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Between the lines

Clare Dyson reads Cherry Herring’s Intimate Letters

Clare Dyson is an independent choreographer who lives in Brisbane. She has received an Australia Council grant to develop a collaboration with a visual artist and a composer.

Sara Brown and Shannon Anderson in Intimate Letters Sara Brown and Shannon Anderson in Intimate Letters
photo Eve Wicks
We arrive at the performance on a busy street at night. Brian Lucas is sitting opposite us at a small table, writing. Cars obscure our vision. Candles, a table, earnest writing, lots of smoking. This is Brisbane’s industrial area. His presence nearly causes an accident. Milling about on the street opposite we are handed a program folded like an old letter. Inside are instructions and guides to letter writing from Routledge’s Complete Letter Writer for Ladies and Gentlemen. Looking across three lanes of traffic, Brian is still smoking and writing.

Intimate Letters entices and suggests. All the works are short—small windows into other people’s lives. Are we to be voyeurs of their intimacy? Letters are the starting point for this show, curated by Shaaron Boughen.

We are ushered up a narrow staircase and find ourselves in a small first floor warehouse. Incense hangs heavily. Murkiness cloaks the space. We are in someone else’s room. A shaft of light struggles through the pungent smell and settles on a crumpled letter that has been dropped on the floor. Electric shadows project on the wall in front of us what we have just witnessed live on the street below: Brian writing. The heavy Gorecki music adds to this overwhelming atmosphere. This show is a constant play with shadows and light, with reality and recollection.

Brian Lucas begins by forcing us into watching vulnerability, exposure. His enormous frame is surreal in such a small space. There is too much of him, but his nudity is neither vulnerable nor small. Crouching on a shelf, he unfolds himself to step onto the floor, chanting the words from a child’s game, “I wrote a letter…” He moves forward in the corridor of light, slowly singing, “…and then I must have dropped it”. Slowly moving toward the rectangle of light he stumbles upon the letter he dropped. The piece is clever and simple. The dancer consumes your attention whenever he is on stage. He mixes intensity and humour into the same piece and makes it work. He leaves the stage with a bittersweet joke.

John Utans’ piece begins with projected images of a young couple. The back of her neck, him laughing. Sleeping. The two of them lying together. We are forced to choose between the images and the shadows of dancers. The two performers slowly move from behind the screen in the middle of the stage. They are young, both wearing white underwear. The movement is tentative, slow. Shadows and reality. She is restrained. He is fluid. The duet progresses in tempo. The sinewy movement becomes familiar. Their inexperience is endearing. They show us the gestures of lovers. New lovers. Sitting together. Sleeping. The choreography reveals innocence and captures naivety. New emotions. I am shockingly reminded of the morning hours spent with a lover.

Scotia Monkevitch has created a work from a letter written to the unborn child of a friend. It is a personal issue: a ritual of sorts. It is a prayer for the safe journey of a child. The space is beautifully set behind a gauze screen, but as a performance work, none of the intention is clear. Slow movement and repetitive text. I give you back your word. A phrase endlessly repeated. This work is reliant on the merging of movement, text and design but results in none of these elements working well together. The detached music and repeated words alienate, clouding the original intention, making it difficult to enter the world of the performer.

In the corner of the room a cage is revealed. In Gail Hewton’s piece a woman performs simple gestural movements around its periphery. The cage is restricting and menacing. Is it her mind? Society? A relationship? Or all of them? She breaks out of the cage only to crawl back into it again. Defeated, she slowly unfolds a plastic barrier to surround the cage. Janacek’s music has clearly been imposed on this work, incongruous with the building of tension, detracting from the woman’s emotional journey. The final image is the strongest: the woman is naked, revealed, isolated and captured in the centre of the now opaque cage. A defeating but beautiful image.

Shaaron Boughen’s work retains obvious links to the original inspiration: letters written in 1928 to her stepmother from a boyfriend the family was unaware of. The work begins with a man and a woman sitting on separate piano stools in front of projected images. The images are of the same couple on a stool together. The couple in the film begin a duet of intimacy, trust, weight, beauty, punctuated by flashes of black. Moving carefully. The couple in the film have a private life. The couple in front of us do not move until the film ends. Their duet is dislocated, as if they have just missed each other. They are in the same space and yet are unable to interact. The couple do not touch throughout the live duet. This work is simple in construction but effective, and the film highlights the performers’ strengths. The boy leaves the room and the girl slowly walks down the external stairway. The piece ends with a projected image of the girl walking across the road below us to sit at the table where Brian Lucas was originally writing.

Moving away from conventional modern dance, these choreographers have made work that takes the audience on an emotional journey and it is refreshing to see dance that is looking to be more than vaudeville. Shaaron Boughen has curated a show that feels like one work with many journeys within it. She has made musical choices that mostly work and Matt Scot consistently created magical lighting. Without funding or the time to research and rehearse adequately, independent artists often have to show work that is two dimensional. This show had a fantastic sense of continuity, of unity, but more time to reveal another layer would add to some of the works presented.

Intimate Letters, Choreographers Brian Lucas, John Utans, Scotia Monkivitch, Gail Hewton, Shaaron Boughen. Curated by Shaaron Boughen. The Cherry Herring, March 12-16

Clare Dyson is an independent choreographer who lives in Brisbane. She has received an Australia Council grant to develop a collaboration with a visual artist and a composer.

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 33

© Clare Dyson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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