REVIEW: iOU Dance Solo Series (Spring Dance 2012) | The Playhouse, Sydney
You know spring is about to be sprung when dance cavorts into The Playhouse of the Sydney Opera House. Spring Dance 2012 is curated by Sydney Dance Company’s erstwhile artistic director Rafael Bonachela and is a liquorice allsorts of movement. First cab off the rank is the iOU Dance Solo Series, entitled Six Solos And A BBQ, which is, of course, all very Aussie. After all, at what other opera house around the globe might one happen upon a snag ‘n’ sauce on white bread?
iOU, by the way, is an homage to the rustic Io Myers studio on the vast campus that is the University Of New South Wales; a space, understandably, much prized by indie artists and companies as it affords them the time and freedom to research and develop new work. It’s a kind of incubator and sanctuary for such.
iOU features choreographer-performers Anton, Craig Bary, Martin Del Amo, Narelle Benjamin, Kristina Chan and Timothy Ohl. Anton initiated proceedings, with a short, sharp distillation and solo adaptation of a much larger ensemble work, Supermodern: Dance Of Distraction. In Anton’s words, this compression of the more expansive work seeks to keep the body in a state of unrest, within a confined space. Supermodern 2.1, as he’s dubbed it, certainly succeeds inasmuch, being a ‘highly-structured improvisation’ characterised by a violent, if restrained, epileptic energy. The confined space has been cleverly defined by overhead lighting, which sharply defines a small area of activity in the centre of the stage. Indeed, this was one of lighting designer, Benjamin Cistern’s more inspired ideas across the half-dozen solos. Anton jerks, twitches, quivers, quakes and palpitates in a suite of movement constructed like a symphony of perpetual anxiety. It’s an aptly accentuated representation of the state of the super modern world we live in and our response to it. It’s a cohesive conceptual piece that’s relatable and eminently easy to read.
“Sometimes modern life doesn’t let you stop,” he says. Tell me about it, Anton! Percussionist and composer Tim Constable, of Synergy fame, was commissioned to write the titular music.
Craig Bary fronted with a graceful and deeply moving work entitled Awaken Absence For Josh. It seems very personal. A fleeting initial impression was that reminded me of Astaire, since it’s a minimal piece involving only Bary and a lonely, wooden chair, which he wields as if it were a loved one and which offers support, comfort, continuity and company. Moreover, his cat-like sensuality shines through, even when the design of the movement is convulsive and imbued with a sense of unrelenting torment. Bary sits, plaintively, on his chair, as if in the lap of the departed. Next, he’s on the floor, as if writhing in profound emotional pain. “Some spaces are meant to be occupied; when empty, you can still feel the presence that should be there,” comprises, fully, his eloquent choreographic statement. The choreography is equally eloquent; bold, inventive, authentic, revelatory, self-administered open heart surgery.
Indie ambient outfit Helios’ chill out track, Velius, distinguished by round, chiming sounds, deep bass and chunky percussion makes for a very arresting soundtrack, along with a commissioned composition from hip electronic artist, Eden Mulholland.
Martin Del Amo’s 2 Sides 2 It was divided into two parts; part one, supposedly, “explores the physical impact of sensory overstimulation”. I’m not sure this was evident in the actual movement, which was subtle, minimal, curvaceous, but somewhat concealed by inappropriate costume. Had Del Amo been, say, shirtless, it might’ve evoked more empathy for a more-or-less universal facet of the human experience, by way of the vulnerability of exposure; as a metaphor for the nakedness of the human spirit, if you will, when worldly distractions have been stripped away. It would’ve been appropriate and enhancing for the suppleness of his motion to be visible in his musculature.
Part two has much more clarity and an affectionate wit. It’s a tribute and parody, at once, of the Fosse vocabulary. The voguing, posing and posturing has so permeated popular culture (even beyond dance, especially to, say the catwalk) it will be not only recognisable but familiar, even to those not well-versed in dance or Fosse in particular. Del Amo veritabley becomes a woman, in a ubiquitous, figure-hugging little black dress, even if the ‘preamble’ to the piece could be a man in stubbies and singlet prowling ’round the stage. Music is by one of the country’s most interesting and engaged sound artists, Gail Priest, a longtime collaborator of Del Amo’s.
Narelle Benjamin’s work Nobody was hampered by inexcusably poor lighting. Inspired by the Hindu goddess, Kali, Indian dancer, Anandivalli, and martial artist, Sigung Bennet, the piece, as the name implies, is intended to emphasise transcendence of the spirit, as against the short-term library loan that is the body. Again, I’m not entirely sure this is communicated but one thing’s almost a dead cert, Ms Benjamin hasn’t been missing any yoga, pilates or plyometrics practice. She is the very embodiment of the India rubber woman, bending, stretching, flexing and contorting her body as easily as a pipe-cleaner. This is an elegant (and ironic) showcase of what a body can do; especially one, perhaps, suffused by a strong spirit.
The shapes she creates are surprising, superhuman (you might almost say supernatural) and quite wonderful. It is a slow evocation that retards time to suit its purpose. Her Northern Kung Fu Sword Form interpolations drive home the idea of the body as just another temporary, recyclable container. In the end, she runs herself through and there’s both beauty and poignancy in her demise, inasmuch as it points, sharply, to something greater than our narcissistic, twenty-first century selves.
Kristina Chan’s Lost And Found was also compromised by a lack of imagination and application in lighting. At times, it’s hard to see what she’s doing at all (and I’m not talking about the blackouts). Frankly, much as I wanted to engage with, relate to and immerse myself in the work, I found it so inscrutable as to have the opposite effect. Chan is clearly capable of great things: it’s evident in the way her body works; but this, for mine, isn’t one of them. What’s supposed to be ‘a physical exploration of the endless journey to find and understand our place in the world’ is a nebulous, indistinct, open-ended self-indulgence. (I mean, what’s with the binocular staring, for example?) It’s not that it lacks sensuousness, it’s that it needs greater definition and direction. Experimental electronic music by William ‘Bilwa’ Costa is a highlight, however.
The piece de resistance and overwhelming audience favourite was Timothy Ohl’s Jack. It’s a ‘meditation’ on the nature of competition and the desperation involved in catapulting oneself from the battleground to celebrity. Ohl may well be the world’s first, last and only dance comedian. He employs props, costume, voice and character acting as well as a spectacular and hilarious pastiche of street and popular dance of the last several decades. It was arguably a little overlong, which afforded room for some flatspots and downtime but, overall, was utterly scintillating and Ohl is a brilliantly versatile technician as well as incredibly clever choreographer, given the seamless way in which he segues from one style to another. Hot Chip’s Ready For The Floor, Tugboat’s 8-Bit Hip Hop Medley and Bobby Caldwell’s What You Won’t Do For Love (DZ Remix), in the context applied, only but bolster the satire.
To top it all off, the sissies weren’t bad, either.
The details: Spring Dance 2012 runs various programs at The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House until October 2. Tickets on the venue website.