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Nowhere Fast, Dance North Nowhere Fast, Dance North
AN UGLY, GREY, DEAD END LIT BY A SINGLE STREETLIGHT AND OBSERVED BY THE COLD RED EYE OF A SURVEILLANCE CAMERA MOUNTED HIGH ON A WALL FORMS THE UNSYMPATHETIC SET OF DANCENORTH’S NOWHERE FAST. THE GRUBBY WALLS BEAR THE PENTIMENTI OF EARLIER TRAGEDIES—IS THAT A BLOODSTAIN IN THE CORNER?—BUT GIVE LITTLE ELSE AWAY. AS THE WORK UNFURLS THE SET FULFILS ITS PURPOSE, REPRESENTING BOTH THE OBSTACLE AND THE VOID AGAINST WHICH THE TWITTERING MASSES HURL THEMSELVES IN THE SEARCH FOR MEANING OR, AT THE VERY LEAST, SOME ATTENTION.

Nowhere Fast is Ross McCormack’s first full length choreography. The New Zealander has danced with the Royal New Zealand Ballet and Australian Dance Theatre, winning a Helpmann Award in 2004. He moved to Belgium to work with Les Ballets C de la B, and part of the idea for Nowhere Fast arose from the “urban loneliness” he observed living in the most densely populated country in Europe, as well as his concern for a generation experiencing “life at one remove” through a variety of new media. His principal visual influence is the work of American photographer Gregory Crewdson, whose meticulous set pieces reek of alienation within suburban ordinariness.

The musical score is the work of Jody Lloyd in his first foray into composition for dance. Much of it was developed in his studio, referencing McCormack’s rough ideas, Crewdson’s photographs, and DVDs of the work in progress. He spent the final two weeks prior to the show in Townsville working directly with the company, honing the atmosphere and pace of the varied soundtrack. It collages everything from ground shaking car stereo ‘doofdoof’ to Maria Callas to “squashed and pulled Hawaiian steel guitar”, solidly underpinning the action.

McCormack says he asked the six dancers to “put away technique to develop character, explore and express yourself emotionally.” The physicality, youth and raw strength of the Dancenorth ensemble rises to the task from the moment the work commences with a naked young man clambering over the wall to stand vulnerable and semi-exposed in the twilight. Initially, it’s as though D’Arcy Andrews, so unsure and awkward, has found himself there unexpectedly; and like the audience, is trying to figure out what’s going on. He pulls on underwear—dressing, undressing and clothes swapping are recurrent themes—and begins scrawling on the wall. Luke Hanna appears, fighting unseen demons, evoking Munch’s The Scream in his facial contortions and self-flagellation. Andrews observes tentatively, briefly mimics Hanna’s wild movements; Hanna licks Andrews, leaving a trail of bright blue across his body, but it is an arbitrary mark with no connection or empathy evident.

Hsin-Ju Chiu enters and Hanna and Andrews observe her warily as she primps and poses. Alice Hinde and Nicola Leahey join her and the three begin compulsively flicking their hair in unison, laughing flirtatiously but manically in a dance where the flicking becomes scruffing becomes violent scratching. The heels come off to be banged and dragged against the walls, but attention spans are short and Hanna is off tweaking the surveillance camera, and a shaking skinhead is emerging from the shadows, graffiti-ing the walls, chalk in both hands.

The shaking man, Joshua Thomson, draws, increasingly frenetic, leaping and circling rapidly, and suddenly he is a human compass, his head centred on the wall and his outstretched arms drawing a near perfect circle as he spins on the spot. He stops and turns, resting his back against the wall, arms still wide—a latter day Vitruvian Man for an instant, having just created a bespoke frame for his exact proportions. As he slathers his head with magenta paint, his eyes and veins popping, a shot rings out and Thomson convulses in death throes. Writhing in Goya-esque agonies, he then enacts suicide by decapitation, disembowelment, strangulation, in a distressing and relentless, but utterly compelling sequence.

Atop the wall perch the girls, a giggling trio, reaching toward Thomson, chirruping platitudes. “Awww, honey!”, croons Nicola Leahey inanely as the consummate Barbie doll. The incongruity of their responses reaches its height as Thomson opens his mouth to scream and they literally begin to drag him up the wall by his open mouth, before dropping him in a heap in the corner.

This scary juxtaposition of vacuousness and sheer muscle plays out in several scenarios within the work—another frantic sequence sees the group fling Hinde through the wall. They look at each other in silence. A dog barks in the distance. Andrews lamely attempts to reassemble the broken pieces of the wall to conceal Hinde’s inert form. Hsin-Ju holds out her mobile phone and films the accident scene. Leahey laughs and disrobes to divert attention to herself, running back and forth, dress on and off, posing against the wall art like a demented package tourist doing Rome in a day. The boys are momentarily amused before they too start running and stripping, looking off into the distance to see who’s observing them.

In the final sequence all the dancers perform a repetitive floor-slapping routine in unison, like a wordless prayer for connection. But, frustrated by their own clueless self-obsession, it is a one-step-forward, two-steps-back exercise in futility. A shirtless Hanna personifies their internal stasis by contorting his jawdropping physique into a state of semi-mobility, a marble Rodin under the white-blue light. All are as disparate in the end as they were in the beginning.

Nowhere Fast left some of its audience scratching for a storyline, accustomed as they are to the strong narratives in the works of former artistic director Gavin Webber. McCormack’s guest work taps the same vigour and grit the Dancenorth ensemble have become renowned for, perhaps less poetically, but to powerful, confronting and often unexpected effect. The disjointed feel of the piece; the frenzied action interspersed with loitering, watchfulness, imitation and self-conscious posing; the frustrated attempts at meaningful connection; all successfully capture the mood of an age where we are so busy media surfing in an effort not to miss anything that we are in danger of going nowhere, fast.


Dancenorth, Nowhere Fast, choreographer Ross McCormack, performers D’Arcy Andrews, Hsin-Ju Chiu, Luke Hanna, Alice Hinde, Nicola Leahey, Joshua Thomson, composer Jody Lloyd, lighting Natasha James, Townsville, July 1-5

RealTime issue #92 Aug-Sept 2009 pg. 36

© Bernadette Ashley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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