Thursday, May 19, 2011


The Peacock Theatre
April 14-16
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg

Four dancers, four emerging choreographers, four points of the compass. The bafflingly-named Artery offers us four commissioned works shaped by direction: Adam Wheeler’s ‘North’, Solon Ulbrich’s ‘South’, Trisha Dunn’s ‘East’ and Alice Lee Holland’s ‘West’. Artery also incorporates a screening of Anna Smith’s dance video Momentary, an elegant though constricted portrait of age, youth, stillness, energy, eucalypts, and bodies which somehow reminds us how undemocratic it feels to be the audience of dance on film rather than dance on stage. 

The four live works are very different to each other, the first two closely woven around the four dancers (Sofie Burgoyne, Trisha Dunn, Sarah Fiddaman and Malcolm McMillan) and the second two much less personal in their narratives.

In ‘North’ we are literally introduced to each dancer as Wheeler creates a work which both textually and physically integrates the stories of each performer. Spoken word sections are amusing though somewhat awkward and bland in cadence, presenting an odd contrast with the mundane, honest, and funny biographies each dancer narrates about their own career. The concrete, text-driven sections lead into a more abstract quartet of bodies spinning and melting (though not always peacefully) into each other, concluding with a sense that the dancers’ subjective identities are absorbed into the ensemble of their work.

‘South’ carries on the threads of humour and ridiculousness, as the dancers make a perplexing progression from overclothed and rhythmically connected humans through gibberish-jamming voiceboxes to strange bird-people who disrobe into bathers, in a gawky and exacting echo of a highschool change room. ‘South’ is reliant on improvisation within a framework, again directing focus to the dancers themselves, and their relationships. Entertaining yet odd, the piece left me wondering what it was all about.

In Dunn’s ‘East’, there’s a stillness and gravity contrasting beautifully with ‘North’ and ‘South’. A strong coherence holds the three dancers together (Dunn’s role is solely as choreographer here); this is built out of the simple but strong costumes, the focus and tone of the movement, and the carefully woven soundtrack. The three bodies feel like parts of an organism, almost unaware of each other but always coexisting as harmonious parts of something larger. Their meditative movements depend on each other for subsistence, and together they navigate the life of this abstract organism as it drifts through a world, ending with a distinct and inevitable expression of death and closure.

Finally, ‘West’ is full of the weight and restriction of longing and the ache of loss: the tension and pressures that seem to accompany any form of desire. The dancers are deeply engaged and grounded in this strong choreography where there is a tethering of gravity and rhythm, an unavoidable and reassuring dependence on the floor beneath them, and an aerobic connection to the moment and to each other. The program notes, which I always avoid before seeing performances, tell us this work is about sunsets and endings. I didn’t get that at all, but when I look at my own interpretation I can read intriguing intersections between my experience and the choreographer’s intent. Such intersections of intention and interpretation – their boundaries, their strengths, their fragilities – are surely the dangerous and magnificent realm of art’s potential to connect with its audience.

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