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Natalie Abbott, Exhibitionism, QL2 Natalie Abbott, Exhibitionism, QL2
photo David Pang
OSTENSIBLY, THERE ARE GREAT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN DANCERS’ BODIES AND THE FIXED FORMS AND FLAT SURFACES OF ARTWORK IN GALLERIES. A RECENT QUANTUM LEAP YOUTH DANCE PROJECT IN CANBERRA SET OUT TO CHALLENGE JUST THAT SUPPOSITION.

Exhibitionism was a promenade performance presented on-site at the National Gallery of Australia. Recent tertiary dance graduates from around Australia collaborated with Brisbane choreographer/mentor Brian Lucas and NGA staff to create five short, site-specific pieces. A connective framework of enactments drew the audience from site to site.

Tour leader Sarah Kaur relaxes the audience, guiding us where to walk (and what distance to keep from the art) whille succinctly introducing some of the artworks. Her presence is easy, gracious and a good ice-breaker for the audience.

First we view the courtyard Sculpture Garden. From inside we look out through glass walls at figures traversing the space, sometimes playful as children, at other times, strict as surveyors measuring a path; at others, struggling on the threshold between pavement and water, inside and outside. They speak to us but we can’t hear—choreographer Natalie Abbott perhaps reflecting on the struggle of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, on display for the judgment of their citizenry. A dancer mouths at us as we leave—the ultimate tourist proletariat—for the next port-of-call.

Within the Sculpture Gallery, amongst polished and twisted trapezoids and Brancusi’s elegiac Birds in Space, dancers work the negative space between sculptures in this light-flooded area, their costumes white and light against the granite floors and reflective or massive surfaces. Gareth Hart places four small boxes on the floor—gifts for us to open, which each prove to hold a proverb-like quotation and an origami bird.

The dance plays well with proximity and distance, Hart also exploring glimpses of dance/recognitions through tall internal windows. The piece is both delicate and tough—like the gift boxes, unfolding thought and folded air.

We walk up the ramp, beneath a suspended canopy woven out of the bodies of sea stars, to the sound of a piercing, melancholy wail. Around the corner, Warwick Lynch is playing a musical saw. If sound painted air we would see this music as a ribbon floating behind us, while also urging us forward. Like memory, looking, sensing, a silken stretching in multiple directions.

In the Asian Gallery, through a carved Indonesian arch, we view a dancer perched on a white plinth, just not toppling. Her body like Shiva’s, at first, but with hiccups: pushing against its angularities—the struggle of a traveler, an outsider temporarily inside a new culture, flooded with responses, struggling to recompose new experiences within an older identity. Nicholas Ng’s urhu [Chinese ‘violin’] is a beautiful complement in this space, gentle yet also sharp against the jerkiness of this dance .

Chimene Steele Prior has also choreographed our next stop, “Amongst Blue Poles.” For me, this dance is skilled, but the least successful of the works. I am unsure whether the falling and swerving dancer’s movements are meant to reflect Pollock’s mind conceiving the painting, the fall of the paint itself, or the spectator grappling with it. The questions per se are fine, but they seem unintegrated within a feeling structure—as if Steele Prior draws the lines but not the full calibre of breath within and behind them.

The last segment is delightful, in a foyer/workshop space, amongst potted palms; dancers peering, calling attention, moving away, breaking into applause, then shushing themselves quiet. The sequence is attractive, self-conscious, duplicitous, ambiguous. What are we really looking at? How can we ever really know? This company-collaborated piece is a very funny conclusion to the event.

This group achieved much in the month allocated within QL2’s Soft Landing project. Nonetheless, there are some unresolved elements—most notably, the bridging pieces between segments, which Lucas himself performs in a way that heightens his tall, angular quirkiness. They appear, however, as bits of broken textures—like fragments of peanut brittle, odd servings at odd times over the course of a progressive dinner. But what are we in these in-between spaces anyway—perhaps nothing so much as acts of recomposition ourselves.


Quantum Leap, QL2 Cente for Youth Dance, Soft Landing project, Exhibitionism, director Brian Lucas, choreographers Natalie Abbott, Gareth Hart, Chimene Steele-Prior, composers Nicholas Ng, Warwick Lynch, collaborating dancers Rudi Bremer, Alyce Jasmine Farrell, Laura Fishwick, Yahna Fookes, Elanor Jane Webber, Patricia Wood, Ebony Wright, NGA project staff: manager Katie Russell, Youth & Community Programs Officer Adriane Boag; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Sept 26-28

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 32

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

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