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The end of the world as we know it

Keith Gallasch: Kristina Chan & Force Majeure, A Faint Existence

Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016 Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016
photo Ashley de Prazer

We are inducted into another time-space, pulled into synch with the close-by body of a tightly spotlit dancer, Kristina Chan, rising and coming down on her heels with a corresponding thump that grows denser, roaring like WWII fighter planes. Darkness. In the distance, high, horizontal, a wide rippling wave of soft material evokes wind, colour shading revealing complex patterning out of Chaos Theory. The dancer lies below, still. The thunderous thumping not so much fades as travels away, soft wind its residue. Wind and dancer co-exist.

The dancer is in a different space, poised, almost hovering but off-centre, leaning back and almost over-balancing forward, a less than voluntary cycle, hand hanging from wrist, body swathed in intensifying, ghostly blue light. The movement is repeated in another space, a touch sinuously, a little faster, but still as if subject to some unrevealed force. There is little sign of agency, save for self-correction.

Centrestage, a wide circular platform, raised mere centimetres above the floor, becomes a bed for the foetally curled dancer. She unfurls into other shapes, her mouth locking on a hand, an arm, a knee, a leg, like thumb-sucking of another order, or a slow devouring of the self before she contorts into a headless crab-like creature. Her stillness is protracted, rendering her/it a specimen seen through an electron microscope. Release comes with a jolt, an intense crackling lifting the dancer to her feet, as if she’s escaped regression to some earlier life form from which we evolved.

Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016 Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016
photo Ashley de Prazer

The pervasive feeling of vulnerability in alien space is fully felt when the low platform mutates into a sheer black hole, white light flaring from beneath like an eclipse. It preludes the return of the beautiful wind, this time its imagined force propelling the dancer in wild, wide circles, over and over, to the point of palpable exhaustion. Thunder, sounding like the real thing, brings stillness and reprieve, the very real catching of breath. Chan steps carefully backwards on the edge of the platform, circling into darkness as deep organ-like and choral tones imbue these final moments with a quasi-spiritual, funereal solemnity. It looks like tip-toeing backwards around an environmental black hole of our own making.

Everything about A Faint Existence suggests the fatal fragility of our life on an Earth subject to the vicissitudes of human-generated Climate Change. The dancer is relentlessly buffeted, turned in on herself, regressive, ultimately passive (doubtless there’ll be other readings, perhaps of resistance; but fighting the wind is not taking on Climate Change unless there was symbolism I missed). These states are convincingly conveyed by dancer-choreographer Kristina Chan, putting aside her acclaimed fluency in works by others for long-held, subtly modulated states of ‘possession’ and passages of violent movement that together border on durational performance; the influence of dramaturg Victoria Hunt is evident here as well as in the work’s image-making.

Although always receptive to powerful images, at the time I was irritated by the length of some, by awkward segueing from one to another, and the aforementioned passivity of the dancer. But the work’s images, intricately fusing movement, sound and design, have proved memorable. Claire Britton’s design is eminently sculptural; with Benjamin Cisterne’s haunting lighting and James Brown’s highly responsive score it could almost function as a standalone installation, shifting from state to state. For her first major work, Kristina Chan has embodied our shared plight with a welcome physical and emotional intensity; it’s a work that warrants further evolution, countering the current political threat to undo the best that we have made of ourselves.

Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016 Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016
photo Ashley de Prazer

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: Kristina Chan & Force Majeure, A Faint Existence, creator, choreographer, performer Kristina Chan, composer James Brown, designer Clare Britton, lighting Benjamin Cisterne, dramaturg Victoria Hunt; Carriageworks, Sydney, 27-30 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016 pg.

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

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