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LIKE DAVID PLEDGER OF MELBOURNE’S NOT YET IT’S DIFFICULT, PERTH’S AIMEE SMITH HAS BEEN DEVELOPING AN ABIDING INTEREST IN MEDIATED AND POLITICISED BODIES; IN BODIES TORN AND TWISTED BY WAR TALK, OR BOXED IN AND ENERGISED BY TELEVISUAL EXCESS. AS PART OF STRUT DANCE’S PRIME CUT, SMITH PRESENTED BREAKING, ARGUABLY HER MOST FORMALLY RIGOROUS AND STRIPPED BACK VERSION OF THIS AESTHETIC.

Though ostensibly much lighter, Jonathan Buckels’ gorgeously ridiculous piece, Solo, had a subliminal sting in its tale too. Two men waited silently at a bar playing abstruse and highly repetitive games with beer coasters—just long enough to lead one to think that Solo might be a durational performance art work (a development I would have welcomed). After the audience passed from boredom to curiosity to meditation, a smart young woman (Rhiannon Spratling) entered, accompanied by vibrant music, walked past, completely indifferent to the pair’s antics or even their presence. After a series of competitive and pointless interactions between the two (including one where the hapless Rob Griffin attempted to sleep as Buckels dripped beer on him), the pair devised ways to arrest Spratling’s interest, finally engaging in wonderfully stupid popular dance sequences with her. Here too, masculine insufficiency was writ large, neither man really able to offer the woman much by way of genuine interaction.

Finally, Griffin dragged on a trunk from which emerged a thin, vivaciously over-the-top, rollerskater (Stephen Rogers), whose grinning, camp choreography eclipsed the pair as we moved to masculinity as a kind of day-glow performance. As artists such as rapper P.Diddy or Japanese conceptual artist Ujino Muneteru have put it, this is masculinity as “fabulousness” or “gorgeousness.” This performance unsurprisingly forces our protagonists to return to their impotent attempts at amusing themselves, alone, discarded again by the female object of their affections whom they had hoped would verify the very masculinity which their minimal tedium is supposed to embody. Although superficially little more than a bunch of silly games, Solo had embedded within it a subtly devastating critique of masculinity.

The opening of Smith’s Breaking also suggested a performance art aesthetic. At the far right corner of the stage was clustered a pile of intermittently ‘out-of-tune’ television sets, switching between images of war, commerce and chaos in a delicate pulsing of multiples akin to Nam June Paik’s work. Smith stood at the extreme left foreground, tightly lit from above and behind in a manner that made her already muscular form even more sculptural and carved by grey-gold glows and shadows—a sharp embodiment further enhanced by the monochromatic form-fitting costume. To the shuddering textures of radiophonic hiss and wide plateaus of crinkling sound by Ryoji Ikeda, Smith moved within a limited but sharp articulation of shape and bony mechanics. Movement of the feet or change of stance was rare and stochastically performed when it did emerge. Smith largely remained intensely locked to her position as something akin to a sculptural unit within the space, rather than as a plastic, affective unit or more subjectively humanised dancer. One extended sequence in particular seemed almost to be performed stork-like, rigidly supported through the musculature of one leg.

This combination—the sparse yet complex sonic detailing of the Ikeda score, the minimalism of the movement combined with the strong physical demands to execute it, the tendency of the light to catch Smith in an almost Grecian profile of visible concentration on her own performance, and her interactive position within the mise en scène—converged to create an ambivalent sense of what political agency or condition this intersection of body, sound, screen, media and movement might suggest. Too archly beautiful (at least according to its own austere values) to represent oppression, yet too complex in terms of where the motivating power of authorship or control might be emanating from (artist? choreographer? body? media? capitalism? empire? military?) to generate a site of resistance or overt critique as such, Smith’s performance itself masterfully affected a form of mediation. In this sense, her pairing of body and television images encapsulated both the form and the content of the piece. Our broadcasting devices do not, in themselves, generate either positive or negative effects. They are vessels into and out of which material flows. Precisely whether Smith’s subjectivity is liberated or oppressed by this process is beside the point. Her performance realised this dynamic of exchange in forms fleshy, audiovisual, technologised and lyrical, all at once.


Strut Dance, Prime Cut, Breaking, choreographer, performer Aimee Smith; Solo, choreographer, performer Jonathan Buckels, performers Rob Griffin, Rhiannon Spratling, Steven Rogers; Preparing To Be Beautiful (Chapter Two), choreographer Alice Lee Holland; Confessional, choreographer Deborah Robertson; PICA, Perth, June 5-8

RealTime issue #86 Aug-Sept 2008 pg. 34

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

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