Friday, March 18, 2011

Music for Imagined Dances

Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey
Dance Massive

I love the idea behind this work. I love it so much I can barely express it. I’m obsessed with its poetry and its possibility.

There’s nothing cryptic about the title: Flynn and Humphrey fill an empty room with soundscape and lights, and invite you to people it with your own imagined dancers. This invitation is, for me, so overflowing with potential that I almost couldn’t breathe when I first sat down on the long, low, white bench in the white room.

But the execution of this idea is so poor that I left the experience feeling furious with disappointment.

To begin, the space is unfortunately nowhere near soundproof, and while we were there, a nearby electric guitar distracted us from the quieter moments in the soundscape, and even some of the louder ones. One of those ‘louder ones’ was an extended sequence beginning seconds into the work, consisting of a piece so distorted (principally with an effect like speakers blowing out) that it quickly became unlistenable, unpleasant, and therefore extremely distancing. I’m fairly sure this wasn’t the artists’ hope for our reaction, and the estrangement eclipsed any connection that the rest of the experience might have offered.

Soon, coloured lights shone through what had first appeared to be a solid wall, but was now revealed to be lacklustre, pierced chipboard. The large square lights slowly cycled through red, orange, green, blue, and after their first surprise appearance, added absolutely nothing to the experience. Rather they were so irritating and bland that I felt the need to close my eyes for the remaining 25-odd minutes.

I wondered why the work was presented in this way – why not, for example, set the piece in a theatre or a studio, with more evocative lighting, filling the space with shadows and uncertainty, into which we might inject our own imagined dancers, or even be tricked by the space and the familiar theatrical convention into thinking they were really there?

To be fair, there were moments when the small, still space, and the carefully chosen musical extracts in the soundtrack helped me conjure some really beautiful imagined dances, and I enjoyed these moments immensely, revelling in simultaneous wonder about what kinds of performances the four other people in the room might have been ‘seeing’.

But the enduring feeling from this work is one of regret, that the beautiful potential of this concept remained almost entirely unrealised.

Anica Boulanger-Mashberg
Attendance at Dance Massive (Melbourne) was made possible through the arts@work Critical Acclaim program. Critical Acclaim is an arts@work (Arts Tasmania) professional development program aimed at increasing the breadth of critical discourse and discussion in both the arts industry and the public arena.

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