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online e-dition june 26: next wave 2012

testing & celebrating the social animal

jane howard: a 2012 next wave selection

Jane Howard is a freelance arts writer and researcher based in Adelaide. In addition to publishing reviews in her blog No Plain Jane, she writes for several online and print publications. Her performing arts research has focused on audience engagement at Flinders University and on women in theatre at the University of Sydney.

fifteen, Liesel Zink, Next Wave Festival 2012 fifteen, Liesel Zink, Next Wave Festival 2012
photo Sam Ackroyd

Liesel Zink’s fifteen at Flagstaff Railway Station builds a dance work against the backdrop of peak-hour pedestrian traffic. From a vantage point above the concourse, the audience watches as four dancers perform through the space and through the commuters. Our focus is held with headphones melding music and dialogue about personal space and the movement of the pedestrians. We are not only attuned to the performance of the dancers, but also to the commuter social ritual.
Rather than making large artistic and physical statements of its own, Zink’s choreography is a subtle intervention into the space. Highly deliberate, with the dancers moving through and around the space, often working in pairs or as a group, the choreography is remarkable as a product of its location rather than as movement in itself. There are moments when dancers are noticed, but the commuters more often than not revert to their routine. The absence of interaction from hundreds of commuters infuses the work with a very real sense of sadness about connection in our society.

Yet despite this sadness, Zink manages to create a dance work that is, ultimately, a joy. She infuses the work with humour in the matching of choreography to recorded and live narration, and in the juxtaposition of commuter routine and dancer movement. While fifteen suggests despair at a lack of connection, the connections Zink makes in the space become a beautiful thing.

Monster Body, Atlanta Eke, Next Wave Festival 2012 Monster Body, Atlanta Eke, Next Wave Festival 2012
photo Sam Ackroyd
Atlanta Eke’s MONSTER BODY at Dancehouse assumes the space of performance more conventionally, but doesn’t allow the audience the typical safety net of a theatre in the dark. The audience enters to Eke hula hooping on top of a mirrored platform, naked except for a molded plastic monster mask. The lights shine just as brightly on the audience as on the dancer and remain this way for most of the performance. There is no space for an audience to hide from Eke’s view: our watching of her body is constantly monitored.

The work is built from scenes that take images of femininity and twist them into feminist statements. Eke infuses much of the work with an uncomfortable humour, our discomfort made all the more stark by our exposure.

Eke positions her strong dance technique up against guttural yelling—aural expression against the 'effortlessness' of dance. She stands centre stage and looks sadly out at her audience, urinating, as Britney Spears’ I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman plays. Twice she is tenderly cleaned by a man in a biohazard suit. She cuts her hair while women hold wooden poles with plastic hands on the end that caress her body.

During a “five-minute interval," four other dancers, naked except for black bags covering their heads, join Eke dancing to Beyonce’s "Run The World (Girls)." The song proclaims a victorious power for women in society, but speaks to an equality not yet reached. Eke’s dancers are proudly and defiantly naked, taking control of their place on the stage and in the world, and yet stripped of any autonomy. Despite the strong and celebratory choreography, they are presented solely as bodies.

MONSTER BODY is an overtly feminist work built from a place of deep anger and sadness. The emotional power of its fractured segments take longer to build than the actual duration of the show, waiting to come together in subsequent hours and days. Yet, as Eke takes complete control and ownership of her vision as an artist, her body as a performer, and of the space and her audience, the work becomes deeply exhilarating.

The Stream/ The Boat/ The Shore/ The Bridge is built from a place of love for Melbourne and the people who inhabit it. Taken by four people at a time, the journey is a series of one-on-one interactions on and around the Yarra River.

The work is opened to the four as a group before each individual visits three of the four locations referred to in the title. After these interactions are over, the four are brought together again on Pigeon Island under the Southbank Pedestrian Bridge to collectively 'work through' their journeys and discoveries.

My journey started by being taken across the Yarra on a rowboat by Dan Koop. The work asks the audience to give as much of themselves to the work as they hope to get out of it, and Koop plays wonderfully with the balance of pushing past barriers without causing discomfort.

Continuing my journey to the stream and then onto the bridge, my relationship with each of the artists and with the river seemed to follow a logical growth— from the deeply personal conversation with Koop to learning about the river from Jamie Lewis, to a dialogue-less communication on the bridge powered through body language, headphones and handwritten notes.

The work is most successful when the communication is turned back on the participant in the boat and on the bridge, centralising them within the city with a perspective on the self. This reaches a peak when the performers are removed, and all that is left are the participants each pulling apart their three journeys and trying to piece together the fourth they didn’t participate in.

Tahni & Tom, Shotgun Wedding, NO SHOW,  Next Wave Festival 2012 Tahni & Tom, Shotgun Wedding, NO SHOW, Next Wave Festival 2012
Photo Sarah Walker
Shotgun Wedding takes our interconnected and personal relationships and throws them into that loudest and brashest of social situations: the wedding. And while I thought I gave over-personally to The Stream/ The Boat/ The Shore/ The Bridge, in Shotgun Wedding I found myself giving my hand in marriage.

Directors Bridget Balodis and Mark Pritchard detail for us the idea they had for a new social construct: the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, in what they have dubbed “marriage.” The bride and groom—until now unmet—are selected from the audience, while the rest become the guests. Soon, the company of strangers are working together to create and join in a celebration balancing a perspective between the imaginary and the real.

Delivered without irony or discontent, and more to the point, as a celebration, the work quite cleverly and acutely manages to question the place of marriage and the wedding ceremony within our society—archaic regulations in vows contrasted with the high level of excitement.

The creators' highly detailed construction of the façade of an actual wedding is clear. Yet, once the work itself begins, they have to do very little to instil in their guests the sense that they are part of a very real celebration. Even in front of a crowd I did not know, marrying a man I've never met, a real sense of ownership and of giddiness about the event develops. People cheer, toast and dance as if they were with old friends, all the while knowing their emotions are manufactured. It’s an overwhelming statement of our innate connection to social events.

Across the festival, young artists are learning—deciding how to define their careers, practices and the world they want to live in. Through these works, they have all demonstrated a deep connection to and interest in this world—sometimes angry, sometimes joyous; excited to be sharing.

2012 Next Wave Festival: fifteen, choreographer Liesel Zink, Flagstaff Station, May 21-25; MONSTER BODY, Atlanta Eke, Dancehouse, May 22-27; The Stream/ The Boat/ The Shore/ The Bridge, Dan Koop, Andrew Bailey, Lauren Clelland, Caroline Gasteen, Georgina Humphries, Max Milne, Yarra River Southbank, May 19-27; Shotgun Wedding, directors Bridget Balodis, Mark Pritchard, with Zöe Rouse, Dan Giovannoni, NO SHOW, St Peters Church, Melbourne, May 19-27

Jane Howard is a freelance arts writer and researcher based in Adelaide. In addition to publishing reviews in her blog No Plain Jane, she writes for several online and print publications. Her performing arts research has focused on audience engagement at Flinders University and on women in theatre at the University of Sydney.

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. web

© Jane Howard; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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