Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On Your Marks

Ten Days on the Island

By Wendy Newton

Blue.  It's the colour of the sky and of the team I'm allocated to by one of Stompin's attendants as we make our way into the Aurora Stadium for a daytime performance of On Your Marks.  I'm told that 'blue' is all I need to know.  I almost reply that I was captain of team Florey in my Grade 7 sports day competitions and we were the blue team, but I stop myself.  What possessed me to think of that after decades of growing up?

The things that stay with us.

I am surrounded by hundreds of students and wonder who my team-mates are, if we're going to have to compete in our teams, if I'm going to have to do something, or be something, instead of a passive viewer.  The set-up has already begun.  My alliances are being formed, my mind is beginning to frame the experience in terms of 'my team' and 'the other' and I am measuring myself to see if I'm up to the task. I am as much a part of the performance as the dancers that are to come.

I follow the 'coach' with my team-mates onto the oval and feel exposed and insignificant in this giant space.  Applauding dancers encourage us to run through a Stompin banner and the audience runs through like champions who have never been clapped for anything before.  So the game begins.

On Your Marks is an engaging contemporary dance fusion that utilises theatre, film and alternate spaces within the Aurora Stadium to amplify different perspectives on competition, ambition and self-image - for better or worse - and to heighten our sensitivities within the immersive experience. 

We view gladiatorial dancers from a distance as they warm-up, face each other, tumble, tussle and fight for control, with moves that mimic footballers, sprinters, gymnasts and netballers.  Jerseys are remnants of pompoms that sit across shoulders like ribboned aiguillettes used to fasten armour; their team colours are worn like war paint.  We're behind glass like tv viewers and the rivalry becomes something apart from us, distilled to a projection of our own competitive urges that we can deflect onto the sporting field for the next few minutes of viewing.

But there's a clever juxtaposition between the public and private face of competition: we move into the Stadium's change rooms and are treated to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the celebrity of sport.  Performers in their underwear dance in pairs, flimsy and vulnerable in their 'whites' as they hover in corners and glide trance-like among us.   It's an intimate and surprising moment: we might anticipate the replay of glory, of revelling in triumph and unity, but instead, we discover pain, alienation and shame.    

"Take a hard look at yourself and grow up."

"Why do you have to be so strange?"

"I never loved you."

They might be ghosts of conversations past, echoes remaining in the change rooms and in our heads as we try to convince ourselves that words don't hurt. The smell of liniment permeates the room; it settles on the benches, in the carpet, the lockers, along with the deep feelings of loss and anguish.  It's a salve for physical injuries, but not the ones that cut the deepest: the feelings of inadequacy, of failure, of not belonging.  Of not being good enough. 

The things that stay with us.

It's an extremely moving piece that brings me close to tears.

The final seven minutes of improvised dance is full of sound and fury, signifying everything.  Twenty-four dancers take to the field, but this time we are at an intimate distance and feel the threat.  A furious techno beat drives the chaotic dancing as performers are fuelled by rivalry, comparison and competition - but they struggle with themselves as much as each other.  There's no room for injuries here on the battlefield; the losses are shared, the triumphs, the euphoria. Individuality no longer counts; the uniqueness of each is lost in the homogenous drive to perform and conform and measure-up.  But what if we don't fit?  What if we're not 'good enough' for the team?  How do we find resilience in defeat when the hardest fought battle is the one with ourselves?

On Your Marks is four quarters of highly entertaining, intensely physical and deeply moving contemporary dance.  It might have only been a cleverly choreographed performance about competition and the way expectation permeates our whole lives, but it is so much more: it is an immersive and thought-provoking piece that suspends our disbelief long enough to experience something that moves us somewhere we hadn't expected.  That's the transformative nature of the arts and Stompin's unique and provocative work: to move us from the intellect into being, from the mind into the heart, where the real things live. 

The things that stay with us.

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