that she could dance a telephone book superbly, but the connection between form and affect here was uncertain—she needs to explore this further or throw herself deeper into expressive angst.

floeur alder

The use of a youthful muscular body to suggest emotional states from amidst a whirl of activity appears to ally Donovan with Floeur Alder. Donovan’s choreography and her work with Smith links her to the hard muscularity and performance art allusions of Australian postmodernism (Guerin, Adams, Stewart etc). By contrast, Alder has returned to Modernism’s heritage to produce a wonderful solo which could have come out of the Denishawn School of the 1930s. Using a suitably ‘exoticist’ score in tune with the primitivist allusions of Euro-American Modernism, Alder’s endlessly tensed body, and her expansions in and out of the chest, were executed in concert with clawed hands and spikily bent arms which recalled Wigman’s Hexentantz of 1926. Martha Graham and her predecessors trawled the cultures of those they called “pre-modern” for the primal rhythms of humanity, and Alder was well served by her choice of nuevo flamenco to accompany her own vibrant Expressionism. While Alder avoided the radical arching of the back in favour of a fluid, perching pose, settling into the ground and tearing out of it, every stance and spasm was nevertheless informed by the breath and energy clasped beneath her sternum. Despite the long history of this approach—to say nothing of how many consider it a politically problematic aesthetic—there is no denying Floeur Alder’s command over the material, nor her ability to craft these gestures and affects into a compelling study. Closer to Graham than Wigman, Alder’s dance too (not unlike Donovan’s) teetered on the edge of an emotional explosion. But where Donovan offered a curiously excessive body centred on an absence, Alder’s was a deep pool. Even so, the force beneath these waters was not released. Energy surged in tightly constrained, anguished pathways, imprisoning the body within its own richly affective forces.

deborah robertson et al

Choreographer Deborah Robertson’s task-based, performance art-like work offered something more than Alder’s intensity and Donovan’s emotional displacements. Robertson, Aimee Smith and Laura Boynes exhibited striking physical diversity. Robertson is a highly sensate dancer, proceeding from a quietly measured, inward self-awareness akin to Rosalind Crisp’s. Boynes and Smith are not indifferent to such subtle internal shifts, but their movement—both in this piece and in other projects—comes initially from outside the body, from form, shape, or political ideas. This dissonance suited the piece in that the often deliberately pedestrian movement revolved around a failure to fully connect; on rejection and ignoring one’s fellow. Smith was a lone rejected figure on a chair at the front while Boyne’s rapid move from her chair or away from Smith gave her movement a nasty edge. Robertson by contrast seemed a gentle focal point shifting throughout the space, but her mild articulations and reassuring self-awareness nevertheless failed to resolve this drama of dislocated individuals. Sounds of cars and city noises added a further layer to the sense of urban alienation. However, a work about the disarticulation of society risks drifting apart. Nevertheless, Robertson disarmingly sustained a sense of both accusation and forgiveness, of atomisation and socialisation in this simple work, providing a wonderful richness to its otherwise spartan form—an affective strategy far removed from the works by Alder and Donovan.


Strut Dance, Dance #2 2007, artistic director, curator Sue Peacock; Room With A View, choreographer, performer Aisling Donovan; Confessional, choreographer Deborah Robertson, performers Robertson, Aimee Smith, Laura Boynes; Seven choreographer, performer Floeur Alder; plus works by Keira Mason-Hill, Simon Green and Gerard Veltre, Bianca Martin, Lena John, Sally Blatchford and Shannon Riggs, Sarah Neville, and Valli Batchelor; King Street Arts Centre, Perth Oct 18-21

RealTime issue #82 Dec-Jan 2007 pg. 30

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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