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autonomy and the emerging artist

jonathan bollen at come out 2007

Jonathan Bollen lectures in Drama at Flinders University in Adelaide.

Quantum Leap, Reckless Valour Quantum Leap, Reckless Valour
photo Andrew Campbell
WHATEVER THEIR EMERGENCY, WARS THE WORLD OVER CONSUME THE VULNERABILITY OF THE YOUNG—HARNESSING THEIR SUSCEPTIBILITY, MARSHALLING THEIR SUGGESTIBILITY, EXHAUSTING THEIR SHEER ENTHUSIASM FOR PARTICIPATING IN WORLD EVENTS. SUCH YOUTHFUL ENERGIES, RENDERED AESTHETIC, ARE ALSO APPARENT WHEN LARGE GROUPS OF YOUNG PEOPLE EMBODY THE WILL OF EMPOWERED ADULTS AND PERFORM WITH UNBOUND ENTHUSIASM FOR APPRECIATIVE FAMILY AND FRIENDS.

This ensemble aesthetic of unassailable pride fuels events like the Schools Spectacular, that apotheosis of the end-of-year concert, staged annually since 1984 with a cast of thousands in the cavernous arena of the Sydney Entertainment Centre, and now broadcast to the nation on ABC TV. Such an aesthetic—suitably cloaked in the drab garb of mutual respect—was also apparent in Reckless Valour, Quantum Leap’s homage to the Australian War Memorial and the nation’s war dead.

Quantum Leap Youth Choreographic Ensemble is an ongoing enterprise of the Australian Choreographic Centre in Canberra. This production from 2005 was made in partnership with the Australian War Memorial and with support from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs through the ‘Saluting their Service’ commemorations program. A revival was presented at the Adelaide Festival Theatre as part of Come Out 2007, South Australia’s biennial arts festival for young people.

Reckless Valour is a well-polished work of propaganda, wearing its production values with pride like so many medals on its chest. Producer Mark Gordon has enlisted a professional production team of 27 artists, administrators and technicians including four choreographers, five composers and a six member film unit. Thirty six young dancers appear in the work, most on stage, some on film.

The dancers—all of whom have come to social consciousness as future citizens in Howard’s Australia—may have contributed ideas, movement strands and stories to the creative process, as artistic director Ruth Osborne notes in the program, but their bodies articulate a discourse on remembering war, national honour and dutiful reflection which does not appear to originate with them. This discourse they perform with the docile conviction of devoted children, but without the authority that arises from creative autonomy.

Modern dance has lent itself to national promotion in the past. Rudolph Laban’s movement choirs, created for the spectacles of mass rallies in Nazi Germany, is an obvious example. Laban’s choral kinaesthetic is recalled in Reckless Valour—in Jodie Farrugia’s segment, Pool of Reflection, in Fiona Malone’s Roll of Honour and, most obviously, in the monumental body-architecture of awe and admiration in Ruth Osborne and Vivienne Rogis’s Hall of Memory.

Dissenting bodies make a brief appearance in Faces of the Enemy, Rowan Marchingo’s deconstruction of Australiana. Marchingo reveals the violence of the heel-and-toe in colonial bush dance, but sardonic references to Vegemite, Drizabones and kangaroos miss their target, overshadowed by the iconography of the unknown soldier, the war-time nurse, the Flanders poppy and the slouch hat which so dominates this work.

Midnight Oil’s Short Memory is used at one point in association with an audio recording of Howard’s announcement to the nation on joining America in the war against Iraq. But the problem here is not that we are short on memory. The work is awash with manufactured memories, drowning us and its performers in a flood of memorialisation. In a time of war and water shortage, when the civic fountains in our towns and cities are running dry, the pool of reflection in the nation’s capital overflows.

In the final segment, “a memorial for the future”, key words project the values of its young performers. Among the words are tolerance, respect, understanding, courage, faith, strength, trust and cautiousness—cautiousness? I am chilled by this.
 Lorcan Hopper, Restless Dance, Rebel Rebel
Lorcan Hopper, Restless Dance, Rebel Rebel

photo David Wilson
I am thrilled that Rebel Rebel, the new work from Adelaide-based Restless Dance, throws caution to the wind. Presented for Come Out at Norwood’s Odeon Theatre, this is Ingrid Voorendt’s first production as artistic director, though her experience as associate director and creator of five works for the company lends assurance. She describes Rebel Rebel as a rebellion against her previous work.

It has an urban, constructivist, junk yard aesthetic. It is built up from fragments of childhood culture, gruff snatches of music from DJ TRIP, and the frustrations of young bodies bursting out of their skins. It opens with the confusion of torchlight, a wind-up toy in a corner, a Bambi mural on the wall—while twelve young performers are locked up out the back, making a racket, yelling to get out.

As the work unfolds, a booth-sized box, squares of white light and the solid bulk of the theatre’s back wall give structure to a choreography of frustration as bodies perform actions that exceed their containment. Performers are chased, pathways are blocked. Bodies lash out to do their own thing. They try to escape, and get in each other’s way.

Restless Dance works with young performers both with and without a disability. One advantage of this—an advantage as rare in dance as it is in youth arts—is the resistance that the performers and their bodies present to uniform projections of corporeal capacity and the singular imposition of a director’s will.

We see this most clearly when the performers line up downstage as if for a chorus line, that most recognisable choreographic convention for synchronising uniformity. But as the impulse to move runs down the line, each performer responds in a manner as distinctive and unusual as it is authentic to the body moving. Near the end, the performers don headphones and the DJ retires. They dance to their own beat as we watch on in silence.

The sense that these twelve performers are the originators, the initiators, the creative generators of their movement is impressive. Voorendt meets the challenge of directing young people in the performing arts: how to chart an ensemble trajectory of aesthetic education that fosters authenticity of artistic expression. In the choreography of Rebel Rebel, I saw dancers becoming artists for the future. In Reckless Valour, I saw conscripts servicing their elders and the past.


Quantum Leap Youth Choreographic Ensemble, Reckless Valour, Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, May 1-12; Restless Dance Company, Rebel Rebel, Odeon Theatre, Adelaide, May 11-19; Come Out 2007

Jonathan Bollen lectures in Drama at Flinders University in Adelaide.

RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg. 29

© Jonathan Bollen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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