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spring dance 2010

reflections on self and body

pauline manley: spring dance 2010

Paul White, In Glass Paul White, In Glass
photo Ian Bird, courtesy Sydney Opera House

in glass

Narelle Benjamin’s creamily athletic choreography folds, flicks, rolls, curves and dips in an admixture of textured rhythms and flowing ‘through-ness.’ The body of the choreographer is deeply inscribed everywhere on the bodies of its two magnificent dancers, Kristina Chan and Paul White—in the deep, deep flexion of the joints, in the rolling through and across positions, in the display of extreme flexibility and balanced strength born of yogic alignment, in the often triangulated and turned out legs and in the choreographic obsession with folding and opening. While Chan and White dance with their avatars created by five onstage mirrors, the dominant avatar is the absent/present choreographer whose powerful embodiment determines and inhabits In Glass.

Chan and White’s virtuosity is refined and knowing. In certain moments their temporal attunement is so delicate and deep it is delicious. Time and time again the world is made a beautiful place by this pre-lingual togethering. But time is not the only thing they mutualise. Spatially they see each other without having to see. He picks her up, right where he should, right at her centre, and the lift is velvety smooth, full of arc and curve, rich in its articulation of unspoken gravities and kinetic uplift.

But why does she not lift him? Chan is muscular and strong, trained in the vagaries of weight and momentum. But in a baffling defiance of this muscularity Chan plays the little girl lost in a baby doll dress. In Glass becomes surprisingly gendered, bleeding into a traditionalist fantasy that irritates its technological thrusts.

Sam James’ video art plays on the mirrors that become cinematic screens. Morphing from reflective surface to filmic depth, these mirror-screens create rippling waves of space and action, multidimensional zones that morph as in a dream. Prior to performance, the mirrors reflect the audience, casting them within the stage space and then turning them upon themselves. As the dancers dance we see their backs, taking us behind, beyond a performing surface, only to have these visions thrown back at us, encircling and involuting the performative image. Then James steps in and tunnels us into deep, deep space where we chase avatars and where images shrink into oblivion.

As mirrors, the screens produce the other selves: reflections, invisibilities, ghosts and fleeting images only just caught. A bearded White stands before the mirror/screen as three clean-shaven Whites stare back. Dance with them, I urge. Dance with these other selves. But Benjamin has established a performative rhythm that is quick and once an image flashes it dies. White turns and walks away. There is to be no duet with self.

In Glass constantly turned away from the choreographic potential of reflection, avatar and ghost. Images, situations and interactions were only fleetingly established before they were abandoned. Always moving on, this performance laboured under a plethora of unfulfilled ideas that became flaccid in their fleetingness. Gorgeous aesthetic images of a multi-armed Shiva-esque Chan suggested the choreography might dip its toe into the pool of possibility that is reflection, but then it just went away again and I was left wondering what Shiva had to do with Eve or Narcissus.

Gideon Obarzanek, Faker Gideon Obarzanek, Faker
photo Heidrun Löhr, courtesy Sydney Opera House

Gideon Obarzanek is so well known in Australia as the artistic director and choreographer for Chunky Move that dancing a solo now, after so many years of telling performers what to do, makes him seem fascinatingly vulnerable. Obarzanek says that he has no great desire to perform and gets no great joy from doing it; he merely has an interesting story to tell and only he can tell it. Bold. Clean. Simple.

In the black box of the Sydney Opera House Studio, at the very back and centre of the stage sits a desk with an open laptop. Obarzanek enters in casual black pants and a vivid green T-shirt. Bold. Clean. Simple, angular and symmetrical.

Faker is a performance carved up into clear and clean episodic sections, alternating dance and text evenly. Each time he dances Obarzanek accumulates a new technological toy: iPod, timer, Bose dock, in a property accumulation that is quietly masculine. Clear. Clean. Even.

This guy knows how to put on a show. In this clear, clean crafting lies his heritage and history: years of arranging, designing, forging and forming dance theatre. Even the relaxed demeanour, the understated set, the casual costuming speak of this confident crafting born of time spent and attention paid.

This tempered yet testosteronic confidence eventually leads Obarzanek to strip down to the contemporary dance ‘costume’ of undies—the harshly bright lighting regime revealing the truth of his age. Disconcertingly the house lights remain bright too: making Faker a shared space in which we are directly addressed—a still and obedient body of bodies. The performance accrues a density of spoken word as Obarzanek reads—from the laptop that sits as a barrier between us—a real e-mail from an apparently real protégé. The language of the message is simple, clear, heartfelt, if sometimes seeming slightly too crafted to be real. Obarzanek’s voice is confident and steady, clear and clean.

As he reads aloud the dancer’s impression of him, the essential narcissism of the solo is reaffirmed and doubled in a presence both here and there, real and virtual, present and historical, subject and object. In claiming the protégé’s voice Obarzanek generates a self-deprecating egoism that colonises her accusatory story.

Thus thickened, this solo becomes a duet, as Obarzanek channels the protégé, performing her absence. A lonely form, the solo is pared back and sweetly sad, yet Faker’s potential for poignancy and vulnerability is tamed by the angular masculinity and the virtual partnering.

The first two choreographic sections of Faker could be called non-dance: the loungeroom solo we have all danced, singing in the strangled language of words he doesn’t quite know, casting his age by dancing to a Prince song of the late ’80s, making us laugh. Atop softened knees it is a dance of hands and arms. The second anti-dance seems to push the point as he paces himself with his second toy: a digital timer. He flaps and wiggles into silliness.

He sits. Ghostly comments from the young woman in the machine keep coming in thick and delicious detail, even to accusations of “macho posturing” and “superficiality.”

Obarzanek takes off his shoes and I can almost hear the audience sigh, “here we go, here it is, he is going to really dance now.” But not quite. As he sheds his clothes, the traces of silliness fade. This dancer’s dance is made religious with chanting soundtrack and cathedral lighting that both parody and substantiate the pointed feet of a real dancer. In a repetitious motif of sweeps, dives, bridges, lunges and folds Obarzanek does what he had to do. He dances the dance, the dance that proves he can still dance. Applause. He heads to the dressing room: solo at last.

For more on Spring Dance, see Martin del Amo’s review of international works in the program, and RT99 for Keith Gallasch’s report on Ngurru-Milmarramiriw—Wrong Skin. For Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Sutra also see Douglas Leonard’s report from the Brisbane International Arts Festival.

Spring Dance: In Glass, choreographer Narelle Benjamin, composer Huey Benjamin,visual design Samuel James, costume design Tess Schofield, lighting Karen Norris, The Studio, Sept 7-12; Faker, concept, choreography, performance Gideon Obarzanek, lighting Gideon Obarzanek, Chris Mercer, creative consultants Aimee Smith, Lucy Guerin, Antony Hamilton, Tom Wright, The Studio, Sydney Opera House, Sept 21-26

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 28

© ; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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