Friday, March 18, 2011


Helen Herbertson/Ben Cobham
Dance Massive

You’re ushered carefully into a very dark space. You are offered sake (or tea, the choice is yours) in a small white cup. You are led to a seat in the circle of chairs in the centre of the dark space (or, if you are unlucky/lucky?, further away, in a line along the raised stage). You are seated. You are a part of a boundary, a threshold, a mark against the space. You are part of what might occur.

‘In’ the circle (mostly) will be two dancers (or just one, at times), two bodies. ‘Outside’ are a single enormous theatre light on a track, an almost-unseen cellist and violinist who peripherally (mostly) inhabit the space with their sound, and quiet moving shadows which might or might not be a director/choreographer/dance-dramaturge, conducting the work.

You’re about to be sunstruck.

Except that ‘struck’ is such a violent word, and one not suited to the tender opus about to happen. There’s a little text, there’s a lot of exploration of the space inside the circle of watchers, and exploration of the flow of those curved boundaries, there are gorgeous intersections between the bodies and the string duo, there are moments of humour, moments of uncertainty, moments of deep loneliness.

This work is different for every audience – even more so than is usually true of any live performance – because the music is improvised live, and the dancers too are ‘live’. They work to a clear structure and shape, but within it they are new each time.

The work offers threshholds: between what is comfortable and what is not; what can be seen/heard/felt and what cannot; what you can understand and what you might not.

* * *

An end is nearing. A crying in the darkness, and a hushing. Somewhere far off, a bird. A little light now – but barely more than a glow, barley a blush of heat – and an exchange between the cello and the violin (low and rich, perhaps on the E string). They’re so close in sound, their difference only measured by their location in space and by their tonal quality. A sad sort of conversation, but with a certain refusal to submit. Not a goodbye, but a resigned, familiar kind of sadness at the impossibility of it all.

And still the warming light is barely an illumination.

And now a man alone in the circle. Was he the crier, or the comforter?

Eyes open, eyes closed – and barely a difference, in the loss of the small light, where all that’s left is a state filled with the taste and texture of sound.

Ending, somewhere, in a long, long stillness so complete that no-one was entirely sure where the silence lack of light came from or would ever go to...

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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