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Screen-dancing back the layers

Jodie McNeilly: 24 Frames Per Second: Lizzie Thomson, White Record

Lizzie Thomson, White Record, 24 Frames Per Second, Carriageworks, 2015 Lizzie Thomson, White Record, 24 Frames Per Second, Carriageworks, 2015
image courtesy the artist
In 2012, choreographer and dancer Lizzie Thomson was approached by Carriageworks to join its pitch to procure the $300,000 made available by the Australia Council’s Screen Dance Initiative. The proposed 24 Frames Per Second was a successful bid and so Thomson joined a massive “curated commissioning” of 24 national and international artists, dancers, choreographers and filmmakers whose creations would be exhibited after three years in the making at Carriageworks.

At the time of Carriageworks’ approach, Thomson was completing her degree in Visual Arts at the then College of Fine Arts and had been working on several of the ideas and the movement research that engendered her live work Panto, an opening-up of her practice to “anything and everything,” described by reviewer Cleo Mees (RT105) as a “loose trying-on and throwing-off of ideas.” Now almost four years down the track, similar investigations inform her foray into screen dance and the creation of her new work White Record (a title she credits to another 24 Frames artist, Brian Fuata).

When I speak with Thomson about her current choreographic practice, she notes the consistent curiosity about embedded histories of dance and art carried over into her work from her research. She says dancers’ bodies have the “presence of different histories” that are both known and unknown. As the daughter of two dancers, the history begins in her DNA; training in a suburban dance school, at university, then dancing with choreographers and collaborators nationally and internationally over the decades, the layers of influence run deep. In this piling on of forms, the greatest challenge came with the teachings of choreographer Rosalind Crisp with her ‘no history’ scores: ‘YES to all’ was categorically silenced by a big fat ‘NO.’ (But then came Panto!)

The mimetic, schizophrenic absorption of “different information” into the moving body (a common story with dancers) has raised the question for Thomson: “What do I do with it all?” From this place of questioning, she has found 24 Frames the perfect platform to take an objective view of all these influences, not solely from beneath or beyond her dancing body, now up on screen, constituted and fragmented in its two-dimensional mediation. She understands that screening the body posits her as a “choreographic object to study” (in the William Forsythe sense), allowing an unravelling of her own histories, and the opportunity to see deeper cultural connections.

Caption Lizzie Thomson, Panto, 2011 Caption Lizzie Thomson, Panto, 2011
photo Heidrun Lohr
When asked about her process for White Record, Thomson describes how these different histories are often conflicted, or sometimes so sedimented and quiet that their emergence is a surprise. This was the case 10 months ago during the “cataloguing” of certain histories in a “body archiving” and “alphabetising exercise.” A “weird jazz” suddenly shook loose from her “shaking practice.” This “forgotten jazz” went back to her childhood dance teacher, Jennifer Barry, but even more indirectly, Barry’s connection to Colombian-American choreographer and Black activist Eleo Pomare (1937-2008). In this newly uncovered memory of her early jazz training, Thomson feels she is making genealogical links—a kind of bodily hermeneutic—with the West African and Afro-American roots of Jazz dance. She now ‘twerks’ and mimics remediated forms of racial appropriation from music video clips (Beyoncé doing Fosse!). Her movement-based study has led to a deeper set of questions around colonialism, imperialism and cultural appropriation: difficult reflections on one’s ‘whiteness’ in a country that so cruelly blanked its blackness; her dancing and our Western white dances complicit in this white colonialist past.

White record is a four-channel video installation projected onto four “life-size screens configured as a square” to give the audience a “three-dimensional experience.” They will be free to enter at any time during the 8-minute looping solo. The sound is being engineered offshore in Oakland, California by another Aussie, Kevin Lo, and will be a 10-minute loop independent from the image. The work has been filmed by Sam James between the “great bright orange pillars” of Kings Cross Car Park below the home of Alaska Projects, and edited as a complex conversation between angles and the four screens by James with Thomson’s sister Gina. Artist Agatha Gothe-Snape is conceptual consultant on the work that has finally come together in discrete phases over many locations.

24 Frames was “conceived in response to a shift towards interdisciplinary and collaborative experimentation in contemporary artistic practice” (Media Release). The artists have had no opportunity to meet, share skills, or participate in discussions about their works or the aesthetics of this “nexus between film, dance and the visual arts.” But as an exhibition and not a screen dance festival, we as visitors can together participate in the ontology and future of screen dance in this country come June 18.

24 Frames Per Second, Carriageworks, Sydney, 18 June-2 Aug

RealTime issue #127 June-July 2015 pg. 9

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

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