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Between frottage and horseplay

Jonathan Marshall at Perth’s Strut 06

Claudia Alessi, Tammy Meeuwissen, Hoofas Claudia Alessi, Tammy Meeuwissen, Hoofas
photo Christophe Canato
From abrasion to seduction, precision to play, Strut’s two week mixed bill presented a challenging collection of disparate embodiment.

Choreographer Paul Gazzola offered a reprise of his duet for Aimee Smith and Jessyka Watson-Galbraith with Yep. The piece worked somewhat better in its earlier gallery manifestation at Artrage in February, the theatrical restaging here having something of a uniformity of rhythm. At Artrage the work had been characterised by silent pauses irregularly shifting between long, pregnant gaps and shorter ones, which alternated with moments of rapid gesticulatory activity. Hands saluted or cut the air before the trunk, describing the space immediately around the body, whilst also suggesting a florid, opaque language. Sound designer Dave Miller fired off selections from his CD collection as the performers launched into movement, from a standing position, to cries of “Yep!” Unison was broadly maintained, before something went awry (“What?” spectators wondered) and one dancer announced “Nup!” Then it all came to a halt as each performer strained to perceive the motives of the other. The space was reconfigured as one dancer strode to a new position—typically with one unable to directly see the other—and suddenly it began again. During one notable moment at Artrage, both Smith and Watson-Galbraith tramped outside and across the road, distant echoes of “Yep! ... Nup!” reaching bemused onlookers by the gallery.

This piece became a great guessing game with the performers publicly displaying and vocalising the rules-based structure of the semi-improvised work, whilst also withholding the information to allow one to fully decode their actions. Questions of why, what and when danced about this organised display of abstraction.

In Sliding Towards, dance-maker Olivia Millard appeared on her own, exhibiting a strong sense of directional movement and swinging inertia. She violently threw her leg out from her waist, causing her frame to pivot at this point and sharply roll out behind it in a counter-balancing action. After a whirlwind of intense dynamism, traversing both walls and floor, Millard settled into a slower, meditative phase, almost romantic, produced from the inward contemplation of her own embodiment and resting within a single pool of light. As she quietly posed and rotated through the shoulder, along the arm, and ended poised on one foot, the audience was invited into a sympathetic relationship with her; a metaphorical caressing of the body through shared physical attention. This initial section—the strongest within the piece—was followed by equally lyrical material in which dancer Paea Leach joined Millard to perform a series of slow, gymnastic weight-exchanges and poses. The effect here too was heightened by the performers’ concentration, yet focused on their active accommodation of each other’s bodies. The duo made a stimulating contrast, Millard with a fine, elongated form in which the limbs extended the line of the torso, while Leach’s broader shoulders suggested a more weighty, muscular presence.

In Leach’s own work, Vibratile et Nuance, the dancer-choreographer melodramatically scissored her arms before her torso in a red dress, or plied the garment’s surface as she spread it on the floor. Jessyka Watson-Galbraith threw her head back so violently that her red-clad torso arched and her whole frame staggered. In a miniskirt, Watson-Galbraith’s legs glowed under Andrew Lake’s lighting, adding a sense of misplaced sexuality and aggressive exposure within this tense space. Separate even when touching, these bodies only came together to angrily carve up geometric lines, to bounce together or to urgently clasp as they enacted violent self-abuse. Leach has said that the choreography explored sensations of touch. If Sliding Towards manifested a seduction of bodies—a self-aware choreography of physical dissonance, lyrically accommodated—then Vibratile et Nuance produced a sense of psychokinetic frottage, a rasping of bodies within a potentially threatening environment.

The finest piece in the program was choreographer Sue Peacock’s full length Hoofas. As in Yep, this work featured a series rules-based improvisations. The piece had an enticing, relaxing stop/start ambience, in which the 2 performers ceased dancing, came to the front of the stage and played, amongst other things, the child’s game of seeing who can slap the other’s outstretched hands. Clothing was rearranged, coins tossed, pants and tops exchanged and worn in bizarre variants as head gear, a top, or as a skirt, and other configurations. The hoofing of the title involved a repeated tap sequence—a test to see how many variations could be stomped out while the other performer took time on a stopwatch. The piece was sustained by a bittersweet, fragmentary narrative of 2 women, friends since school days in the country (out amongst the horses), who had worked cabaret, showgirl gigs, as hostesses, and in modern dance, falling out and together again. Moulding herself into a virtual doll, Tammy Meeuwissen donned a beaded cocktail dress, bouffant hair-piece, tiara, heels and grimacing smile, pouring forth the rules to which she had been subject (always smile, light the gentleman’s cigarette, keep a napkin over your lap) and the scorn which she had received from peers and friends. In an ambivalent, rarely fully-accepted gesture, Claudia Alessi attempted to compensate for such human failings by resting her chin on Meeuwissen’s shoulder, or by pushing into her partner with the back of her head, like a horse.

Beginning as a slight, comic piece, the performance ended as an intriguing study of the character of these dancers and their physical presence—Alessi the gamine game player, at ease on the ground and in gymnasticism, versus Meeuwissen’s sensual, far-flinging dancerly play. Jokes about Alessi’s diminutive stature abounded, leading her to seek revenge by stealing a cigarette and showing off with smoke rings. The constant rearrangement of costume and props produced a pleasing musicality of colour and texture, moving from bright shades to black tops and stockings, which reflected an overall darkening and formalisation of tone. Enacting an ambience between that of Sliding Towards and Vibratile et Nuance, Hoofas depended upon individuals endlessly coming together and splitting apart, a love/hate relationship of bodies and sensibilities, warmly represented.

Strut, curator Sue Peacock, Yep, choreography Paul Gazzola, sound Dave Miller; Honey You Lied, choreography Bianca Martin; Sliding Towards, choreography Olivia Millard; Vibratile et Nuance, choreography Paea Leach; Moon Hides Go Seek, direction/choreography Sete Tele; performers: Aimee Smith, Jessyka Watson-Galbraith, Brooke Leeder, Olivia Millard, Paea Leach, Sete Tele, Mike Nanning; design: Andrew Lake; Deckchair Theatre, March 22-26

Hoofas, choreographer Sue Peacock, designer Andrew Lake. performers Claudia Alessi, Tammy Meeuwissen; Deckchair Theatre, March 15-18.

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 42

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

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