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Grayson Millwood, Roadkill, Splintergroup Grayson Millwood, Roadkill, Splintergroup
photo Tim Bates
REALTIME’S COVERAGE OF LAST YEAR’S MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL FEATURED AN EXCITING RANGE OF NEW DANCE WORK FROM LOCAL ARTISTS. FOR THE DEPLETED SECTOR IN SYDNEY, MASS MIGRATION WAS SERIOUSLY CONTEMPLATED. IN MARCH, IN A WELCOME JOINT INITIATIVE, THE THREE HOUSES OF MELBOURNE’S CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE CULTURE—ARTS HOUSE, DANCEHOUSE AND MALTHOUSE ARE THROWING OPEN THEIR DOORS TO CO-HOST TWO WEEKS OF CONTEMPORARY DANCE PROGRAMMING IN THE FORM OF DANCE MASSIVE. THE GENEROSITY IMPLIED IN THE EVENT’S TITLE IS REFLECTED IN A PROGRAM OF 15 WORKS FROM WITHIN AND OUTSIDE THE HOME STATE.

Part of the function of such events is for audiences to survey the form, to muse on its preoccupations. What strikes me in promotional literature for the programmed works is the language constellating around oppositions, the difference between states of being and, biting at those binary ankles, ideas of liminality and hybridity. These spaces of uncertainty and possibility occur both in the form and subject matter of the works. Live performance meets film and installation in Russell Dumas’ Huit à Huit. In Lucy Guerin’s Untrained, four men—two dance trained, two not—“show what each of those bodies can do with the same set of instructions, what they have in common and where their physical histories set them apart.” In 180 seconds in (Disco) Heaven or Hell, “speed dating meets pomo disco” and comes with The Fondue Set’s customary warning of “possible bad dance moves.”

Oppositional themes abound: circadian rhythms underscored by driving beats; population growth and the auditory phenomenon of feedback” (Rogue’s A Volume Problem and The Counting); Australians homesick in Berlin (Splintergroup’s Lawn); a couple stranded in the middle of nowhere (Splintergroup’s Roadkill); the monster within (Jo Lloyd’s Melbourne Spawned a Monster); two performers/two viewers (Inert); the substitution of real life for imitation (Luke George’s Lifesize). Shelley Lasica’s Vianne tests the fissures; in Limina, Michaela Pegum dances at the point where one thing becomes another and is for a time both; Helen Herbertson’s Morphia Series takes us directly to dreamstate (do not pass go); The Fondue’s No Success Like Failure playfully lays bare the schizophrenic state of the dancing life and Chunky’s Mortal Engine dares to come between the performer and her light source.

Steven Richardson, Artistic Director at Arts House, sees Dance Massive as “creating some essential critical dialogue around contemporary dance, setting a national context to present work in a concentrated cluster of programming” and also as offering the chance to host some international guests, “either presenters or potential co-producers, to really enter into that dialogue (and possible co-production) with Australian artists, many of whom are at the leading edge of contemporary dance internationally.” Currently in Australia, according to the Dance Massive program, there are around 50 dance companies and more than 200 choreographers investigating a range of techniques, culturally diverse forms, contexts and media. “Australian contemporary dance is in demand internationally. It has a strong track record for touring work,” says Richardson.
Byron Perry, Anthony Hamilton, Simon Obarzanek, Ross Coulter, Untrained, Lucy Guerin Inc Byron Perry, Anthony Hamilton, Simon Obarzanek, Ross Coulter, Untrained, Lucy Guerin Inc
photo Untrained Artists
Dance Massive also represents for the partners “a broad audience development strategy, the possibility to create a strong concentration of work over a specific time period…We don’t have the resources to mount a festival but a concentrated program has some added benefits over and above an annual program.”

“Having companies like Chunky Move co-operatively program at the same time as some of the more emerging companies”, says Richardson, gives younger companies and independent artists a chance to have their work seen in the broader context. “I think there’ll be some interest and benefit around the positioning of different kinds of work over the same time period.”

Visiting guests will have an opportunity to see complete works rather than excerpts. “The Australian Performing Arts Market does a terrific job in terms of a kind of broad brushstroke picture of the Australian cultural landscape. But I think having a genre-specific showcase, for want of a better term, creates all sorts of other possibilities. And the fact that we’re able to invite presenters or potential co-producers who have a very strong interest in dance, who can see 12-15 works over a six-day period—that’s a fairly attractive proposition for someone who’s engaged in looking at Australian work.” It’s also a less competitive environment for artists. “Presenting a full-length work with full production values is really important. It honours the work, honours all the effort that’s gone into making it.”

As well as the dance program, there’s an industry forum day on the Monday where artists who may not be in the program will talk about their work. “Australian dance is in a position now where artists have a greater degree of self-esteem and can just talk about upcoming work.”

“Since the demise of Greenmill”, Richardson observes, “there hasn’t really been a dedicated event focusing on contemporary dance. There have been a number of ancillary programs associated with arts festivals. But I think having a stand-alone contemporary dance project is timely and Melbourne is the place to host it. There’s already a critical mass and an ecology of dance in Melbourne that can support this practice. We have a very nice temporal moment, a good confluence of presenters in Melbourne who are open to this idea, so it’s time to give it a go.”

And if it all goes well, Dance Massive may well become a biennial event. Says Richardson, “We’ll certainly undertake some evaluation once we get through the first one and see if we’ve got the design close to right and make some adjustments after that. It may be we’re trying to do too much, or too little. And there are some gaps in the program. Contemporary Indigenous work is something we haven’t really been able to support this time. That’s the tyranny of distance, of resources, of funding. There’s some intercultural, cross-cultural work that, for various reasons, both to do with funding and resources but also to do with the availability of particular works, we haven’t really been able to present. But they’re definitely on the agenda. In fact, if I had to say where the gaps are I’d have to highlight those two areas of potential strength in Australian dance that we haven’t been able to support this time round. We hope to run three Dance Massive episodes as a pilot and see how we go after that.”


Dance Massive, March 3-15; www.dancemassive.com.au

RealTime issue #89 Feb-March 2009 pg. 14

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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