Sunday, 26th May 2013

The Australian Contribution: ‘Dual’, ‘Skeleton’, and ‘Untrained’

The final days of DDF2013 have been dominated by work from the world of Antipodean dance. Hot on the heels of Ros Warby’s astonishing ‘Monumental’, three works by three different Australian choreographers have brought their own colour to the festival programme.

Stephanie Lake’s ‘Dual’ and Larissa McGowan’s ‘Skeleton’ opened in Project Arts Centre’s Space Upstairs on Friday night, both characterised by impressive physicality and split-second timing.

‘Dual’ is based on the premise of combining two solos into a duet, playing with the idea of compromise and the process of accommodating ‘the other’. The piece opens with a rapidly-paced solo performed by Alisdair Macindoe to a pulsating electronic soundtrack.

Macindoe displays formidable control, his movement by turns fluid and robotic but always, despite the quickfire pace, balanced on a dime. What Macindoe presents is a body at the whim of a capricious gravitational force, a compelling illusion that requires a significant degree of physical facility to create.

In contrast, Sara Black’s solo in the same piece more explicitly communicates intention and focus, following the lines of composer Robin Fox’s score. The sound of rasping wires pulled taut soundtracks movements that attack the space, while a white noise soundscape recalling the seashore backgrounds a series of gentle undulations across the floor.

Not being aware of the premise of the piece beforehand is interesting, as a gradual mirroring process in both solos is remarked at first only unconsciously, before the two dancers come together to repeat their first performances, this time in tandem and with intriguing adaptations.

In this sense, ‘Dual’ is both a showcase of physically demanding movement and an illuminating  investigation into how memory processes visual patterns.

The second half of the evening’s double bill and a no less physically demanding piece, Larissa McGowan’s ‘Skeleton’ is a playful cacophony of film references for seven performers, underpinned by rapid, precise movement and sharp choreographic timing.

‘Skeleton’ examines the relationship between bodies and objects from their past. Pieces of cuboid scenery in the style of a sci-fi flick set glide back and forth across the stage, disclosing props or dancers in surprising poses. Ben Bosco Shaw’s score, a hodge-podge of snippets from iconic films such as ‘Alien’ and ‘Scream’, is set against these props (a skateboard, a bike, a high-heel), a reference to the shared and personalised set of touchstones housed in our memories.

But what is really astonishing in this work is the ruthless physicality and endurance of the dancers, who display absolute commitment to what is consistently demanding, furiously-paced movement.

On a more contemplative, investigative note, Lucy Guerin’s ‘Untrained’ is a piece for four performers that foregrounds the issue of physical aptitudes and how they are shaped by professional dance training.

Consistently witty and endearing, the work sees four men (two trained dancers, two with no performance training whatsoever) engaging in a range of activities, from isolated dance steps (pirouettes and leaps), to improvisations, personal monologues, and cat impersonations.

‘Untrained’ is interesting for its examination of the way that the information programmed into a dancer’s body during their training allows them to approach movement in a manner that is quite distinct from an untrained individual. However, the work also throws up some other, surprising issues.

One of these is voiced by dancer Ross McCormack during one of the show’s monologues, where he explains how he feels the improvised movements of the ‘untrained’ dancers are perhaps more truly improvised than his own – they are thinking less about what they’re doing.

This comment is a double-edged sword as McCormack, wry throughout the performance, is of course poking fun at the untrained dancers’ more limited physical capacity. But it is also clear that he sees an element of truth in this: these ‘untrained’ men have not been programmed into any standardised usage of their bodies and so are, in a sense, more free to explore completely original movement.

It is surprising insights such as this, along with the wit and charm of its performers, that make Guerin’s piece both a valuable investigation into what makes a dancer a dancer, and a delight to watch.

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