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Dance Massive

Jana Perkovic

Antony Hamilton, Alisdair Macindoe, Meeting, Dance Massive Antony Hamilton, Alisdair Macindoe, Meeting, Dance Massive
photo Sarah Walker
The fourth incarnation of Dance Massive felt stronger than ever, with sold-out houses across the city, a highly organised approach to bring international presenters to showcase all of the works and a significant increase in the non-specialised audience. It is still one of the best-defined and most pragmatically useful festivals in the country—it gives visibility to an often neglected form, showcases the best-of to both the dance community and the general public, and brings the industry together.

One only hopes that the merit of this format will be recognised, because Dance Massive still functions in a slightly renegade way, as a joint programming effort by three Melbourne performance spaces. As such, it is less of a showcase of Australian dance, than dance in Melbourne, with its particular idiosyncrasies.

Without a strong curatorial statement, it is hard to know if an outsider understood that they were hopping between local ‘dance families’ as they were hopping between shows. To someone who has been following dance in Melbourne, the vast distances in interest, aesthetics and process were clearly visible. Whether they serve to contextualise each other’s work, or pass one another like ships in the night, was harder to see.

Stephanie Lake, Briarna Longville, Alisdair Macindoe, Jessie Oshodi, Kyle Page and Lilian Steiner, Motion Picture, Dance Massive Stephanie Lake, Briarna Longville, Alisdair Macindoe, Jessie Oshodi, Kyle Page and Lilian Steiner, Motion Picture, Dance Massive
photo Sarah Walker
Lucy Guerin Inc, Motion Picture

Lucy Guerin’s Motion Picture presented another excursion in strongly verbal performance after the lauded Conversation Piece (RT 111, p37, 2012; Dance Massive, 2013). The film noir D.O.A. (Rudolph Maté, 1950) is used as the external framework both for the structure of the piece and for generating movement. It starts with dancers miming the film’s gestures, synced to the dialogue, and then progressing into ever greater abstraction. The entire film, with which the dance performance is in perfect sync, is played on the screen right behind the audience—this is a very clever set-up, allowing us to selectively observe the source and the homage.

Like a number of Guerin’s recent works, Motion Picture is structured as a list of variations on a theme. The variations develop in complexity, but never break from the list, which means that the work never amounts to a strong statement, just a series of smaller ones. I found the most interesting to be the early scenes, which expose the rhythms, the gestural vocabulary, and the gender stereotypes of film noir in a Brechtian stroke—it seemed like a more entertaining and substantial version of Rosas’ Golden Hours (RT125, p31). However, there are not enough formal ideas in Motion Picture to fill the 89 minutes of D.O.A. and attention falters.

Antony Hamilton, MEETING

Antony Hamilton also works with the list structure in MEETING, a work for two male dancers and 64 metronome-like, pre-programmed robot percussionists. However, MEETING is conceptualised formally, not thematically, around the interaction of duet dancing and random percussion patterns, and digs deeply into the possibilities of this set-up. The piece progresses from the simple choreography of one movement at a time (Hamilton and Alistair Macindoe moving in astoundingly quick, zig-zaggy turns) to a single irregular beat, to include upper body, whole body, feet and voice. The percussion patterns grow in complexity, the neat circle of robots is rearranged to interact with various random objects—wooden blocks, floor, tiny cymbals. Even though the piece develops predictably to finish with the robots taking over and the dancers gone, the movement itself is so precise, irregularly paced and randomly organised, that watching it is never less than mesmerising.

Kingdom, BalletLab, Dance Massive Kingdom, BalletLab, Dance Massive
photo Sarah Walker
Phillip Adams’ BalletLab, Kingdom

Phillip Adams’ BalletLab is related to Guerin through a shared postmodern sensibility, use of culturally and socially situated objects on stage and a penchant for narrative, but has for years now been moving away from conventional choreography and towards static, highly iconographic movement, and eliciting highly ecstatic states of stage presence. Like recent works (Miracle, 2009; All things return to nature, 2013), Kingdom’s charged delivery seems to imply that the foremost concern is not representation so much as forming a cult. The audience did not enjoy it, but I suspect it may be because of this fundamental misunderstanding. Adams is an extremely cool-headed and intellectual artist, whose thematic interests do include community, passion and indulgence, but who has mercilessly questioned these concepts in his work.

Kingdom is so thick with societal references that it can be read as an essay. It charts the formation of queer male sexual identity from individual to collective, the home-building efforts to organise a community and the transformations that the individual undergoes once he joins the collective. Through extremely evocative imagery, it charts the transformation of a private kingdom of outcasts as its emotional coherence shifts from safety and acceptance into organised narcissism, competition and self-congratulation. It looks at games of favouritism and humiliation, and finally wonders if its orgiastic aspects—which seem to flow from its narcissism, but also from its transgressiveness—are seeds of salvation or doom.

Kingdom is steeped in the gay aesthetic of glitter and gold, but is not at all a trivial piece. There is much here to unpick and enjoy. Adams’ co-performers—Luke George, Matthew Day and Rennie McDougall—are not only queer men, but also promising choreographic minds, each making an intelligent, individual contribution. I was frustrated by the impatience of the Melbourne audience with a work equally rich emotionally and intellectually.

Finally, Atlanta Eke and Tim Darbyshire represent the most substantial of the younger generation of Melbourne choreographers. Atypically, they have not been mentored by the local greats, but have received their first artistic formation in Europe—Eke, notably, with Marten Spangberg. And yet, instead of building overseas careers as performers, they have returned quite young in order to make their first choreographies in Australia. Darbyshire’s More or Less Concrete was highly praised at Dance Massive 2013 (see an interview here) while Eke received good notices for her Monster Body (Next Wave 2012; Dance Massive 2013, RT114).

Tim Darbyshire in Stampede the Stampede, Dance Massive at Arts House Tim Darbyshire in Stampede the Stampede, Dance Massive at Arts House
photo Sarah Walker
Tim Darbyshire, Stampede the Stampede

In Stampede the Stampede, Darbyshire is interested in the sensuous experience of choreography, but choreography understood as including the performer’s body, sound, light and stage objects. It is a visceral piece in three acts. In act one, Darbyshire head-bangs on a high platform to a deep pulsating beat, while a sequence of lights projects his silhouette across two white walls as in stop-animation. In a most impressive act two, Darbyshire performs a headstand on a gravel-covered platform shaken by the thundering of a powerful subwoofer, falling and returning to the headstand until the gravel has completely slid off. In act three, he spins in a harness suspended from the ceiling.

In all three, Darbyshire’s body is trying to weather turbulence like a crash-test dummy, but Stampede the Stampede is not a performance of tortured body, but rather of a multi-material choreography. The point is obviously to create a sensuous stage-scape, provoking a tactile and affective experience—which strikes me as a very Australian approach to performance, but also conceptually flat.

Atlanta Eke, Body of Work

Atlanta Eke’s Body of Work is an extension of the 10-minute solo that won her the inaugural Keir Choreographic Award, and it is quite an exceptional work—probably the finest from what I saw of this Dance Massive. The centrepoint is the use of a camera to multiply Eke’s presence on stage into a series of ever-so-slightly delayed video projections, which appear to be in gentle acknowledgement of each other’s presence. Layering the digital body behind (always behind) the physical, Eke accentuates our perception of stage time (each movement has a fading echo), building poignant harmonies. It is a very clever questioning of oeuvre, legacy, perception, interpretation and that old truism that performance’s only life is in the present.

Dance Massive: Lucy Guerin Inc Motion Picture, concept, direction Lucy Guerin, Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 17-22 March; MEETING, director, choreographer, performer Antony Hamilton, instrument design & construction, composer, performer Alisdair Macindoe, Arts House North Melbourne Town Hall, 10-14 March; Kingdom, concept, curation Phillip Adams BalletLab, Arts House Meat Market, 18-22 March; Stampede the Stampede, choreography, performance, voice, art work Tim Darbyshire, Arts House Meat Market, 18-22 March; Body of Work, concept, choreography Atlanta Eke, video Hana Miller, Jacob Perkins, Dancehouse, Melbourne, 16-18 March

RealTime issue #126 April-May 2015 pg. 23

© Jana Perkovic; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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