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East, West, chance, dance & causality

Ben Brooker: Dancenorth & Batik, Spectra

Spectra, Dancenorth and Batik, OzAsia Festival 2015 Spectra, Dancenorth and Batik, OzAsia Festival 2015
photo Amber Haines
Alongside immersive works like The Streets and Japan’s Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker —“a frenetic spectacle of hyper-real pop music and dance” [program] that will require audience members to don protective raincoats—another key feature of this year’s OzAsia program is an emphasis on cross-cultural collaboration.

One such work is Spectra, by Townsville-based contemporary dance company Dancenorth and Japanese Butoh collective Batik. Spectra is choreographed by Kyle Page, who became Dancenorth’s first Artistic Executive in January this year following a long relationship with the company. During the work’s first stage development in 2014 it was called Engi, a portmanteau combing two Japanese words suggestive of, according to Page, “this idea of causality, one thing leading to another.” It is this idea—the Buddhist precept of interdependent co-arising (Pratityasamutpada in sanskrit)—that is at the core of Spectra.

“I’m not a Buddhist in any sense,” Page explained to me, “but the philosophy really struck a chord. In very basic terms, dependent causality is about how one thing leads to another. The thing I find really beautiful is when you strip that notion back, or look through the history of your own experience of life, there are various points that I can clearly define—and I think everyone can—that have catapulted you or directed you towards where you are now, in this moment. From that, you can possibly imagine alternate options or decisions or collisions, relationships or experiences you may have had that you learned various things from that could have sent you on a different trajectory.”

I asked Page how this idea is reflected in Spectra’s form. “There’s kind of a full gamut,” he shot back in his curious way—somehow rapid and luxuriously considered at the same time. “The Japanese dancers have a really amazing creative capacity in a different way from Australians, so I think we explore pretty broad choreographic devices in the work—the Japanese dancers have classical and contemporary but also Butoh training, so we mesh those worlds and those physicalities. The thing I love about Butoh,” he continued, “is that we’re bringing into the work the idea of sourcing the material as well as the delivery from a place of intention as opposed to narration. So instead of saying ‘this is what you’ll do and you’ll do it like this,’ you say ‘this is what that feels like and that becomes this.’ That’s an interesting mechanism for delivering something that’s very true or real or raw.” After a brief pause, he added: “You can see a very clear thread through cause and effect which is a very basic choreographic principle, but it works well. There are also set design elements, we work with rope a lot and its rippling, coiling effect on stage is just amazing and really beautiful, a really simple and elegant display of the concept.”

The design is by the revered Japanese digital artist Tatsuo Miyajima, who, Page effuses, “is insanely famous. He’s got work in the Tate and the Guggenheim and all around the world.” Page first encountered Miyajima’s work at an exhibition at SCAI The Bathhouse in Tokyo where, having gained permission from the gallery director, he and his partner Amber Haines, who is also a dancer, improvised and took photographs in front of some of the artist’s installations. Impressed by the results, Page then spent three months persuading the problematically busy Miyajima to contribute to Spectra. Unexpectedly, and in an oblique reflection of the work’s theme, it transpired that Miyajima shared Page’s interest in the key Eastern philosophical idea of interconnectedness. “It’s kind of amazing,” Page commented, once again deploying his favoured adjective, “because that in itself is kind of the whole point of the work—that various collisions or chance meetings or relationships lead to your future experience of the world. There’ve been a lot of moments throughout the creative development that have highlighted what we’re trying to explore in the piece.”

Miyajima’s set—conceived, Page told me, during a “weird meltdown that lasted for about two minutes”—is called Forest of Time, and consists of fifty LED counters suspended from a single wire at various points and heights around the stage. These counters flick between the numbers one and nine (there are, in keeping with the belief that the idea of zero is a solely Western concept, no zeroes in Miyajima’s work) at a range of speeds, some so rapid they will be all but unperceivable to the audience, others sufficiently slow to convey the incremental passing of time.

Live music will be provided by another Japanese artist, Jiro Matsumoto, about whom Page was equally enthusiastic: “He’s a wonderful composer, classical guitar-trained but he’s also played in punk bands around the Japanese underground. He’s really virtuosic and very versatile in his range. He plays live with about six loop pedals and he’s got various things recorded that he interjects and plays with and manipulates live on stage. He creates a really cinematic experience, both for performers and audience. It’s always great dancing to live music and I think the audience will get to feel that direct interplay and exchange between the dancers and the musicians. While it’s fairly set, there is movement within the framework to extend or shorten things or change the dynamics in any particular scene.”

Spectra will play in the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space, a small, flexible studio theatre that, nevertheless, seems far removed from Butoh’s more customary settings—unconventional spaces like skid rows, cemeteries and harsh natural environments in keeping with its essential subversiveness. “I think that’s exciting,” Page responded, “because we’re not delivering a Butoh performance but we’re using the intention or integrity of that practice to convey something powerful to the audience. I think the intimate setting of the Space Theatre is perfect for us to deliver that very tangible, very real sensation of exchange between the performers and the audience. Intimacy will heighten that exchange, as opposed to being in a massive proscenium arch where you’re projecting 80 rows to the back.”

OzAsia Festival, 2015, Spectra, Dancenorth & Batik, Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, 29 Sep-1 Oct

RealTime issue #128 Aug-Sept 2015 pg. 22

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

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