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reeldance festival: the awards

pauline manley

Fragmentation, Suzon Fuks Fragmentation, Suzon Fuks
Competing for the financial and cultural boon of the ReelDance award are 10 Australian and New Zealand dance films. From the symbolically abstract to the psychologically narrative these works reveal a pleasing even surprising pulse of local creativity. One after another they roll out in an almost gruelling marathon where attention, perception and dispassion become acts of discipline.

Deserving of (but not winning) the award for best film was Suzon Fuks' Fragmentation, managing to be both technically bold and humanly warm. James Cunningham and Rob Tannion read the morning newspaper: but they do it upside down and on top of each other, on the floor and up a wall, sometimes collaborative, sometimes combative, but always attuned, always nuanced. With gentle athleticism they morph into a body with two heads as the camera dives in and backs away, stroking flesh in close-up and cutting up images of habit. Even the screen dances as it changes shape, splitting into multiple images or moving slender longitudes of vision sequentially across a dark horizon. Gloriously, the soundtrack is composed of the sounds of newspapers crumpling and feet on a floor, thickening this six minute film with dimension, depth and place. Rendered without a manipulative musical score, Fragmentation is authentically idiosyncratic and situation specific as body and media meld.

My award for 'most lushly cinematic' goes to Cordelia Beresford’s The Shape of Water. Actually winning the 2008 ReelDance Festival award, it features the choreography of Narelle Benjamin and dancers from the Sydney Dance Company cast as liminal human/sea creatures moved, apparently, by oceanic momentum. But it descends into a hair flicking water dance with lots of exposed flesh, displaying the unbearably stylised motifs of neo-classicism and Ashtanga yoga. Not creatures at all, these are but dancers with pointed feet shifting into a variety of impressive asanas. True flow and ebb is achieved cinematically, in the rocking house, perched on the edge of the cliff, reminiscent of Bondi, making ground unstable, providing tension. Will it fall?

Pod, video still Pod, video still
Narelle Benjamin & Sam James
Narelle Benjamin again teams with the Sydney Dance Company in Sam James’ Pod. Credits squirm and ripple, introducing a film where dancers emerge from and fold into a grey toned background, thick and dense like ancient humus. Mediated moments of emergence and disappearance make human and mossy worlds barely distinct. Bodies open and twist, almost primordial, almost amoeboid—if it wasn’t for those pesky pointed feet, again casting these bodies as those of anonymous dancerly dancers. Just once, inverted and relaxed feet sit atop swaying legs, made truly reed-like, conjuring the wind and dancer, relinquishing dancerliness, merging with nature. A soundtrack of strings and harp, supported by an electronic pulse, is a tad saccharin in a film yearning for sounds more globular and fleshy.

Sam James’ second submission, Quietly Collapsed, wins my ‘we’ve all been there’ award and confirms James’ eclectic talents. The camera pans, zooms and lingers over the backs of seated office workers: black and white characters only slightly tinged with colour. A blue computer screen pops up, as a particle of colour in a dull world, seemingly serene but masking the madness of deadlines. Rosie Dennis stands up to dance out this lurking madness amidst a soundscape that twitches, drills and speeds in eloquent and brain piercing constancy.

Award for 'most cheerful' goes to Morning Herd, directed by New Zealander Rick Harvie. Choreographer/dancer Ross McCormack is the farmer with an imaginary herd of cows, as he uses fences, gates, railings, grass and muddy earth as supports for choreography that is both stylised and quotidian. Cinematic space is intersected with posts and beams and fences that corral architectural vision in length and verticality. But it is the warmth of its colours: the greenness of green, and the brownness of brown I will remember.

'Most poignant' award goes to Shadow Play, featuring fine performances by Kirk Page and Alexandra Harrison. But it is the presence of Rininya Page (the late Russell Page’s daughter) that deepens the emotional intensity. The narrative of a troubled family borders on triteness but is saved by intense spurts of argumentative athleticism, a palette of golden light and the trace of a lost dancer.

Sue Healy’s Will Time Tell is taut and lovely (see our Dance Write feature). Soma Songs by Daniel Belton shrinks dancers into disembodiment in architectural symbolism and Reset by the same director was eight minutes too long. Sean O'Brien’s Dis-Oriental is quirkily funny, manically scored and edited, yet remains strangely symmetrical in its framing of dancer Yumi Umiumare, who is revealed and hidden in plays of light and darkness.

ReelDance Awards, ReelDance International Dance on Screen Festival, May 18, Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Sydney, May 11-18

Go to for the full list of awards.

RealTime issue #85 June-July 2008 pg. web

© Pauline Manley; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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