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Linda Luke, Inner Garden, De Quincey Co Linda Luke, Inner Garden, De Quincey Co
photo Wendy Kimpton
In an open class demonstration, 20 performers walk carefully crossing lines of string stretched across the floor. Their bare toes curl and reach to find the string’s edge, bodies sway and wobble as core muscles try to hold gravity’s centre, eyes are either closed or zoned into a faraway elsewhere.

Each body presences itself differently. Indeed, the line of string, almost hard to discern for the spectator, seems to draw out of these balancing bodies those other lines of tension that Bodyweather practice so delicately focalises between sensation and imagination, perception and performance. For masters of the form, I imagine, a simple tread of this line might enable a complete retreat from oneself from view. What kind of force would be left, then, walking the line?

The demonstration follows a five-day Image Dance Think Tank masterclass led by Tess de Quincey and Frank van de Ven, hosted by the Sydney University Department of Performance Studies for both seasoned and new Bodyweather practitioners as well as for academic participant-observers. The culmination of a week’s introspection and investigation results in a rich public elaboration of some areas of critical urgency for the practice as well as for broader threads of enquiry into the role of performance in tuning us into those environments we more ordinarily omit from perceptual view. The program’s initiator, Chair of the Department Amanda Card, builds upon an earlier exchange between De Quincey Co and the Department held in 2001. It is in this way well served by the latter’s commitment to methods of rehearsal observation, which swiftly emerge here to unpick what surrounds the studied internality that Bodyweather practice so forcefully presents.

De Quincey and van de Ven explain that the legacy of their training with Min Tanaka’s MAI-JUKU performance group in Japan (1984-1991) involves the remarkable storage, in body-memory (as well as in journal descriptions) of original image-sets. Conceived as either ‘omnicentral’ (divided) or ‘full body’ images, participants have been revisiting images such as “Moonshadow” or “Penis Arms” 36 years later in a practice that, as Lecturer in Architecture Andrew Macklin comments, is fundamentally “translated” in that it is both “culturally other” and “locally specific.” The question of the body as translator is underpinned by Bodyweather imaging practices as well as by the Muscle and Bone training regimes that support it, which are understood by de Quincey as “agronomous:” the body is a mechanism for tilling the earth. This minimalist aesthetic, which seems to open out an interpretive practice for the body on an almost cellular level, Macklin explains, is deeply resonant of the Shibui approach to textural subtlety that informs a Japanese sensibility of beauty.

Walking the line, participants are asked to pass through a smoke curtain. How might a body make itself disappear in the smoke it imagines/images around it? For one participant, walking through the curtain requires a softening of the body into the sensory image of smoke. Mechanically, this means an extension of the body into space such that it will “stop wobbling” at the same time as “boundaries of the flesh [must] become smoke-like” so as to “touch” the imagined curtain edge. Questions of the image-sensing and image-making capacities of the body become central to the dialogue that follows. De Quincey explains that the logic of a body as an environment enables us to conceive it as being in compositional dialogue with another environment (indeed, the principle here might be that we are all always in such processes of dialogue even as they are disguised from bodily view). The goal here is to avoid mimetic representation and to instead feel the sensation of an image which may be received via any modal viewpoint. “It is the image doing me, not the other way around” observes one participant.

Provocations then arise around the ideokinetic frisson that happens when a body meets an image, as in the performance-enhancing techniques of athlete training (Stuart Grant), or what the spectator is exactly given to sense when watching a process of performing-sensing-feeling (Justine Shih Pearson). This last question interestingly resonates against the final phase of the showing, which involves performers Linda Luke and Peter Fraser in solos and de Quincey and van de Ven in a duo, performing pre-choreographed works. Here, the viewing lens shifts from rehearsal observation to performance analysis, and the terms of reference become more oblique. For one thing, the comical duo between de Quincey and van de Ven seems to move much of what was discussed of the body’s image-sensorium into a kind of lazzi around becoming dogs (de Quincey’s two pets were present for the duration of the workshop). The ethos of becoming environments, one which, as Macklin noted, promised to offer an everyday aesthetics of sensitivity and empathy, hovered strangely at the edge of the ever-strong demand for meaning-making in the theatre.

Image Dance Think Tank, An international collaboration between De Quincey Co and the Department of Performance Studies, Sydney University, led by Tess de Quincey and Frank van de Ven, Rex Cramphorn Studio, University of Sydney 4-9 Nov, 2013

Image Note: Directed by Tess de Quincey, Inner Garden was a performance installation in the grounds of Callan Park, Sydney, 6-8 Feb, 2014. Drawing on the site’s history as a former psychiatric asylum, 10 performers and visual artists created works embedded in this charged environment, exploring a number of what de Quincey calls “obsessions.” Performed at dusk to the otherworldly music of Kraig Grady, Robbie Avenaim and Jim Denley, it was a rich, multilayered and magical experience.
Gail Priest

RealTime issue #119 Feb-March 2014 pg. 36

© Bryoni Trezise; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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