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Aisling Donovan in Aimee Smiths' Courageously Heroic Gallantry, Four on the Floor  Aisling Donovan in Aimee Smiths' Courageously Heroic Gallantry, Four on the Floor
photo Aimee Smith
four on the floor


Phillippa Clark presented projections and a duet accompanied by Steve Reich’s edited interview with a rabbi, scientist-commentators Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, and others, about the implications of genetic engineering, taken from Three Tales: A documentary video opera. This concert performance of Reich’s music with Beryl Korot’s images was in the 2003 Perth Festival. Clark, however, jettisoned the documentary premise whilst also avoiding narrative, building instead close, formal partnering at times segueing into moments of overt emotional expressivity, and even snatches of obtuse mime. The interest of Clark’s interpretation lay in this curious exchange between these two approaches, never quite becoming dance theatre nor allowing the hieroglyphics of body shapes and their placement in space alone to tell the story. The poses were generally wide dominated by full limb extensions and careful angularity. Jacqui Otago—a regular collaborator with Clark—was particularly adept at maintaining this balance of the formal and the expressive, her body perfectly occupying a space between the hard tension which a solely formal approach would require, versus the curved suppleness of the body on the edge of melodrama typical of much Expressionist dance. Otago’s was a thoughtful yet soft embodiment, consciously negotiating her way through space and feeling. Clark’s projections were also tightly crafted, acting as the lighting (although this sometimes flattened the choreography) and consisting of black blocks slashed by white and red, as well as text from the score. For all her achievements though, Clark could not compete with the quality (nor the logistical support) of Reich and Korot.

Four on the Floor’s highlight was Aimee Smith’s Courageously Heroic Gallantry, a follow-up to last year’s work with WAAPA’s Link Dance Company, Alpha Beta. Both pieces staged a series of disconnected, illogical acts using props and objects in a fashion reminiscent of Phillip Adam’s schizoid creation of theatrical ruin in pieces like Endling (2002). Smith’s last work, 53 (2006), was a fascinating if uneven meditation on time, repetition and memory, and Gallantry demonstrates her increasing mastery of a varied choreographic and scenographic palette.

Where the music for Alpha was a pastiche of clinical yet aggressive sounding, decontextualised nouns taken from George W Bush’s State of the Union address, Smith’s latest work employs US rock’n’roll classics from Elvis Presley and Otis Redding in an overtly militarised fashion, including references to Guantanamo and other topical issues. Dancer Aisling Donovan features just the right mix of po-faced roboticism in becoming subject to outside forces, whilst allowing a sense of horror and exhaustion to creep into the increasingly demeaning (or simply bleakly insane and funny) twisted poses she offers—all under the projections of Bush et al. Donovan poses behind a plant and snaps in front of a desk before turning her back to the audience, undoing her top, and standing mute while footage of war plays across her torso. Although the use of black and white combat film (presumably from the Korean War) seemed inconsistent, the music and costuming (a khaki green mini) evoked the obscene conflation of logic, violence and sex in that other great US military adventure—Vietnam—and its ambiguous fictions like Apocalypse Now. With Courageously Heroic Gallantry performed in a setting reminiscent of a senior bureaucrat’s office, such disorders constituted a seductive and disorientating spectacle “in the middle of all this shit”, in the words of Coppola’s film.
skadada, aureo skadada, aureo
photo Danny Khoo

Skadada’s Aureo from Jon Burtt and Katie Lavers was an episodic, almost vaudevillian circus show distinguished by virtuosic young performers and projected images from aerial landscape photographer, Richard Woldendorp.

Aureo’s acts were linked by the motif of a large child’s trunk from which the protagonist imagined producing spectacles for her nocturnal amusement. This dramaturgical conceit wore thin with performers entering and exiting off stage as well as via the box. Also inconsistent were the types and moods of the acts, with striking, slowly posed aerial sequences (the strongest elements in Aureo) replaced at one point by an almost ballroom-dancing-style solo. The use of black theatre techniques was reminiscent of the illusionism and surrealism of Philippe Genty with the same tendency to feel laboured. Likewise, the protagonist spinning 180 degrees in the air many times was a mundane effect which did not merit such repetition. A mock conflict between Burtt and another male over the affections of the dancer was also awkward.

Nevertheless, the aerial work was exceptional, skirting the pseudo-eroticism of female contortionism common in traditional circus and Cirque de Soleil, whilst revelling in the sensuality of bodies bent, twisted and balanced upon each other or coiled about ropes and fabric before dropping down in long falls—all within a design glowing with reds, greens and blues. The inclusion of grotesquely manipulated bodies—notably a trinity of women who, when rolling on the ground, morphed into a multi-limbed torso—echoed the tendency in circus towards monstrosity and impossible, non-human bodies—an aspect of Skadada’s Electronic Big Top (1999).

Although I found the use of World Music fusions culturally objectionable, and little better than playing clichéd ‘harem-music’ behind Hollywood dancing girls and rope tricks, Aureo nevertheless constituted an interesting statement about land and identity. Woldendorp’s images are iconic of not just Australia but also WA. His use of aerial photography, though, often turns his works into abstract studies of form and colour with an ambiguous connection to specific locales. Aureo was suffused with this sense of displaced nationalism, of the Australian, athletic body-beautiful rendered strange and even vaguely threatening. Freud claimed such uncanny spectacles represented the “return of the repressed” and it is this manipulation and interpenetration of the familiar and the strange which is Skadada’s strength.

Strut, Four on the Floor, curator Sue Peacock, choreographers Bianca Martin, Phillippa Clark, Gary Lang, Aimee Smith; PICA, March 8-11; Skadada, Aureo, director Katie Lavers, director, choreographer, performer Jon Burtt, music John Patterson, Lo Key Fu, lighting Andrew Lake, images Richard Woldendorp, costume Karen Keeley, His Majesty’s Theatre, Jan 17-20

RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. 33

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

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