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Online e-dition July 24, 2013

Caring for the planet, one step at a time

Philipa Rothfield, Nat Cursio Co, Blizzard

Nat Cursio Nat Cursio
photo Pete Brundle
Natalie Cursio has assumed many roles over the years: dancer, choreographer, international collaborator, teacher, mentor, creator and curator. As well as making her own work, she has inaugurated a number of projects around dance in innovative settings.

For example, in 2010, she created Private Dances (Next Wave Festival), where one person would watch another perform inside a series of tents (see RT98), for which she won a Green Room award (Best concept and Realisation). She is currently Choreographer in Residence at the Newport Substation, where she is about to show a new work, Blizzard.

There’s nothing obvious about Cursio’s new work Blizzard that shouts Green. And yet Cursio speaks of Blizzard in relation to the planet, as a plea for care towards our dwindling bio-diversity. Her perspective is intriguing, relating to what she calls the “rawness” of the work, that is, its lack of artifice and theatricality. Through keeping the work raw, Cursio means to distil our attention towards the dancing and its sensory milieu: no music nor fancy lighting, just three bodies at work.

Blizzard, Nat Cursio Co Blizzard, Nat Cursio Co
photo Nat Cursio
It’s not a big thing, dance. I am regularly struck by the fact that, digital work aside, dance is ultimately and always about the body. The greatest star might take the stage, but their medium is still their own body. Perhaps it’s this smallness which reminds us of the need for care. The audience must come to the work, paying attention to its quiet intensity. Cursio wants her audience to work on their experience rather than have it served to them on a plate. As a reminder that perception is a two-way deal, Blizzard, begins with an extended section that calls for eyes closed on the part of its audience.

We are in the old Newport power (sub)station, in a massive room flanked by epic windows, red bricks and a wooden floor. The train station is nearby. Cars pass, sounds of the city swell. Shuffling noises approach then fade. I cannot see what the dancers (Alice Dixon, Melissa Jones, Caroline Meaden) are doing but I can hear them. Their bodies are mechanisms for producing sound. My body is alert. Their movement provokes a kind of Doppler effect, consistent rhythms which perceptually vary according to their proximity to the observer. I feel them approach and retreat. Sitting in self-imposed darkness draws attention to my own body as mediator or rather receptor of the work. If vision launches itself into the world, hearing recoils towards home base. The dance is a cipher, muffled in the darkness.

When I open my eyes, there is a sense of familiarity as well as novelty, like meeting a relative for the first time. This is an unadorned piece. Cursio calls it raw but it is equally cooked. Blizzard was initiated in 2011 as an invitation from the three dancers who wanted some mentorship and direction from Cursio. Blizzard developed out of a series of improvisations by the dancers. Over time, Cursio became choreographer, working with a 20-minute section of improvised material as a basis for the work.

There is a feeling that the dancers retain a close relationship to their material. It belongs to them. That said Cursio sees her role as taking responsibility for the piece as a whole—to assume a global perspective—while the dancers retain responsibility for their own performative relation to the choreography. Hence a gentle enquiry from Cursio regarding their experience eking out the work after such a long break. The conversation is quietly geared towards some reflection on the part of the performer; how can I be present to this choreography, alert to its elements, stay involved in its minutiae? The dancers articulate their experience of the run-through. The task ahead is to find a way back into the choreography that sustains its complexity. That way may differ for each dancer. They recognise their mutual differences in approach. There is no effort to iron out these differences. Rather what is important is for each in their own way to find the depths of the movement, to stay in touch with the sensory present and to flesh out their own attention.

Blizzard, Nat Cursio Co Blizzard, Nat Cursio Co
photo Nat Cursio
I won’t tell you what it looks like. I only viewed the beginnings of the last rehearsal period. One hint (hopefully not a spoiler) is that the audience will be seated in a circle. I mention this because of the ethical dimension of Cursio’s working with her dancers, that there is a kind of flow between them which manifests a certain kind of care. It would not be possible to make a work to inspire care on the part of humanity without practising that as a means of production. The circle signifies a kind of holding pattern, to be traversed by the dancers.

Things to come? Cursio has been commissioned as one of the artists for Carriageworks 24 Frames Per Second. She will also be performing solo (for the first time in a decade) in her own apartment in The Middle Room as part of Theatreworks’ ENCOUNTER(S) season in December. In development are Recovery, a work about grief and endurance performed with Shannon Bott and directed by Simon Ellis and the hilariously titled John Utans Was My Teacher (he was, so wait for that one), created by Cursio with Utans, Don Asker, Fiona Bryant and Tamara Saulwick.

Nat Cursio Co, Blizzard, The Substation, Newport, Melbourne, 30 July-4 Aug;

RealTime issue #115 June-July 2013 pg. web

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

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