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Dancers are Space Eaters

The art of articulation

Josephine Wilson

In order to appear on this page, a body moving quietly in the space of a black box must accede to translation. Watching Lucy Guerin’s Melt on the final night of Dancers are Space Eaters I found myself flipping through my head in search of inky simulacra the movement of bodies in space.

I settled on the noun ‘articulation.’ The ‘Articulata’ were Cuvier’s third great sub-kingdom of animals, embracing invertebrate animals with an external skeleton and having their limbs composed of segments jointed together—insects, crustacea. Here, I thought, was a word that would do the job nicely, itself articulated, registering the indivisibility of things, jointed between the real body and the organ of speech, the tongue. Articulation seemed to resonate simultaneously and without prejudice or precedence across words and movement.

I congratulated myself before I was lost in the extremities of Melt. Kirstie McCracken and Stephanie Lake quivered and shook. The tiny bones in their fingers contracted and extended. Thin white lines of light tracked across their bodies, like cracks in ice. Joints collapsed at the slightest touch. As the performers folded into each other, I was struck by the achievement of this piece at every level—lighting, sound score, graphic design. Afterwards, I read that Guerin had been interested in making a translation between temperature and movement. What a perfect articulation of a creative impulse, I thought. After all, it is in the extremities and the joints that heat and cold register, where a state finds its physical equivalence. A moment of legibility.

There is another sense to my word, which drives it in the opposite direction. “To articulate” is also to cauterise and compartmentalise, as in “to divide vocal sounds into distinct and significant parts.” So, is dance a jointed thing, a spine of relationships, or a series of incommensurate parts?

Against this isolationist stance, Dancers Are Space Eaters is an event that thrills in its capacity to extend the space of dance and give form to the interrelationship of contemporary impulses. Who would have thought that ballet—that Freudian field of attraction and repulsion for so many performers—should demonstrate the flexion that we associate with the contemporary? I am thinking here of Holly Croft’s compelling Frag, rather than Emiliana Lione’s more predictable Did it Happen? In Frag, 5 women, resident dancers from the West Australian Ballet, parade their pale uniform of leotardian (Lyotardian?) conformity with post-human precision.

Ballet finds it difficult to forgo its edges and ends—its neat corners. Even when punched in the gut it cannot forget its toes, its hands. I love it when ballet abandons the finishing school and takes a few punches.

Sometimes video and lighting design can do for the sweaty, dirty, contemporary body what ballet does for the hands and feet: deliver clean lines, sharp planes. In Swallow, Sue Peacock moves with asymmetrical precision, captured within a horizontal grid of blue and white light that makes us all voyeurs. There is a kind of resolute intentionality in Swallow; however abstract and foreign the tongue, it knows what it is saying. This is not to confuse articulation with the literal; simply, there was no rush for the program notes to supplement the gaps in the performance.

I suppose dance is a bit like crochet: holes are fine as long as they’re meant to be there.

Cazerine Barry’s Sprung is a different kind of articulation. A recognisable narrative (the end of the Oz dream of home ownership) is broken down into discrete elements (mortgage/banks/renovation) and extrapolated in an innovative 3-dimensional graphical space. Barry demonstrates the potential of an emerging juncture—that of solo performer and sophisticated digital artist. Her fine and funny story is replete with cars and suburbs and the Death of the Kangaroo. And yet, in embracing thematic, story and content—the ‘legible’—the artist goes for the too easily read. Dare I mention the comic book? Complexity and reference are sometimes threatened by 1950s visual data that is so easily reducible to kitsch. Why sacrifice contemporaneity for style? Despite these reservations, Barry’s is an original and accomplished voice—we all want to see where she goes next.

‘What is and is not meant to be?’ was the question on everybody’s lips after Molly Tipping’s work. Tipping opened the Platform Performances on the final evening of Week 2 of Dancers Are Space Eaters. The evening is designed to offer young and emerging choreographers and performers the opportunity to find a broader audience and refocus work developed through the earlier STRUT studio showings. I’d seen a version of molly and the light at one such showing, and what had been lo-tech was now definitely plugged-in. Edging away from dance, and firmly framing itself as performance, what had passed as charm and unmediated simplicity in Tipping’s earlier work stopped working for me. Despite a strong lighting concept (fluorescents head to tail across the floor, spinning bulb on white wire) she lost me in a disjointed narrative that touched on loss and European travel and woundings, but added up to confusion. As she wandered around on all fours with her head hidden beneath her up-ended dress (have I lost you?) I wondered about the vulnerability of the female body. What was she saying? When rape was mentioned I wondered too about the limits of this particular articulation. Neither dance nor spoken text was up to the task.

The dynamic Aimee Smith’s solo, the-state-of-in-between, plays in the space between the leaden gravity of the unconscious body-in-sleep and the elevated intentionality of the waking. A perfectly articulated concept was strongly mapped upon the body. Smith returned to dance with choreographer Jessyka Watson-Galbraith in Kind of Entwined, another strong piece that showed its movement research origins in an exploration of lines, planes, and geometric tracings.

Finally, the girls got together in Roxanne Carless’ Feelin’ Good. The choreographer shows strong affinities with dance theatre in her femme take on the bordello and the strip club. This playful up-ending of the gendered spaces of performance left me smiling.

Space Eaters began with Raimund Hoghe. In articulating his imperfect body to an audience expecting virtuosity and perfection, he reminded the audience that every body is worthy. It’s the sort of thing we mouth off but rarely take on. I am still shocked at his devastating challenge to contemporary dance.

To get over the perfect body. How hard it is.

I think of Rosalind Crisp’s Raft. She wears ordinary clothes—the sorts of clothes you don in the studio. But her body is not ordinary; it is wiry and expressive, marked by years of disciplined practice. Raft takes time. A mode of coming to the body is first demonstrated in slow, ever so slightly comic articulations of hands, feet, legs. Gesture and rhythm rehearse and repeat across the body, building to a final, short kind of expansive release. The artifice and exhibitionism implicit in so much dance is replaced with a kind of intense anatomy of internal space, the body becoming the raft across more profoundly intangible explorations.

Dancers are Space Eaters, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Oct 29-Nov 15

RealTime issue #58 Dec-Jan 2003 pg. 30-

© Josephine Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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