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In-Space: conversations in movement

Anne Thompson talks to Ingrid Voorendt

Astrid Pill, Time She Stopped Astrid Pill, Time She Stopped
photo Mick Vovers
Time She Stopped is the second one-woman show directed by Adelaide choreographer Ingrid Voorendt. Astrid Pill performed the piece in January this year at Adelaide’s Space Theatre as part of the Adelaide Festival Centre’s innovative In-Space program. Naida Chinner featured in the 2002 work, Once Bitten, seen in the Mobile States program for emerging dance artists see in Perth and Sydney (see p 41).

On directing one woman works, Voorendt says, “I’ve known the performers I’ve directed as friends and...I’ve worked with [them] for quite some time. I can’t imagine entering into something like this with someone I didn’t know or didn’t have a connection with...The thing with Astrid and Naida is we are excited and curious about the same sort of things and we trust each other implicitly.”

I assumed Voorendt elicited material from each performer and then arranged it, but she views the works as “conversations” in which her own experiences, thoughts and feelings are present with those of Pill and Chinner. “I begin rehearsal by brainstorming with the performer using all sorts of questions and tasks. The beauty of working with someone like Astrid is that she will go home with a question or task and come up with performance ‘treats’ for me the next day and she is brave and imaginative about form. Astrid doesn’t censor. She allows herself to play and does the judging later. That’s a real skill. We collect texts and songs and movement ideas and end up with a thick pile of material. Then I get to arrange it. I love structuring material. I approach that in a very choreographic way. I’ve learned through various experiences about a more narrative approach but I come from a completely different place. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I guess it’s montage. A turning point in my process was a piece I made based on my sister’s writing. This was the first time I had worked with text and I began to focus on creating images rather than making sequences. ”

Voorendt loves images that appear strange but are true, and journeys that lead you to surprising places. She found her way into dance theatre instinctively; then discovered her way of working was being explored in Australia and overseas. She began dancing at 16 and soon became inspired by the Graham technique. After completing a BA in dance at Adelaide University she returned home to New Zealand and spent a year “in depression and self-doubt about her chances and her body and ability.” As a way forward she returned to South Australia and worked in Whyalla teaching dance to young people. There, she began collaborating with theatre director James Winter writing performances and experimenting with ways to “get people dancing.” To do this she had to relinquish the “teaching phrases” model of dance instruction. She invited Sally Chance, then Artistic Director of Restless Dance Company, to run workshops with people with disabilities in the community. Chance then asked Voorendt to lead workshops with the Restless dancers.

When Voorendt saw the Restless show, Sex Juggling she “absolutely lost [her] head over it...[I]t affirmed what I had hoped and wanted to believe, that you didn’t have to have the perfect dancer’s body or look or technique to be able to move people.” After seeing some of her devised work, Chance then asked Voorendt to direct the company where she says she found her niche. “I’m not interested in myself as a performer. I’m not interested in my body and my phrases. I like moving and other people might find my movement interesting but I’m much more interested in other people’s movement. [The work with] Restless was a confirmation of the way of working I had been developing in Whyalla without having a context for what I was doing. Then I went back to University and wrote a paper on collaborative processes discussing the work of Restless Dance Company, DV8, Ballet C de la B, Pina Bausch. I wrote about facilitation and directing and [it] helped...clarify what...I was doing and where I was going. I love responding to other people’s ideas. I like to pass their material through my head rather than have a piece coming only from me. I’ve always known that I didn’t want to be formulaic as a director. What keeps me on my toes is working with different people.

Time She Stopped was devised with and performed by Astrid Pill, an astounding contemporary performer. Strikingly present and equally skilled as a singer, dancer and actor, she seems able to swap medium or genre without blinking. In Time She Stopped she danced rolled up in a rug, danced with a rug, sang the rollicking blues number, Black Coffee, told stories against herself, dreamed, pondered, explained stain removal in great detail, let her hair down and danced with wild abandon in a party frock, raged against past lovers, dismembered gingerbread representations with originality and fury, exploded into speech or song or dance, pulled herself together, drank and drank red wine and sang a bittersweet, haunting song by Grieg to end. I was spellbound.

Time She Stopped also featured skilled musician Zoë Barry who has a history of interesting collaborations with dance and theatre people. Barry shadowed Pill’s performance—marooned on her own carpet square, she played cello, sat or lay lost in thought, sang snippets of songs and gave us a full rendition of the haunting ballad, 26 years. Her performance was a stripped back, skeletal version of Pill’s but her cello produced rich veins of music that underscored Pill’s emotional states and singing.

Time She Stopped is a treatise on the woman home alone at the end of an affair. Like much contemporary dance theatre in form, it features a montage of events with an associative logic: carpet stains, love stains, salt the stain, salt the wound, blot out stains, block out memories, pour, drink, break the wine glass, break with the past etc. The work is threaded with stories of one woman’s unsuccessful attempts to ‘be beige’, to ‘fit in and go unnoticed.’ Although frailty and despair are present in the central image and feelings confessed, I was struck by the sheer force and vibrancy of Pill’s performance. It reminded me of footage of Jackson Pollock’s action painting: abandoned yet focussed.

The work doesn’t add up or arrive at a point—its focus seems to be the pleasure of the ride—familiar, absurd, poignant, disturbing, astonishing. Voorendt described discovering the classic Harold and Maude and her work contains the angst of the likes of Donnie Darko and American Beauty, films that seem to capture the contemporary conundrum of ‘innocence’, meeting ‘desire for love’ meeting ‘not belonging.’ Sometimes you get closer to the way life feels through bizarre and/or startling images and stories that don’t add up. This work does just that.

Time She Stopped, performer Astrid Pill, devised and directed by Ingrid Voorendt, music Zoë Barry, lighting design Gaelle Mellis & Geoff Cobham, design Louise Dunn, lighting and production Ben Shaw, Inspace, Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Jan 17

RealTime issue #53 Feb-March 2003 pg. 40

© Anne Thompson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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