Now Now Now was my last experience at Dance Massive, and my third brush with improvisation. My first (Rosalind Crisp’s No one will tell us...) was characterised by, and fraught with, a philosophical anxiety about understanding improvised work; the second (Shaun McLeod’s The Weight of the Thing Left its Mark) saturated in a guilty pleasure at the comforts of structural, narrative, and aesthetic certainty; this third experience is still a bit of a mystery to me.
It didn’t really get off on the right foot – on an unexpectedly hot Melbourne March evening (at least 30º), Dancehouse’s small foyer was smotheringly packed with a full-house audience who had to queue interminably to collect pre-booked tickets, then wait more than 20 minutes beyond the show’s advertised starting time before being asked to remove our shoes and enter the curtained and white-felt-lined auditorium, which was suffocatingly warm. Perhaps it isn’t fair to discuss prosaic details, but they certainly made it hard to feel generous about the show we were about to experience. And another good reason to mention it is that the more engaging sections of the show did manage to overcome such inauspicious beginnings and genuinely entertain.
I use the word ‘entertain’ quite deliberately: where Crisp’s work was physically and intellectually demanding, and McLeod’s (sometimes self-consciously) lyrical, Now Now Now is brimming with humour, ridicule, even triviality and a willingness not to take itself too seriously. And mixed in, a few sequences of more contemplative improvisation, including a rather vibrant text-based segment; isolated fragments of dialogue escape each dancer’s mouth and slowly, through seemingly erratic repetition and rearrangement, begin to form an unexpected unification, with the scene dispersing before becoming too weighty.
Like McLeod’s work, Now Now Now (despite proclaiming that it explores the question, ‘can we be in the now?’) is heavily structured and replicable. Within each new segment or improvisational game, presumably there is a degree of freedom, but often, the ‘now’ seems elusive or at least illusory.
The work is frequently indulgent, occasionally irritating (the extended blackout in such heat was almost panic-inducing; and the perplexing presence of an obscured television or monitor seemed to occupy too much of the dancers’ attention, closing them off from their audience with whom at other times they make concerted efforts to connect), and often thoroughly amusing. One sequence involves all three dancers simultaneously, frenetically, rhythmically and emphatically announcing whatever each one is seeing (‘foot! foot! foot!/audience! audience! audience!/lighting bar! lighting bar! lighting bar!’). What began as a silly cacophony became – through the performers’ commitment and senses of humour – irresistibly funny, and it occasionally still echoes in my memory as I go about my daily business... ‘blinking cursor! blinking cursor! blinking cursor!’
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.