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Online exclusive


Improvisation & the thickening of time

Zsuzsanna Soboslay: Australian Choreographic Centre, Precipice


Hold that deadline. Other cultures from ours experience time and the detailing of events, and hence, meaning, differently. In particular, there is a concept of “thick time”, a Balinese term for when events and significances line up in a particularly dense overlay of resonances (John Broomfield, Other Ways of Knowing, 1997). I begin to wonder whether, in improvisation, “thick time” becomes a condition of performance: from the initial, tentative setting-up of an idea, or partnership, through to the layered, richly-confluenced zone of thought and action that looks and feels expanded, hugely spacious, where the span of a single breath is wired to so many options (and organs), words, shudders and slides, that one is not holding, marking time, but that it holds you. Helen Omand says: “The best improvisations are when it seems like the score has already been written in space/time, and the body makes it manifest” (RT 45 p11).

To improvise is to enter a zone approaching the infinite that is yet bounded with finitudes: muscle, step, language, wind. In their finer moments, the most seemingly divergent practices-from Grotowski’s “shedding of resistances” to the classical acterly “training up” to form-also whisper each other’s virtues, hugeness meeting the particular (or vice versa) in multitudinous intimacy. I observe the final session of Precipice in Canberra-not, alas, the fall of the incumbent rulers from their parliamentary spire, but a 4-day improvisation jam, now in its 9th year-and reflect on some of the “givens” of the artform.

Trust. Trotman and Santos in partnership reveal an intimacy that is verbal, physical and structural, with structure a distinct body with its own edges joining in the play. Their interplay seems helix-shaped, diverging, converging, holding their differences in a brilliant interweaving. Santos, glowing-eyed, ‘redeems’ them from the edge of chaos, insisting on the unity of their ‘two becoming one” whilst Trotman falls off a cliff with the other billion into which they have already multiplied. Two gaspingly beautiful moments where their two distanced bodies turn as one.

Ghosts. They show their training, as performers do when they improvise. Trotman and Rees-Hatton through Al Wunder’s Theatre of the Ordinary sharing a tendency to separate words from movement in alternation. Trotman’s words left gasping, arms grasping; peculiar and particular, a quaintly-disjuncted relationship to impulse recognisable as a TOTO influence, yet here ignited with a special resilience and wit. Rees-Hatton belies her maturity with hops and skips, an adult dancer partaking in an all-day lollipop.

Hitching on the glitches. Ryk Goddard plays tag and chasings with patches of light which cut out just as he arrives. An at times harrowing biographic discursion on finding and keeping home, of an identity teetering and lurching away from stable balance. Both verité confession and postmodern artifice, the bravely darkest and most personified piece of the session.

Possible vs impossible, known vs. unknown. Barnes and Bonnar tease out the tango form, decaying, redeeming, querying and quarreling with it as their feet wickedly flick and sashay. A delicious turning-over of a form that already leaves itself open to unturn, tickling at (in)competencies and (in)complicities. His solid body helps her into a backbend, drags her metres across the ground; their roles reverse, she’s surprised to be caught in an impossible expectation to do the same.

From intensified abstraction.... In a butoh-based slaughterhouse blues, Pemberton, O’Keefe and Hunt alternate slack-hipped mimickry of cattle-men with Body Weather incursions into the muscles of slaughtered bovine souls. Blood on the hay, buttocks jammed in corridors. Kimmo Vennonen’s soundtrack veering from literal to a blood-journey through the internal nightmare.

...to dissolution. We emerge in late-afternoon wind and light to Alice Cummins’ silver hair reflecting the agedness and deepgnarled beauty of the courtyard’s central tree. At times her relatively still body seems to sprout from it, at times nearly fall like a leaf, or suspend from within it like a limb; thence dance along its skin, a difference of time and density. Cummins afterwards expresses her consciousness of being the final performance of the weekend. In what way might such consciousness interfere? The show must go on, but performances stop, do they? Cummins’ performance aptly softened the rhetorical edge of the season’s title with a grace and heart that rendered time thick and thin as water.


Precipice, Peter Trotman, Lynne Santos, Lee Pemberton, Anne O’Keefe, Victoria Hunt, Kimmo Vennonen, Sarah Bonnar, Gary Barnes, Ryk Goddard, Noel Rhees-Hatton, Alice Cummins; lighting: Mark Gordon. Australian Choreographic Centre,

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. web

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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