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Christiane Hommelsheim (via Skype), Nadia Cusimano, The Runner, Return to Sender Christiane Hommelsheim (via Skype), Nadia Cusimano, The Runner, Return to Sender
photo Heidrun Löhr
IN THE COLLECTION OF PERFORMANCES, RETURN TO SENDER, CURATORS PAUL GAZZOLA AND JEFF KHAN INVITED EIGHT AUSTRALIAN DANCE-MAKERS TO CHOOSE, REDESIGN AND PERFORM A SPECIFIC WORK MADE PREVIOUSLY BY AN INTERNATIONAL PEER. THIS PROVOCATION FORCED THE DANCE-ARTISTS TO ENGAGE WITH THEIR OWN PRACTICE VIA THE FORENSIC EXAMINATION OF THE WORK OF ANOTHER. FOR GAZZOLA, THE OVERSEAS EXPERIENCES OF AUSTRALIAN ARTISTS AND THE INFLUENCES ON THEM SHOULD BE OF VITAL INTEREST TO A DOMESTIC AUDIENCE RARELY EXPOSED TO MORE OBSCURE WORK.

A booklet was also produced in which each dancer and curator examined their process via a “self-interview” which for the audience was a welcome adjunct to the business of bodies in space. The task was realised in a variety of ways but all the work had a tangible atmosphere informed by notions of absence, sometimes subtle, sometimes emblazoned as a central theme.

Jane McKernan’s Double Act for instance contained only her writing—other performers voiced it each night. McKernan is an original dancer who, as one third of the trio Fondue Set, has demonstrated a flair for comic timing and caustic parody. Double Act showed that she can equally apply these talents to the written word in a piece that mimicked the style of mentor/collaborator, Wendy Houstoun. The roles of her split-psyche discussion (each night performed by a different duo) were voiced on the night I attended by Agatha Gothe Snape and Lizzie Thompson who after synchronising their iPods repeated aloud what they heard. I enjoyed the McKernan mischief in this piece as script directions were projected behind the performers, highlighting her physical distance (she was overseas at the time). This was a dialogue that created some exquisite opportunities to poke fun at the inherent narcissism of the dancer and the perpetual self-reflection of the art-maker.

Tony Yap, Yumi Umiumare, ZeroZero, Return to Sender Tony Yap, Yumi Umiumare, ZeroZero, Return to Sender
photo Heidrun Löhr
I found the booklet useful for understanding the perceptions of the artists: after the performances it was interesting to discover the dichotomies between intention and outcome. There was little evidence of the light and humorous tone of Yumi Umiumare’s self-interview in the earnestness of her ZeroZero performance—an ongoing project with Tony Yap and performed as a duet. Its charter was to explore the possibility for emptiness (as Buddhists might identify it). Matthew Day’s work was also part of an ongoing collaboration with the absent Noha Ramadan (Amsterdam), echoing a Cindy Sherman photo in its opening image. Each moved with an incredibly tensile agility as body memories, in the case of Umiumare and Yap referencing their respective Japanese and Malaysian ancestries, were teased out from thought to action.

The third co-editor of the booklet and the performer of Name To Be Given By The Spectator was Atlanta Eke. She stepped into the performance space inviting us to load up our ears with our iPods. She excused herself to put on her costume and stepped to one side to remove her warm-up outfit. She checked her mobile and entered the space naked, phone in hand. What followed was a series of recognisable ball-change, tap and split-leap sequences common to any conventional dance. Reproducing a solo originally made and performed by Swedish dancer Emma Kim Hagdalh, Eke’s version also explored the inescapable, multiple references the trained dancer-body contains within every attempt at original movement. This was done by immersing herself in repetitive and clichéd sequences of movement style and interrupting them by constantly checking her phone. It seemed like instructions were being sent by text for each segment she performed. Here, the banality of the movement cleverly displaced voyeurism, focusing attention on the anatomical energy of dancing—the confrontation of the revealed body replacing the titillation of an uncovered one.

Displacement and absence took on the appearance of surveillance in the evening’s opening piece, The Runner by Christiane Hommelsheim and Nadia Cusimano. A Skype image of Hommelsheim from Germany was projected onto a large screen above Cusimano’s dancing/singing form in Carriageworks’ Bay 20. The patchy clarity of the internet connection provided some fascinating commentaries and juxtapositions from above: “I saw this interview with...er...Deborah Hay,” the break-up in signal subverting her discourse. “She says ‘in this I/there’s so many things that enter the Second Amendment they make you crazy’ ...”. I felt sure that the live-feed interventions arrested Cusimano’s choreographic flow and that her focal point became the exploration of the tuneful and discordant sounds of her singing. “Go!” Hommelsheim commanded a couple of times from Europe, “what if that whole foul knock moment was placed to notice,” the machine said, transforming her voice into a Hawking-esque staccato. And as linguistics were mangled by distance, visceral patterns also disintegrated and trajectories dissolved. But as Cusimano wrote, “The Runner is the performance of a practice not the performance of a dance.” Fair enough.

Alison Currie’s work utilised audience participation and great humour to reinterpret the choreography of New York dancer Pere Faura, while Latai Taumoepeau remembered with grace the spirits and cultural practices of her Tongan ancestors. This was a fascinating night with a powerful curatorial agenda addressing the perennial issue of Australia’s distance from so many centres of the world’s arts practices.


Performance Space, Return To Sender, curators Paul Gazzola, Jeff Khan; Carriageworks, Sydney, Nov 23-26, 2011

RealTime issue #107 Feb-March 2012 pg. 32

© Tony Osborne; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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