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dance massive 2013

dance: installed, immersed, hybridised

keith gallasch: dance massive 2013

Alisdair Macindoe, Dual Alisdair Macindoe, Dual
photo Ponch Hawkes

These developments haven’t been sudden nor have they been solely of a kind felt by dance. The emergence of contemporary performance of the 1970s and 80s signalled the fruitful bringing together of hitherto largely discrete forms. Here, movement played a significant role, texts were projected or intoned, conventional playwriting eschewed, design was no longer background or setting but a creation in itself, sound was no longer played in the intervals between words, and the application of new technologies could find room to move. Dance, more than theatre ever has, embodied or took on this opening out and became a leader in exploring the potential of digital technologies in the late 90s into the 2000s.

This process of hybridisation is still playing out, not so much creating new forms as mutating existing ones: a dance work is still a dance work but the manner of its framing and the ways in which it engages its audiences are changing, offering experiential intensity. We can still witness the movement of Russell Dumas’ dancers as simply dance in and of itself, without a sound score or elaborate costuming and lighting. Some works indicate a focus on the dancer’s movements with aural close-ups, amplifying the sounds made by the breathing, stressed body or its impact on surfaces. These and other works play with our senses and heighten the feeling of immersive proximity.

The programming of Dance Massive 2013, a small but telling slice of Australian dance, has revealed that contemporary dance is as engaged as ever with the nature of the theatrical experience, pushing further and further into immersion, perceptual play and the production as performative installation.


More or Less Concrete, Tim Darbyshire More or Less Concrete, Tim Darbyshire
photo Ponch Hawkes
Dance Massive 2013 included a significant number of productions that could be regarded in some senses as much dance installations as they were timed performances. Antony Hamilton’s Black Project 1, Tim Darbyshire’s More or Less Concrete, Ashley Dyer’s Life Support, Anouk van Dijk’s 247 Days, Natalie Abbott’s Physical Fractals, Stephanie Lake’s Dual and Lee Serle’s P.O.V. each comprised design/technology activated/inhabited by performers and sometimes audiences.

Sounds actual, amplified and treated made by dancers in More or Less Concrete and Physical Fractals filled the aural space about us, as did sounds of popping smoke-ring machines in Life Support with increasing intensity as smoke filled a diminishing auditorium. In More or Less Concrete the miked breathing, coughing, gasping and thumping of performers’ bodies mutated from the real into surreal soundscapes for its headphoned audience. In Physical Fractals, framed with light, four pairs of microphones angled close to the floor set the physical and aural parameters of the dance with the speed, beat and bounce of the taut choreography. Two microphones are swung over our heads mid-show, making us, and the very air around us, part of an installation. In Dual the rectangle on which the dance unfolds is just one plane of an aural space in which sounds sweep by and at us, and we hear three variations of the score, making the space at once aurally familiar and strange (in its permutations).

P.O.V, Lee Serle P.O.V, Lee Serle
photo Ponch Hawkes
In P.O.V. the audience is invited to sit in a grid of swivel stools, such that the dancers course down rows and cross intersections and the viewers can turn to follow them. Those of us outside the frame watch the dance of audience movement and admire the precision of the speeding and lunging dancers, their peripheral vision making themselves and the audience safe in the narrow aisles. This dance installation can be experienced from inside or out. Ben Speth’s WeTube LIVE inverts the P.O.V. grid: here it’s the performers in fixed rows with the audience roaming among them, but working on the same principle of playing with perspective and subjective point of view.

Tony Osborne, Life Support, Ashley Dyer Tony Osborne, Life Support, Ashley Dyer
photo Rachel Roberts
Life Support proved to be more installation than movement work. The rings, waves and falls of smoke do the dancing while a performer executing a set of simple, quite abstract gestures (as if refusing to make thematic comment) plays potential sacrificial victim to an audience acting as possible executioner à la the infamous Milgram Experiment (we can vote to release the performer from a box filled with smoke; or not). In the program, the onstage operators of the smoke machines are credited as performers: Life Support is a machine in which we are trapped as a wall closes in and smoke pours over us. We are given oxygen cannisters should we feel short of breath. Although Life Support is ultimately unthreatening, there are moments when the otherwise complicit imagination unwillingly conjures darker visions of fires, gas chambers, dust storms and other asphyxiators.

Black Project 1 is not simply danced, it is installation-cum-dance. It has the powerful appeal of experiencing visual art in the making as two strange graffiti-ists strip a wall to make large scale patterns of white against sombre shades of black and the sheen of the makers’ charcoal skins.


Lauren Langlois, 247 days, Chunky Move Lauren Langlois, 247 days, Chunky Move
photo Jeff Busby
The pleasure of dance resides in the privilege of watching skilled movers who are exemplars of capacities flexible, anti-gravitational and richly suggestive. The dancing body is more often than not framed with set, costume, light and sound, focusing and amplifying our sense of the movement, expressly foregrounding it. However more and more works play with the senses of the audience, expanding perspectives on dance in which the dancer is integrated into the design by means lo-tech and high (think of Gideon Obarzanek’s Mortal Engine, among many others). In Black Project 1 the painterly merging of bodies and environment and the tonal gradings with which it is executed are visually engrossing.

The design for 247 Days is a curved wall of mirrors that reflects, multiplies and even disappears the dancers. The wall opens to form doors and more reflections, providing sensory pleasures and thematic complexity. No mere background, this vast mirror is integrated with the dancing and is operated by the performers.

Choreographers happily, and meaningfully, played with our perceptions in this Dance Massive. In extreme cases our visual field was limited by low lighting levels such that we often had to adjust to make sense of what we were seeing. Correlative or contrasting movement is as important as light in these works: the alternation of stillness and rapid movement in Black Project 1; the sheer slowness and odd body shapings in More or Less Concrete; the brush strokes of movement in moments of ultra-low light in Physical Fractals.

Matthew Day’s Intermission offers a very special kind of immersion, our attention locked in synch with the waves of vibration that consume the dancer’s body while our ears buzz and hum with the broad counterpoint provided by James Brown’s score. Our appreciation of Day’s movement is an extension of what we feel for any dancer who engages us, but the minimalist repetition and variation make for a distinctively intense experience.


Dalisa Pigram, Gudirr Gudirr, Marrugeku Dalisa Pigram, Gudirr Gudirr, Marrugeku
photo Ponch Hawkes
Lucy Guerin Inc and Belvoir’s Conversation Piece, Marrugeku’s Gudirr Gudirr, and Atlanta Eke’s Monster Body synthesise forms of performance. Guerin brings together three dancers, three actors, improvisation, choreography and sound technology to create an aesthetically dense account of how we deploy language as power. In Guddir, Gudirr, a high point in Dance Massive, Dalisa Pigram is at once dancer, actor and physical theatre performer and always herself, addressing us directly, a powerful presence and superb artist in the only work in this dance event that deals with actual lives, personally and politically (although Atlanta Eke’s Monster Body also carries some political punch).

Skeleton is the creation of a choreographer, Larissa McGowan, working with a theatre director, Sam Haren. Lo-tech stage wizardry and high-speed dance generate a world of brutal ephemerality where accidents and nostalgia uncomfortably co-exist. Skeleton’s constant choreographic content and pulse prevents it from being labelled dance theatre, but it does have a clarity of purpose and design, not least in its use of objects (skateboard, BMX bike, headphones, baseball bat) that incline it to that form without disadvantage and with increased thematic coherence (although my fellow writer Carl Nilsson-Polias thought the work underdeveloped). Jo Lloyd’s Future Perfect has some kinship with Skeleton’s structural-thematic approach: it too deploys propulsive, finely realised choreography and ends in dissolution.

Atlanta Eke, Monster Body Atlanta Eke, Monster Body
photo Rachel Roberts
Atlanta Eke’s Monster Body is a loose hybrid of dance, contemporary performance and performance art, a series of strong images with broad thematic unanimity and no obvious development. Work of this kind was abundant in the 1980s and 90s, but it’s refreshing to see its emergence in the form of an idiosyncratic, brave and engaging performer as well as occurring at a moment when the feminine and feminism are once again in focus.

Some of the show’s images are overwrought—the cute animal-headed figure posing sexily to the repeated roar of a motorcycle promptly empties itself of significance—or too awkwardly realised—when Eke fills her rubber body suit with water-filled balloons to become multi-breasted, the image is muddled. These contrast with scenes more adroitly and powerfully realised, including Monster Body’s most potent image—the naked Eke growling and howling with superb vocal control while executing precise dance steps. Nothing else in the performance was as strange or monstrous as this.


Tobiah Booth-Remmers, Lisa Griffiths, Lewis Rankin, Skeleton Tobiah Booth-Remmers, Lisa Griffiths, Lewis Rankin, Skeleton
photo Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions
Eke, like Lake, Hamilton, Pigram, Day, Darbyshire, Serle, McGowan, Lloyd and Abbott collectively suggest through their creations an adventurous and diverse future for Australian dance in which audiences are regarded by choreographer-directors as sensory beings open to an enlarged view of dance as not only an integral part of the greater realm of performance but of dance as an instigator of intelligent investigation and innovation.


There are questions to be asked, for example about a certain sameness among space-eating sound scores, however dextrously and ingeniously they have been realised (see Gail Priest’s overview). As well, there’s the dance language itself, dominated by hyper-fluency and style melding that allows little time or space for reflective movement, with only a few exceptions. Antony Hamilton, Jo Lloyd, Stephanie Lake, Anouk van Dijk and Natalie Abbotts’ hyperactive subjects contrast sharply with Russell Dumas’ and Tim Darbyshire’s slowly evolving formations, while Matthew Day hovers between, moving in grand slow arcs while vibrating at speed. This is not to deny the rich diversity of choreographic approaches in the first group and the intricacies realised by their skilful dancers. As for ideas, Dance Massive was full of them, from the overtly political and cultural to speculations on ritual and worship, art-making, accidents, the self, relationships, mutability, the city and the future.

Dance Massive once again proved a deeply satisfying experience for audiences and for bringing together many of the dance community. As for its other function, the selling of Australian work to overseas presenters, outcomes are as yet unknown although there were apparently some promising signs.

Now that Spring Dance has been dropped by the Sydney Opera House, Dance Massive is the only substantial dance event for what are for the most part independent Australian contemporary dance makers, although it’s hoped that the MoveMe Dance Festival (see review) presented by STRUT and Ausdance WA in Perth might grow in scale and reach to bolster national dance culture. (It would be misleading to suggest that Spring Dance did a great deal for Australian dance, but it did develop an audience—but apparently not a big enough one despite press release rhetoric about record attendance numbers.) I hope that Dance Massive, with its doubtless limited resources but committed host venues, can continue to offer artists and audiences the opportunity to see and celebrate significant work, especially from the kind of emerging talent on show this year. It would be even more satisfying if more interstate artists could become part of Dance Massive (the numbers have varied event to event and there are many variables involved, cost not the least among them). In an era of increasing ephemerality, the need for Dance Massive is great. Long may it prosper.

Arts House, Dance House, Malthouse, Dance Massive 2013, Melbourne, March 12-24

RealTime issue #114 April-May 2013 pg. 26

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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