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perth international arts festival 2012


a polyphonic clamour of bodies

maggi phillips: perth international arts festival—dance


Lucinda Childs Dance Company, DANCE Lucinda Childs Dance Company, DANCE
photo © Sally Cohn
PULSE-QUICKENING NOT ONLY COURSED THROUGH SPECTATORS AT THIS YEAR’S PERTH INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL BUT WAS EMBEDDED, WITH VARYING DEGREES OF FIRMNESS, INTO A RANGE OF ITS ARTISTIC INTERROGATIONS. BODIES TECHNICALLY FORMED BY DANCE AND CIRCUS TACKLED THE COMPLEXITIES OF POLYPHONIC EXPRESSION WITH AN UNUSUAL SENSE OF INTENT, WHETHER DIRECTLY AS IN LUCINDA CHILDS’ DANCE AND GRUPO CORPO’S PARABELO AND ONQOTO, OR WITH DISCRETE INDIRECTNESS IN THE WORKS OF THE WA BALLET’S QUARRY SEASON, THE VOCAL CUSHIONING OF HOW LIKE AN ANGEL’S EARTHBOUND TRAJECTORIES AND IN THE PLAYFUL ZENITH OF CROSS-CUTTING DIALOGUES, JAMES THIÉRÉE’S RAOUL. RHYTHM AS A SINGULAR IDEA IS BLOWN ASUNDER BY PRODUCTIONS THAT DISSECT TIME IN THE BEDROCK OF THEIR MAKING/CREATION.

lucinda childs

Childs’ Dance exemplifies the perspective. Indeed, this reconstruction of a 30-year-old minimalist work folds the past into the present with intriguing resonances. Essentially Dance is about mathematical computations concentrated within the restricted phrasal vocabulary of Philip Glass’ score and Childs’ choreography. Though irrevocably wedded, dancers and musicians follow the democratic dictates of the 70s and maintain their autonomy, promoting their own identity through calculated skipping, over and in each other’s patterns. Today however, designer Sol LeWitt’s contribution dominates. In the artist talk with Michael Whaites, Childs explained that LeWitt consolidated Dance’s concept because he considered the dance and music intrinsically so strong that design would prove to be unnecessary except if provided by the dancers themselves. Therein materialised the filmic design projected on a downstage scrim where the dancers partner themselves. LeWitt’s solution has survived, now transformed into a dialogue of the vital being-ness of current performers with their forbears, a powerful encounter of dancers across time.

Silent manoeuvres of the filmic eye tip horizontal perspectives into overhead sight or split screen-dancers onto opposite sides of the stage to transpose the minute shifts of sound and movement into a complex mapping exercise. Sepia-tinged screen-dancers criss-cross space like phantoms, the loose swing of their limbs relieved of the weight of flesh. Against their live counterparts with musculatures which scavenge space in directed pathways, these apparitions float free of bodily endurance. That is except for Childs whose image from across time stands huge in its determination, a will which is, ironically, not to be manipulated.

west australian ballet

Jayne Smeulder, David Mack, Serenade, Ballet at the Quarry, WA Ballet Jayne Smeulder, David Mack, Serenade, Ballet at the Quarry, WA Ballet
photo Jon Green
Down in the Quarry, WA Ballet artistic director Ivan Cavallari’s Strings 32 aligned violin bowing with vibrating energies of dancers and their elastic appendages to provide a feasible premise to celebrate the compulsion of refined action. Muscularity infiltrated the atmospheric expanse of the Quarry but did little to interconnect the violinist with the starry environment. On the other hand, Balanchine’s early tribute to American classicism, Serenade, flowed blue into the night entirely in sync with Tchaikovsky’s haunting tones. Under repetiteur Eve Lawson’s astute direction, the dancers embodied the legendary choreographer’s musical sensitivity and movement abstraction with a credible confidence. While veiled beneath the airy costuming and feminine foregrounding, Serenade bears a structural affinity with the Childs/Glass lineage. Balanchine may not have imbibed the democratic mania of his adopted homeland but, choreographically speaking, he led the introspection of form that was to follow.

The remaining two works, Reed Luplau’s The Sixth Borough and Terence Kohler’s Rhetoric, though replete with the tempi of city life and online role-playing games of their respective themes, blanched into predictability and obscurity. All the verve and seduction of sexy bodies in impressive whips and curves simply could not retrieve the works’ formless descent. Only the lone night star of Serenade endured, shimmering past into present, double-ghosting Sol LeWitt’s sepia memories.

grupo corpo

Rhythm pulsed through swaying and twitching joints over a throw away classical technique to make Grupo Corpo’s Parabelo & Onqotô an experience of the now. Patterns skittered back and forth through that pervasive ethnic mix that is the Brazilian actuality. Batuadas, the percussive signatures of identity for the myriad mixtures of peoples, ricocheted through the sound and movement of Rodrigo Pederneiras’ Parabelo, not to illuminate fragmentation but to reiterate unity. Bodies caught and threw notes, weight and attitudes of difference and commonality about in conjunctions which finally conveyed order rather than chaos. Touches of formality (Childs) and virtuosity (WAB) appear but the sassy sexuality of these dancers slipped over the sophistication and viral disintegration of the worldly wise. Even the sparse interjection of duets and solo movements never eroded the group’s momentum. Grupo Corpo’s world is warm and conservative, playing with the heart beat’s literal need; at variance perhaps with aesthetic fulfilment?

In the Brazilians’ reception a line was drawn between the general public’s appetite for the exotic and dance aficionados’ reservations. Sensual syncopation is undoubtedly a structural element which Pederneiras plumbs for all manner of thematic concerns but its literal application, plus unitards, diminutive masculine movement and commercial aura failed to please dancers. Being biased towards all things South American, I found such concerns puzzling. In Onqotô, a female body was slapped around by a male who for the most part lay supine on the floor. In the image, I saw an extraordinary reverence for the masterful skills of a soccer icon like Pele in conflict with the literal reading which pointed to a harsh sexual relationship. A further overlay, or so the program notes suggested, yoked this clash metaphorically with the creation of the universe. This sequence, both uncomfortable and thrilling, was pitched against a female homosexual duo which could, with cultural encoding, be a statement about the complex workings of machismo, both within and beyond the soccer environment. Such a reading may be impossible without some familiarity with the culture in question.

circa & i faglioni

The ‘angels’ of How Like an Angel hit the earth repeatedly with the bruising flesh-thud of indisputable human propensity. Was the intention to reframe Milton’s tale of the fall from paradise, to accentuate the negative transformations of fantastical flight and tussle of divine wills? Intoxicating sacral tones reverberated within the acoustic bounce of Winthrop Hall, circulating an impressive arena-like configuration of audience and rectangular strip of performance space. The sound coiled around a sculptural figure partnering a long pole as if in a philosophical or sublime debate. This promising start plummeted when his fellow athletes appeared.

How Like an Angel, a commissioned work of circus, choir and cathedral for Britain’s Olympic Festival glanced awkwardly over the idea’s potential. Setting and aural evocativeness tumbled due to what seemed an under-rehearsed and unformed realisation of what might have been. The promised play in paradise lost crept in once or twice, as when a scantily clad female climbed up black silks. It was a simple and unexpected image, posed as if the performer was on a trajectory to heaven. The drama of this image evaporated as quickly as it surfaced. Performance rhythm did briefly return after the painful thud to earth of a suicidal man who, unlike St Michael’s defeat in his challenge to a jealous God, fell inexplicably from the high-rise apparatus onto a pile of thick mats. The culminating pole act signalled how it is that human skill may accomplish angelic mystery or, in philosophical terms, the god-breath. Here, circus skills prevailed: timing and sheer audacity on that vertical pole exemplified what a physical idea might achieve.

james thiérée

 James Thiérée, Raoul James Thiérée, Raoul
photo courtesy PIAF
Final festival reflection must come from he who utters little but speaks volumes in sound, design and movement. Performance is a strange territory, given to multifarious prejudices, trends and desires. Structures can be brilliant by way of purity of intent, bodies can be devilishly attractive in their astounding defiance of the norm and, then, there is this other place and possibility, wherein exposure transports ordinary people into something which is ungraspable. James Thiérée’s Raoul, ostensibly a solo performance, achieves exactly this objective. Thiérée employs skills across disciplines to convey an insignificant human in an inexplicable world, sharing ideas about the who-what-how of what human being-ness might mean. Thiérée’s arrogant and absurd little man talks with fixtures of external decadence and imagination. In his presence, polyphony transcends genre and clamour turns symphonic. Fluttering hands, leftover movements from an argument with sound walls, dance into the astounding complexity of simplicity.


Perth International Arts Festival: Lucinda Childs Dance Company, Dance, choreography Lucinda Childs, music Philip Glass, film Sol LeWitt, Heath Ledger Theatre, Feb 22-25; West Australian Ballet: At the Quarry, Feb 10-March 3; Grupo Corpo, Parabela and Onqotô His Majesty’s Theatre, March 1-4; Circa and I Fagiolini, How Like an Angel, director Yaron Lifschitz, musical direction Robert Hollingworth, Winthrop Hall, UWA, Feb 29-March 3; La Compagnie du Hanneton, Raoul, designer, director, performer James Thiérée, Regal Theatre, Feb 18-26

RealTime issue #108 April-May 2012 pg. 3

© Maggi Phillips; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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