info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  
“IF YOU CHANGE THE GOVERNMENT, YOU CHANGE THE COUNTRY”, PAUL KEATING DECLARED IN THE LEAD UP TO THE 1996 FEDERAL ELECTION. KEATING OVERESTIMATED THE ROLE OF THE GOVERNMENT IN DETERMINING THE CULTURAL CLIMATE; IT WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE ACCURATE TO SAY THAT THE COUNTRY HAD ALREADY SHIFTED AND KEATING AND HIS ADVISORS WERE SLOW IN REGISTERING IT.
Apolitical Dance, NYID Apolitical Dance, NYID
Not Yet It’s Difficult’s Apolitical Dance addresses the impact of such changes, exploring how 10 years of neo-conservative government, along with contemporary social and cultural conditions, have changed our minds and manifested in our bodies.

Five dancers move slowly through a thick fog, four encircling a fifth and central figure. In the distance, the sounds of football commentary waft through the fog. It’s reminiscent of Saturday afternoons in suburbia.

These familiar sounds soon give way to the five bodies convulsing as if pregnant with Ridley Scott’s Alien, readying for its unholy birth and suggesting that neo-conservatism is an alien entity, lodged in the host body politic.

The performers move into increasingly alienated and individualised states, launching their bodies with mounting violence against walls to the strains of The Seekers. The juxtaposition of innocent music and violent movement evokes the unsettling ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs, where Stealer Wheels’ “Stuck in the Middle with You” provides a bizarre soundtrack to mutilation. Contemporary life here is anomic and traumatic.

But there is another, perhaps more widespread experience of conservatism that embraces it as pleasurable. For many, as the electoral success of Howard’s Government testifies, these changes are experienced not as traumatic but, on the contrary, as comforting as a pair of old slippers or an episode of Dancing with the Stars.

The roots of this conservatism, moreover, are indigenous to the body politic itself, rather than some imported, alien ideology that has implanted itself in the host culture.

Apolitical Dance never really ventures down this path, only hinting at the pleasures of conservatism through a momentary dip into high camp as the dancers perform to a German folk tune. However, camp suggests a knowing, playful attitude towards its subject, which can be a way of engaging with the unfamiliar while simultaneously holding it at a distance.

In other ways too, the performance shied away from the contemporary conditions of conservatism, opting instead for unpersuasive parallels between contemporary social and cultural life with conservative forms of the past.

The playful Leni Riefenstahl-style climax, in which the performers strike a series of heroic poses in mock glorification of the athletic body before exiting into a blaze of lights, was a good example. A more promising approach might have been to explore the particular relationship of sport and authoritarian politics in contemporary culture, rather than a rather obvious reference to fascist propaganda of the 1930s. The reversion to stereotypes of authoritarianism blunted the potential force of Apolitical Dance’s commentary.

This is not to question the integrity or the urgency of the work. Indeed Apolitical Dance seeks to grapple seriously with contemporary issues, taking inspiration from the works of anthropologist Ghassan Hage, Nikos Papastergiadis, the author of Stasiland, Anna Funder and Samuel Beckett’s The Lost Ones

The challenge of working with such a diversity of influences and styles is how to translate them into a performance work. These influences were sometimes lost in translation from the page (or the stage) to the bodies of the performers, the vocabulary of movement and gesture straining to articulate the influences, or interrogate them on a fairly equal footing. Contorted bodies, writhing and struggling out of their skin, lacked the nuance to fully realise the potential insights offered by such influences. The problem was particularly acute for a work concerned with the way ideas manifest themselves in bodies: movement and gesture tended to be relegated to the backseat, far behind the intellect.

Apolitical Dance is nevertheless an ambitious work, with a welcome sense of urgency about contemporary political and cultural conditions. However, it too is produced under the same conditions which it seeks to address, developed in a crushingly brief three weeks—perhaps a statement about how a decade of conservative government manifests itself in the body.


Not Yet It’s Difficult, Apolitical Dance, director David Pledger, dramaturg Peter Eckersall, performers Sara Black, Martin Hansen, Todd MacDonald, Carlee Mellow, Ingrid Weisfelt; Arts House, Meat Market, North Melbourne, Nov 28-Dec 2, 2006

See also John Bailey’s response on page 41.

RealTime issue #77 Feb-March 2007 pg. 42

© Christopher Scanlon; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top