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The body apart - a new dance film

Jonathan Marshall

Stark White Stark White
The centrality of the abstract yet highly physical concept of the body in contemporary criticism renders our material form as the supreme subject of cultural, psycho-physiological forces. From Sigourney Weaver to genetic engineering, Artaud to dance music, the body has become a mesmerically omnipresent object which is gazed at, deconstructed, theorised, disciplined and choreographed. Choreography and criticism replicate a form of social violence which the body must routinely endure.

This insensitivity to the needs of the body as a living body—a critical-choreographic refusal of the soft body—is forcefully rendered in dance-maker Brett Daffy’s film Stark White. Daffy formerly acted as the archetypal self-mutilating, queer ‘hard-boy’ of Gideon Obarzanek’s early choreography and his independent dance proceeds from this precedent. With Stark White, Daffy’s disconcertingly pliable anatomy is pulled apart and reformulated in horribly compelling, ‘unnatural’ ways. This happens both internally—Daffy choreographing Daffy—and externally—women pulling at his limbs, angrily manipulating his joints, and grabbing at his form, before these bodies too undulate under the influence of an internal, psychophysical aphasia. The dancer moves from the bewildered voyeur of others’ psycho-somatic abjection to the primary subject of these forces, awakening to find himself enmeshed in an Escher-like landscape of physical and architectural repetition.

Brett Daffy extends this choreographic violence into the cinesonic language of Stark White. He and director Sherridan Green reject the tendency of dance film to sew together isolated frames so as to reconstitute a single, moving body. Image, sound and gesture are fragmented by the very processes of filmic production, and there is little attempt here to bring them back together. Stark White is not a montage of random material, but it does not conceal the brutality of its production. Like the protagonist, the audience is forced to recall its own position as producer of the cinematic experience—as flickering eyes and aural filters—fragmenting the film even as one attempts to draw it into coherence. Daffy, Green and composer Luke Smiles are therefore unconcerned by the body lying out of shot or gaps in the linearity of sound and image. The film jumps and shudders, creating something akin to a great, fleshy car backfiring crystalline apostrophes as it bunny-hops down a tinted, scratched subterranean road.

Daffy nevertheless prevents his work from becoming consistent with implicitly sadomasochistic, misogynistic or simply oppressively voyeuristic modes prevalent in advertising, painting (especially the nude), dance and ballet. He achieves this by placing himself and not the women at the centre of the literal and metaphoric technologies of the work. The cinesonic focus and choreographic violence spirals around his form and disorientation, his alienation and recovery. After seeing him both literally and metaphorically stripped and shaved, our gaze forces his body into the realm of sexual ambivalence and ambiguity. He is transfigured, a queer Christ perhaps. Like Calvin Klein’s models, Daffy lies beyond the heterosexed. Unlike advertorial homoeroticism though, this transmutation (this crucifixion?) is achieved through ecstatically painful dismemberment, by cathecting bodily parts and gestures such that monsters are born. The finale leaves us with this sexual beast flipping through the axial patterns elaborated in Leonardo’s Ecce homo, yet menaced by the possibility of psychological, sexual and physical hybridity that one sees in Hieronymous Bosch. A post-human for our age of monsters.

Stark White, writer/choreographer/ performer/producer Brett Daffy, director/ editor Sherridan Green, sound score Luke Smiles, Motion Laboratories, performers Sally Smith, Larissa O’Brien, Sharilee Brown, Lina Limosani, Ben Gauci, Larrissa McGowen, Paul Hickman, Kathleen Skipp, Anna Smallwood.

RealTime issue #38 Aug-Sept 2000 pg. 16

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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