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Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan, Jane McKernan, Blue Moves Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan, Jane McKernan, Blue Moves
photo Heidrun Löhr
In the world of film noir the femme fatale is mysterious, duplicitous, heartless and usually gorgeous. In classic thrillers we know them as helpless damsels in distress. Think of the forlorn Isabella Rosselini in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, the terrified Janet Leigh in Hitchcock’s Psycho and the cunning Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon. A long tradition of violence has been perpetrated on and by women in stories like these. They’ve been paraded through popular culture to become mythic icons in themselves.

As in their previous works, which have lightheartedly explored aspects of the female psyche, in Blue Moves The Fondue Set (Jane McKernan, Elizabeth Ryan and Emma Saunders) examine the leading lady in their own terms. Through an ensemble of dance, movement and monologue the work steps beyond the archetypes offered by film to present a more contemporary brand of mademoiselle.

They enter wearing uniform red-patent boots and clingy dresses. They sashay, hips swaying, looking nervously behind them, legs giving way with every second step. The moves suggest archetypal victims, but these women are strong, graceful, coy, sexy, noisy, angry and violent.

The more successful moments of Blue Moves take just a small element of the archetype and play with it. One piece sees Ryan sprawled on the floor, crawling after a microphone that is pulled away from her. Panicked, breathless and silenced, it’s an arresting analogy for the victimised woman.

The work is less effective when the group tries to modernise the plight of their women. In one piece Saunders pounds out a vengeful version of Kylie’s You’ve Got to Be Certain, hurling punches, sideswipes and knee jerks at an invisible ‘ex.’ An amusing take on modern revenge for the broken hearted, the premise is too thin to entertain for the length of the song. Elsewhere, in an awkward chorus of laughter, wavering between the cackle of the femme fatale and the howl of the wounded, the idea seemed lost on both performers and audience. Rather than unpacking any filmic codes, it felt like we’d missed out on a private joke.

The most exquisite moments captured an element of womanhood using what is clearly the Fondue Set’s most expressive talent: movement. In a brilliantly choreographed trio, they twist around the room, continuously swapping partners while leaving the third dancer to fall away. Fluidly losing and joining each other mid-stride, the dances create a graceful and hilarious analogy for the swiftness of the modern relationship—being hurled into a succession of short flings.

The final piece in the show used dance to embody one of the most sacred elements of female friendships. In this routine they stood talking together and as one girl fell, the others picked her up, then another fell and the others picked her up and so it went on in a swift succession of ‘pick-me-ups.’ Beyond a reply to the woman as ‘helpless victim’ archetype the scene was a perfect metaphor for the cycle of support that often characterises female friendships.

Created as a dance translation of contemporary live music, The Fondue Set usually performs in pubs and clubs—venues frequented by people their age. In the atmosphere of a noisy pub and set to the music of a live band, their usual audiences are prone to more distraction than the formal setting of the Seymour Centre allows. Perhaps this is why Blue Moves feels like it lacks a bit of flesh. The attentive theatre audience brings more expectation to the performance. That the shorter, more flamboyant scenes are more successful is a reflection of the dancers’ natural inclination to perform for a more rowdy crowd.

It might have been the absence of their live band, The Screamers, who usually perform with the troupe, that made the space seem empty but this can’t account for the weaknesses in some of the dramatic scenes. Simple ideas expressed physically ultimately carried the most strength. While Blue Moves struggled to articulate a resounding idea about the cinematic myths of the female ‘victim’, it offered some beautiful moments about what it is to be a woman and a taste of what could be a new breed of femme fatale.

Blue Moves, The Fondue Set, created and performed by Emma Saunders, Jane McKernan, Elizabeth Ryan, dramaturg Keith Gallasch, set design Imogen Ross, lighting Simon Wise, Downstairs Theatre, Seymour Theatre Centre, Sydney, March 6-8, 12-15

RealTime issue #55 June-July 2003 pg. 40

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

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