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Rosalind Crisp, danse (1) Rosalind Crisp, danse (1)
photo Patrick Berger
RECENT MONTHS BROUGHT AN ABUNDANCE OF DANCE AND CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE RICHES TO SYDNEY, TOO MUCH FOR THESE PAGES TO CONTAIN. TWO HIGHLIGHTS FOR ME WERE THE LATEST DEVELOPMENT of ROSALIND CRISP’S DANSE [1], NOW IN ITS FIFTH INCARNATION, AND THE FIRST MAJOR WORK FROM A TRIO OF SYDNEY PERFORMERS, POST, IN GIFTED AND TALENTED.

From Melbourne Stuck Pigs Squealing’s Eisteddfod astonished with its explosion and reintegration of theatrical form in the Lally Katz-scripted and Chris Kohn-directed Eisteddfod. From New York, The Foundry Theatre brought Major Bang, a witty and whimsical if ever darkening reflection on the emotional and political impact of 9/11. Andrew Morrish, visiting from Europe, was in virtuosic stand-up form at Performance Space walking the improvisation tightrope with the few near slips that give the form its edge. At the same venue, Erin Brannigan curated Choreographics for Reeldance, engrossing large scale dance installations which I experienced several times with increasing enjoyment of their immersiveness.

rosalind crisp, danse [1]

A foot lands. A temporary anchor point. The other foot lands but at what appears to be the wrong angle, an error perhaps—Rosalind Crisp’s body appears trapped, momentarily immobile. But just as suddenly it’s the starting point for the next move, a kick, pulling the rest of the body with it. The dancer finds a hand close to her face at the end of an angled arm, she watches it fly up, and her head drops back in brief release before another part of her leads elsewhere. The ongoing danse [1] project is full of surprises, not least for the dancer—if she spoke, she might exclaim, ‘Oh, this is here. What do I do with that?’

The stakes are high, every movement a challenge: Crisp’s manifesto includes the following: “As soon as I notice I am starting to do a habitual movement, I practise making a conscious decision to redirect my attention to another part of my body or to employ a different speed, direction, size or effort in that movement.” She also never repeats something which is leading a movement (“an impossible task but one which constantly awakens me to the potential of each moment”), and “enlarg[es], or briefly suspend[s], the commencement of each movement...to make a different movement choice...” In this way, Crisp sees herself as “escaping from cliches in dance in general and in one’s own dance language.” The danse [1] project returned to Sydney from France, where this Australian artist is currently based, with evidence of organic development of the language she has been evolving in recent years.

The audience wander the open space around two low platforms and past another with a woman at her computer, until a huge projection of Crisp dancing takes our attention. The dancer watches it with us. It’s as if we’re being re-familarised with the Crisp idiom writ larger than life. Movements oscillate between fluid and jerky and there’s a strong improvisational quality which comes with the task Crisp has set herself. It’s hard to pick motifs, the dance evolving moment by moment, difficult to add up, which is part of its power. It’s like witnessing a strange physiological phenomenon or a state of being which, encountered in the street, might be mistaken for a certain spasticity or autistic self-containment. The state comprises sudden alternations: centre/off-centre, balance/imbalance, proportion/disproportion, voluntary/involuntary, release/drag...

These moments are brief, often sudden, and frequently unlike each other. The work is not dancerly in any conventional sense, not long-lined, not lyrical. Yes, there’s a relentless fluidity but it’s the result of hard work, hard thinking. The work is work, curiously cerebral as well as intensely physical.

But the performance is also significantly spatial and although the pathway is never clear or predictable, Crisp occupies and transforms spaces—a wall, a wide raised platform, a human-scale lightbox. And in these we witness some new dimensions to the choreography of danse [1]. Near a wall in a dull greenish light Crisp’s pace is markedly slower. A forward thrust closes in a locked position, one knee bent, arms reaching forward, a relatively long moment of stillness. Change. The body squares off—legs akimbo right-angling at the knees, arms likewise raised. Held. Change. Brisk hops before the body arches back like a taut bow, arms completing the line, one hand twitching in the stillness. These phrases are like still frames from a 16mm film stuttering in a projector. A foot taps 1,2,3, an arm locks in three descending positions. We have just that little more time to absorb and assimilate an image, to see the relationship between stillness and movement, decision and impulse, more clearly.

The dancer slips off her shoes and moves tentatively onto the wide platform. Here perspective, as in the video earlier, comes into play as we watch her near and far, travelling where her modus operandi takes her, the dance now about propulsion—how can you travel when your body has another agenda? The moves are familiar, but then there’s a markedly accelerated passage replete with quick turns, arms reaching out, cupping, cradling and then slowing to a stand. But it’s a temporary reprieve. The left leg flies back and a hand shoots to the top of the head and then circles as the arm swings. Crisp gasps, the audience laughs as if sharing surprise at the sheer demand of the task.

She strips down to essentials and approaches the lightbox carefully, hand-first as if testing for heat and texture, staring intently, sitting slowly before lifting her legs onto it and commencing the moves we recognise but which are now demandingly transformed to the horizontal plane, working from the bottom, the pelvis, legs lifted and extended, skin red with effort, bathed in sweat and the fluoro glow. Crisp smiles at her effort, a little laugh escapes, as if about the extremity of the task she’s set herself and the audience laugh with her.

On the wall above, projected text scrolls, intriguing realtime observations about writing and dance, entered moment by moment on Isabelle Ginot’s computer (“..there are two kinds of dance—of the limbs and the organs, of the skeleton, and the other kinds she lets in or blocks”). Soon Crisp dances near the writer, the form more fluid, her body weary, the dancer taking us in, face to face. Finally, she calls for music and Janis Joplin belts out “Another little piece of my heart” as the dancer yells, crawls and flails in wild release. A job well done. We might be applauding ourselves as well, for our visceral empathy for this Herculaen effort for the sake of dance, performed, or rather lived, with commitment, seriousness and such good humour.
Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose, Post, Gifted and Talented Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose, Post, Gifted and Talented
photo Will Mansfield
post: gifted and talented

Seated on big cushions inside a tent of parachute silk, we watch a soloist in sparkling briefs work out distractedly until we get the giggles. The silk is whisked away over our heads and two other performers appear in tracksuits and with bags from which the trio empty out cigarettes, packs of Solo and cellophane wrapped sausage rolls. Constantly smoking, sipping and scoffing, these tough mums prattle on viciously about the failings of their amateur dancer daughters. It’s a timely subject given the pressure to introduce ethical and even criminal codes for the restraint of sports parents. Much of the talk here is self-justification: no toilet breaks for their girls—there are no such breaks in any dance movie they can recall; no pissing in performance—“I made her apologise to her leotard.”

This is Kath and Kim territory. The women are amusingly misinformed, appallingly ignorant and bursting with malapropisms. But they are nastier, more surreal and they are political.

While orally indulging themselves, they attack their daughters’ eating habits (one is caught collecting sausage roll leftovers in bins and joining them up), they envy a Parramatta dance school’s chip machine (“all the girls there are skinny!”), and reflect on their own lives. On the subject of discipline one recalls being caught smoking cannabis by her mother. Mum gets out her bong and, for punishment, forces the child into a 17-round smoko. The lesson was learned and the daughter was fine—after a six-week stay in a psychosis ward. As funny as it is, the sense of cruelty and of hypocrisies passed on generation to generation is palpable.

The litany of torments multiplies and accelerates until suddenly, unannounced and unmarked, it’s Abu Ghraib tortures climaxing with one mother spitting in another’s face and the third slowly emptying her drink into her lap before being marched to the wall, stripped naked and hooded. Silently the other two remove their clothes and stand with her, their backs to us, still, victims as much as perpetrators.

But the eisteddfod must go on: kitsch dance wear is slipped into and an astonishing display of bad dancing executed—slatternly shimmying, gross ogling, meaningless posturing, suspect tableaux, woolly tapping and a climax in which the threesome slide into the parachute silk, through holes for arms and legs, to create the ugly totality the mums have wished onto their charges. This is unforgiving satire. The mothers show no signs of love for their daughters, little knowledge of each other (“do you think things all day long?”), their concern only extending to “disadvantaged parents with boring daughters.”

Post’s Natalie Rose, Zoe Coombs Marr and Mish Grigor write exceedingly well, act with verve and dance badly with great conviction. Gifted and Talented is a delirious take on the issue of psychological abuse and all the better for being neither subtle nor balanced. Post is a potent addition to the Sydney performance scene.

For responses to danceTANK, Andrew Morrish, Eisteddfod, Major Bang and Reeldance Choreographics, go to www.realtimearts.net


Rosalind Crisp, danse [1], text Isabelle Ginot, lighting Marco Wehrspann, video Eric Pellet, Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Sydney, May 30-June 2; Post, Gifted and Talented, performer-devisors Natalie Rose, Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, design Post, lighting & sound Padaraic Meredith-Keller; PACT Theatre, Sydney, June 7-17

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. 46

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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