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dance massive 2013

in the thick of it

philipa rothfield: lee serle, p.o.v.

Lee Serle, P.O.V Lee Serle, P.O.V
photo Ponch Hawkes

Lee Serle looked down upon the busy streets of New York, musing: “What if things were different? What if people stopped going about their daily business and dallied with each other?” Not likely in 21st century New York, but this is art, not life.

The performance space is filled with black stools forming clear lines. We could play tic tac toe. The rest of the seating is lined up at either end of the performance space, gently inclining towards the stools. Audience members scramble to gain a spot in the midst of the action, spinning and watching each other with glee. We are the lucky ones, the anticipation is palpable.

Four performers dance along runways created between the rows of stools. Their movement is very Trisha Brown (Serle’s mentor, courtesy of a Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts initiative). Lines of motion, open jointed, translate from feet through to hip socket, fast shifts of weight, unhindered by excessive muscular tension. Some movements begin at the distal edges of the limbs, others with the torso. Bodies give way to gravity, slap the floor, then move on. No rest, just motion back and forth.

P.O.V, Lee Serle P.O.V, Lee Serle
photo Ponch Hawkes
As time goes by, lap pool lines turn into curves, circling the stools that mark the end of each row. Dancers team up with each other, forming partnerships on the run, fast but free. The people on the stools must choose: whether to let the movement flow past them without following it or to keep their eyes on the dancer. I began by swivelling my seat so as to follow the dancing but then I let the movement occupy my peripheral vision, feeling less compelled to watch the detail of the movement than to allow the experience of space and bodies passing by to wash over me. There is a certain emphasis on the perceptual agency of the audience, not only to choose how to watch but to reflect upon the impact of that choosing.

A lean backwards for the dancers becomes a fall becomes a run forwards. Some bodies are more able than others to let go enough to fall off centre. It all happens very fast but the transmission of forces in this kind of work requires an openness in the joints to allow instead the directional tendencies of the choreography to occur. There is also a muscularity in the arm swings and especially the leg lifts which leaves the group panting on the floor. This marks a break in the action. The performers get up, wipe away rivulets of sweat and mosey on off. They are human now.

What follows is a series of one-on-one interactions between the performers and those audience members who are sitting on the stools. It begins with an approach, whispers no one else can hear. A variety of more theatrical events ensue; a back massage, a foot spa, a slow waltz, a promenade around the room. Each interaction is closely watched by the audience. Some moves are played for laughs. Dancers are good at exaggerated disco dancing: Kristy Ayres performs for an audience member, each wearing headphones, sharing the music. One of the nicest interactions occurs between Lily Paskas and an audience participant. Continually asking whether her weight feels okay, Paskas leans, drapes and pours herself onto her seated accomplice, who participates in this duet without artifice. The result is quite beautiful.

Lee Serle, Lily Paskas, P.O.V Lee Serle, Lily Paskas, P.O.V
photo Ponch Hawkes
The drama and comedy of this section has ultimately to end. Somehow the performers gather themselves to return to their performance personas, intentionally impersonal. The compass of their bodies rotates, achieved through face and arms, spinal spirals, legs and feet incrementally shifting position. Their true bearing rotates at an even pace as limbs and torso work together to achieve their goal. Life returns to the grid.

Audience participation is nothing new. What P.O.V. highlights is the perspectival nature of perception and the ways in which this differs from situation to situation. This isn’t just a question of proximity. People became emotionally charged, especially when the subject of the interactions. They lit up, they were uncomfortable, thrilled, amused, bemused.

P.O.V. is an experiential piece, for its audience rather than itself. In that sense, it was rewarded by its reception, by the laughter and the ripples of attention. There’s nothing like getting the audience on side. Even better if they’re in the middle.

Dance Massive, Arts House: P.O.V. director, choreographer Lee Serle, performers, collaborators James Andrews, Kristy Ayre, Lily Paskas, Lee Serle, lighting Ben Cisterne, composition, sound design Luke Smiles, set design Lee Serle, costumes Lee Serle, Shio Otani in collaboration with the performers; production management Megafun, North Melbourne Town Hall, March 12-16;

RealTime issue #114 April-May 2013 pg. 33

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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