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cleo mees: lizzie thomson, panto


Lizzie Thomson, PANTO Lizzie Thomson, PANTO
photo Heidrun Löhr
Lizzie Thomson, PANTO Lizzie Thomson, PANTO
photo Heidrun Löhr
Lizzie Thomson, PANTO Lizzie Thomson, PANTO
photo Heidrun Löhr
I HAVE MY NOSE IN THE PROGRAM WHEN I HEAR THE FIRST THUD. BOXES ON THE FLOOR, A CLOUD OF PINK CONFETTI. LIZZIE THOMSON STANDS IN THE CENTRE OF THE ROOM, BACKED BY A HAPHAZARDLY ARRANGED WALL OF CARDBOARD BOXES. SHE PICKS ONE UP, THRUSTS IT UPWARDS—ANOTHER SHOWER OF CONFETTI—DROPS IT ON THE FLOOR AND WORKS HER WAY OUT OF A PAIR OF BLACK LEGGINGS TO REVEAL A SEQUINNED HOT PINK JUMPSUIT.

The houselights go down and music fades up. I can’t tell what the song is, exactly, but it’s retro and upbeat, like it might be from a musical. Thomson is lit from above and she begins to move. The movement is exploratory, diffuse; nimble, broken up. Occasionally I see a hint of style: a flourish, a suddenly recognisable gesture that stands out from the rest. But the moments dissipate quickly.

In the program notes, Thomson writes that her aim with PANTO was to open up her practice to “anything and everything.” After nine years of working towards what she calls a “minimalist” practice in the lineage of the Judson Dance Theater and more recently Rosalind Crisp that aimed to strip dance down to its bare essentials and challenge normative understandings of technique and meaning, Thomson wants to see what happens when tradition, genre and imagery are allowed to enter the dance space again.

I see this idea in her movement first: in those fleeting moments of style that feel like light experimentation; like a loose trying-on and throwing-off of ideas. Then, as the piece progresses, I notice it on a structural level: new elements are introduced to the stage, laid on top of one another and intermittently withdrawn from view again.

The sound of dancing tap shoes builds in intensity and flits from one side of the room to the other, becoming almost deafening before fading to make way for a new soundscape: a deep rumble mixed with the echoes of men’s voices and jangling bells.

Three figures appear in gold top hats and black tails with little moustaches pencilled in above their upper lips. Tap-dance costumes? They perform Tai Chi, movements with gravitas that will continue as though on a loop for the remainder of the piece.

There is video projection. It appears on a roll of brown butcher’s paper stretched across a square frame and it absorbs my attention. The image is composed of pastels and whites and looks like found footage from decades ago. The effect of Thomson’s bright pink costuming under the soft lines in the projection is interesting. I want only to watch her dancing in front of the screen. When I do eventually look back at the Tai Chi performers, it’s because I think I should. I find myself confronted with the choice between controlling my attention and letting it go. The things on stage vie for my eyes and ears. There is even a choir.

The beauty of this loose combination of bodies, visuals and sounds is that while many of them make reference to cultural tropes, none is defined, or judged, on that basis. Thomson does not comment on the elements she engages in her performance, she simply presents them. Her pink costume isn’t ‘naff.’ Sure, the costume is over-the-top and reminds me of my jazz eisteddfod days. And it does make her look comical at times—particularly in the final dance sequence, during which she drapes herself in thick wads of the pink fabric, dances feverishly to large music, runs to the back of the stage and hurls herself through a wall of cardboard boxes. But Thomson doesn’t seem interested in poking fun at anything. I have the sense that her invitation to the elements—to costume, to semantics—is genuine.

The seriousness is apparent in her movement, too. When she makes demanding shapes with her body she commits fully to them. In her commitment there is fight, and in the fight there is a reveal; a slippage in which humanity is very present. The candidness is exciting. I am again reminded of the program notes in which Lizzie Thomson writes that the one rule she set herself during the development of PANTO was to avoid parody. In this she succeeds, not only suspending self-judgment as she dances but suspending judgment of every performance element that she introduces to the stage.


PANTO, creator, dancer Lizzie Thomson, dancers Ryuchi Fujimura, Venettia Miller, Jasmin Sarao, Nalina Wait, chorus Alan Davies, Sharon Lennon, Anne Claydon, Helen Lanyon, Sandra Baird, Jenni Scott, Gordon, Elizabeth Williams, George Hiscocks, Cheryl Georgopoulos, Lynn Bowden, Nicki James, Josephene Anderson, sound Bengere de Tarle, Dominic Kirkwood, music director Annette Tesoriero, lighting design Mark Dyson, costume assistance Denisse Vera; Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, July 29, 30

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 20

© Cleo Mees; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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