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Obsession, creation & re-invention

Cleo Mees: Muscle Mouth

Muscle Mouth Muscle Mouth
photo courtesy Liveworks, Performance Space
As great a shame as it is that the performances by New Zealand company Muscle Mouth for Liveworks had to be cancelled due to an injury, it is somehow fitting that a work which explores creative process so intently should be represented in another format where process is exposed. We join dancer and company director Ross McCormack and producer Melanie Hamilton for an open conversation about the processes and intentions that formed the work, and see two excerpts from Triumphs And Other Alternatives performed by dancers Emily Adams and James Vu Anh Pham.

Hamilton describes Triumphs as an exploration of the obsessiveness of creative practice and the creative drive to perfect it. It grew out of a residency in Wellington when the then team of four piled a load of plaster, plastic and other materials into a space. McCormack spent the better part of a day “mumbling and building” in the midst of it; fumbling, aiming to create nothing in particular, but aiming to be obsessive.

A muscular knot of bodies stretches on a table in a rubble-strewn workshop space. A lump of clay with two heads that is pulled apart, pressed together, reconfigured in different ways. Discoveries are made: a hand happens upon a neck and investigates—analogous to that moment of discovery in art-making when working persistently with a material reveals an unforeseen possibility, or an answer to a question.

There is the strong sense, most of the time, that the bodies are being moved from outside. Limbs are resistant but pliable. When the knot comes apart, Adams plods with a thick, muddy materiality, while Vu Anh Pham spills and rolls across the floor with a continuousness that suggests rubber or water—as if you might have to keep gathering his mass back together with both arms to keep it from running in all directions.

But these bodies are not just material. Both dancers slide back and forth on a continuum as if moved by some external force, and energised from within. The subject/object question plays itself out on their faces, too, in expressions that loop rapidly through almost caricatured extremes. The sharp intake of Adams’ breath can sometimes be heard over the deeply reverberating soundscape. All this points to the elusive subjectivity inside ‘matter’ and raises questions about the implications of creative practice for ‘inanimate’ materials. What might these materials be experiencing under the force of human hands and human consciousness?

McCormack and Hamilton talk about their desire to foster ambiguity in this work, which lends itself so well to metaphor. One strategy for doing so has been to expand their usual cast of one dancing body to three. Interestingly, in this performance lecture, the three danced parts have been compressed into two: the original piece has been reconfigured to show something of the “essence,” said Hamilton, of the full work, including those parts that the injured McCormack could not perform. This last-minute rearrangement perhaps pulls the work into even deeper ambiguity. It also beautifully reflects the work’s theme of constant revision in creative practice. Unable to perform Triumphs and Other Alternatives, Muscle Mouth reinvented it.

Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art, Talk, Muscle Mouth, Triumphs and Other Alternatives, Carriageworks, Sydney, 30 Oct

RealTime issue #130 Dec-Jan 2016 pg. 19

© Cleo Mees; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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