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Kristina Chan, Timothy Ohl, SuperModern Dance of Distraction Kristina Chan, Timothy Ohl, SuperModern Dance of Distraction
photo Tim Thatcher

Body parts hinge along creases: fingers, hands, elbows, arms—spoking out every which way. Their voices rise in unison from a whisper, repeating: “something is going on, while this is going on.” What is the “something?” What is the “this?” We are immediately drawn into choroegrapher Anton’s inquiry motivated by his question: “what is it to be human in our modern world?”

Pre-modern, postmodern and supermodern are terms turning upon and around the modern. The modern is a consistent descriptor of our present human condition, especially the cultural, economic and technological dimensions. If Frederic Jameson is right, then the modern is a reference point to be fragmented in its post-isms, nostalgically reflected from in its pre-isms, and tempo-spatially reoriented in its super-isms. SuperModern Dance of Distraction turns perceptively on the modern, describing the speeds, spaces and textures of human and human-machine relations in a techno-saturated world.

From formations of four to three observing one, the dancers (Kristina Chan, Timothy Ohl, Robbie Curtis, Sophia Ndaba) rapidly migrate from one configuration to the next, their histories wiped away with large Malevich-inspired blocks of light that scrape the black space. The lighting design (Guy Harding) is consistently constructivist in form, clean, deliberate, boldly white and, on occasion, epileptic and fractious.

When four, the dancers constitute a visual spectacle. In synchronous movements they generate images of a machinic ballet and tessellations of legs and faces spinning hypnotically in a Busby Berkeley water parade. In one sequence, the dancers raise white, hollowed-out squares above their heads, optically thickening their presence. Bodies calibrate: frames for looking through and graphically inscribing the space, frames to frame, shaping these carrier bodies into angular geometries. In another sequence, collapsed white trestle tables provide vertical surfaces that slide along rectilinear lines to block and bounce slamming bodies. The dancers take turns to operate the system, hiding, trapping and distorting the space: a concrete mediation implying a digital logic.

Robbie Curtis, Sophia Ndaba, SuperModern Dance of Distraction Robbie Curtis, Sophia Ndaba, SuperModern Dance of Distraction
photo Maylei Hunt
In a more literal demonstration, clear perspex held between faces becomes a touch screen: connections are unequivocally established between fingers, glass and manipulated expression. The audience laughs rapturously (perhaps those with iPhone or iPad much harder). The perspex intercepts the kissing lips of two lovers in a moment of ‘distal loving.’ Pressed together they exaggerate the mediated space-time distance that Skype technology attempts to bridge. Their embrace lingering beyond comfortability, they take turns to ferociously straddle each other. The intimate made intensely public raises the real possibility that someone could be watching.

Communication. Upstage in blackout, torch lights flash intermittently, each emitting an idiosyncratic sound. We giggle in this close encounter of some kind. The dancers speak, sing and sound effortlessly, giving some vox to their pop. In an ingenious quartet of couples, they sing into long cabled microphones that swing and swoon like serenading lassos, supporting overall the seamlessly produced pop-inspired score by Nick Wales and Timothy Constable with vocals by Jai Pyne. Tracks of silky-synth smoothness ballasted by crisp hypnotic beats blow an asymmetrical fringe deeper into the eyes—all so distractingly modern.

Connection. The gags and prop-play exaggerate familiar scenarios, like the absurdity of the automated voice machine that never understands us. Caution must be taken, however, when the fast, fragmented and fleeting are both dramaturgical points of departure and justifications for the difficult experience in watching the episodic, disjointed and excessive. I wonder at what point structure and form should resist content. Luckily the more enduring solos reflect a deeper physical ontology (not a mere symptomatic engagement with a world on fast-forward) and so tap into what Raymond Williams calls the “structures of feeling.” Chan, delivered under a red haze, quivers in primordial gasps of arrest, every cell agitated in controlled contortions, tiny, gathered up to the bone, implosion imminent. Ndaba conversely convulses in jelly-like explosions, her jouissance, escalating into maddened laughter, a pressure-built response. Curtis wanders the stage with a disorganised body. Afflicted with “this something,” he is fuzzy and out of focus, snapping joints at the mercy of malfunction.

Refreshingly, there is nothing dystopic nor utopic said about ‘this’ condition, it is not Anton’s point. We are invited to experience, rather than critique. SuperModern is a work of fine collaboration, five dedicated years in development, with places to go, and hopefully in spaces where the carefully constructed geometries of the stage and lighting design can be realised.

FORM Dance Projects & Riverside Theatres, Dance Bites 2012: SuperModern Dance of Distraction, choreographer Anton, performers Kristina Chan, Timothy Ohl, Robbie Curtis, Sophia Ndaba, producer Michelle Silby, composers Nick Wales, Jai Pyne, Timothy Constable, lighting designer Guy Harding, dramaturg Joshua Tyler, set design consultant Julio Himede, Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, March 28-32

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. 4

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

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