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The Garden The Garden
photo Ashley de Prazer

Strut’s decision to air its brief works’ season in the WA Academy of Performing Art’s Studio A profited from the evocative flow of movement ideas bouncing off the studio’s uncluttered whiteness. The best of the program’s six works purposefully skittled images, shadows and projections around the space, dispersing intimacy into open-ended depth and distance. If thinly sliced, a meta-history of Western Australian contemporary dance was simultaneously delivered for the tasting. In the showing’s worthy democratic frame, where artists of undisputed calibre like Chrissie Parrott, Sue Peacock and Stefan Karlsson move alongside succeeding generations of performers and choreographers, dance indentations do make statements.

And what might these statements be? Experience through time accumulates quality, even if admitting an occasional contradiction. There is nothing new in such an observation except that denial of experience, as is more often than not projected by the state’s arts funding, can impoverish the view. Strut’s charter to support emergent and experimental ventures in accessible and alternative venues, like Studio A, is founded on the assumption that the organisation facilitates pathways to professional vitality. That the funding infrastructure makes little allowance for this reverberated gently but insistently in the white space.

Like solitary birds, the dancers assemble suggestively in a gallery-like formation as if intentionally drawn to highlight choreographic fascination with flight and its inevitable undoing: Icarus, Leda, Odette/Odile and, at the beginning of the 20th century, Pavlova/Fokine’s undulating dying. Winged for flight, creatures desire freedom and upward thrusting power, while regurgitated fear pulls their bodies downwards to stasis and decay. Does natural order drag their flight down or are they doomed by the caging propensity of human symbolism?

The most convincing representation of bird and gravitational pull is Parrott’s Blue and white projections penetrate the whiteness and, initially, slither over the hardly discernible avian figure, Jacqui Claus, whose movements, like Jonathan Mustard’s score derived from black swan soundings, cry towards visibility. White clustering and dispersing lines turn fleshy and feather-fluted touching the figure’s awakened limbs and swan-like nudging. The dark calls and weightless imagery encounter a body enfolding in swan-dance allusions, refolding into her inevitable demise. Parrott has clearly manipulated Claus’ elongation to interplay with bird-like bewilderment in a destiny and density of human mythology.

While Claus’ bird assumes a mythological status imposed by the weight of texts consciously inscribed upon her being, Paea Leach’s evocation in Sally Richardson’s Standing Bird inhabits an alien Australian landscape, struggling against oblivion. The will to freedom again predominates but, in contrast with Claus’ confinement in light, Leach is framed by shadows, voyeuristically driven by Richardson’s roving lamp. Elevated on a platform, Leach conveys entrapment of another kind through alternating wind-caught sobs and dust averted gazes. Her performance captures that sense of being distant and present in a shimmering mirage that pervades excursions into a desert’s singularity: instead of the compression of time, she is trapped in no time. It is a figment of being totally without flight in a baked earth environment, perhaps the wrong environment, foreign and unforgiving. This wingless bird is left standing under its menacing ahistorical shadow. Leach’s performance gains because of its juxtaposition with as a creature denied its own death.

If Standing Bird illustrated how a performer can overtake the limitations of construction, Study in A Major/We the people, Deborah Robertson’s collection of others operating as a minority-in-mass contributed little to its right to political satire. Similarly, David Corbet and Joseph Lehrer’s ICP (Impression Comparison Perspective), or two men in contact, rolled heavily between harsh falls revealing nothing but flesh given ordinary combativeness and brief, inverted humour. Physicality takes on more effect in Brooke Leeder’s work, Throw your eye over, which catches decay at work in steely revenge through a vision of Miss Haversham re-dressed. Charles Dickens’ moulding cobwebs quicken with a dark downward thrust beautifully executed by Sharlene Campbell whose intensity inverts visions of flight and spatial lightness to insist on a narrative direction which Dickens may have initiated but did not pursue.

Peacock and Karlsson’s Epilogue punctuated the evening’s flight with their professional ease of movement. As a critical mass of two, their chatter pivoted on their emerging pensioner status in the funding stakes and turned the yellow Ikea chairs bright and whimsical. The text, probably unnecessarily miked in this particular space, presented a movement/voice potential that begs further spinning with these dancers’ still youthful and wonderfully articulate physicality. They belong in the gallery of birds, more comfortable than most on their perch in spite of the funding dilemma and, in the weight game, they play against gravitational violence with seductive buoyancy.

The Garden The Garden
photo Ashley de Prazer
At the Moores Building, Chrissie Parrott’s The Garden twists Short Cuts’ clarity to baroque brocade and rusting bric-a-brac. It is an off-centre realm of beauty and beasts that graze and teeter in artifice and, occasionally, strike seed in gristle. Stamped with Parrott’s signature, The Garden tills brick and mortar, bone and muscle, installation and performance on an estate of weeded humans and ornate musical boxes, excavated from a time which may never have been—somewhere between Rabelais and Dickens. The audience is transported into a corseted world where the leitmotiv of the piece, the fey, romantic beauty (Quindell Orton) in ‘her’ garden of tinkling melodies abides, like all innocents, in fancy. Black-garbed, emasculated men hide and scurry fustily and fastidiously around her, with no small nod to Black Adder, fending off incongruous intrusions of beastliness—the dancing women. These creatures of infinite unpredictability, who cannot be filed, stamped and contained, are the life-force of this otherwise deathly, decorative garden. They invade and, at least from a kinetic rather than logical point of view, take over, bleeding red and black into the Moores Building space, ricocheting off its powdery façade. Weeds they may be but their occupation is glorious.

Leanne Mason, Rhiannon Newton and Jacqui Claus alternately romp and snarl (erotically as the giggling uncertainties of the female school party around me indicated), tossing the pompously maintained aristocratic artfulness into disarray. The three solos vibrate like expressionistic portraitures amidst the drift of predictable scenes, including the human ventriloquist dummy and the honest-John gardener who manfully protects the flower of his love as she tips and faints in self engrossment. The fall-catch duo tenderly managed by Russell Leonard’s attentiveness is effective enough but it is a repertoire concept where the lady, as usual, remains insensible to her saviour’s efforts. Performance bite remains with the unleashed power of the feminine trio in their distinctive flashy pigments, guile (Mason), stalking greed (Claus) and violent hunger (Newton). Why they explode in such brilliance remains untold.

Unfortunately, their heady fermentation in and of The Garden, only occurs sporadically, causing the work to fall on one of its strengths, its conception in and as a collection of artworks in an exhibition space. Overlays between the visual and performing arts raise intriguing issues about expectations of complementary but distinct disciplines. The tensions arising in their mix is evident in the work’s introduction where the audience was forcibly, if audaciously, directed through upstairs/downstairs gallery spaces sprouting musical boxes, technological environments and, in a brief interlude, the slamming of dancers on walls. The surprise tactic worked but cohesion missed its beat. Once seated in the performance environment, those preliminaries meant very little. Many gardens of display and enactment evolved without a tangible thread to draw them all together except for the artifice. Limited time impeded gallery wandering; multiple frames faulted performance structure.

It may be that what is written on two different white surfaces amounts to the same message: that beast and bird might take off into more vivid territories if greater support was to be given to the time of experienced creators’ flights?

Strut dance, Short Cuts, choreographers Sally Richardson, Deborah Robertson, Chrissie Parrott, David Corbet and Joseph Lehrer, Brooke Leeder, Sue Peacock, Stefan Karlsson, WAAPA, Studio A, Mt Lawley, Perth, Oct 1-4; The Garden, director Chrissie Parrott, composer Jonathan Mustard, performers Quindell Orton, Jonathan Mustard, Leanne Mason, Rhiannon Newton, Jacqui Claus, Tom Penney, Hugh Veldon, Russell Leonard, Moores Building Contemporary Art Gallery, Fremantle, Nov 4-15

RealTime issue #94 Dec-Jan 2009 pg. 34

© Maggi Phillips; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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