Thumbnail: Justin Shoulder by Heidrun Löhr
Closer to the Action
He came to life before us as an animate creature sculpted from rubber and plastic. I immediately recognised the reference to H.R. Giger’s Alien, albeit with a humorous twist. Tentacles were crafted from earphones, the skull plugs ear buds adhered to a white mask, with the jaw sliced in two at the cheek to allow for mandible mobility. The dance featured a deliberate shaky perambulation, which grew into a robotic functionality, as the back body inflated via a mechanised engine.
Maggot, choreographed by Justin Shoulder, kicked off the second official Happy Hour event at Readymade for the year and prepared us for what was to come: an evening of ideas at the forefront, with production values reflecting a new financially frugal arts reality. I always joke about my cheap production values, usually comparing myself to Gideon Obarzaneck’s Mortal Engine, which dazzled with that hydraulic manipulated platform flooring, stating that all I can afford is a trapdoor and a piece of string. Years later though, I still prefer that piece of string. There is something very punk rock about it. I admire an ability to think big on a budget that can barely cover the cost of a tube of wood glue and a bag of paddle pop sticks.
This night, like the last/ first of the Happy Hour events, was full of big ideas. I mean what can be bigger than the future of the human population? Shoulder references his intention as ‘drawing from an historical lineage of mythical beings’ in order to ‘forge connections between queer, migrant, spiritual and intercultural experiences’.* His work managed to emphasise an all too probable imminent future, with advances in biomedical engineering coupled with a growing interest in transhumanism.(Transhumanism is the belief/theory that the human race can evolve beyond its physical limitations.)
The second of the four works presented was Ryuichi Fujimura’s How I Practice My Religion. Ryuichi’s religion dance had us in thrall, as we were already converts. Every new revelation, from his childhood discovery of the joy in choreography (despite the derisive heckling from his fellow monkey dancers), to his performed list of cumulative kinaesthetic exercises, forged over years and reaffirmed with each physical practice, had my neurons joyously firing on all pins.
I have followed Ryuichi for quite a few years, so his quiet humour did not catch me by surprise. Ryuichi has the ability to make even the most decorative sequence seem essential, coupled with information delivered in the cadence of his first language (Japanese), spoken in his second (English), and I processed the (well-trodden) information he imparted with a fresh perspective. German-born performer and choreographer Martin del Amo^ immediately sprang to mind as I watched and I searched for his face amongst the crowd. I was curious to know how he felt as the recipient of a similar anthropological gaze.
The third work, one and one and one, was described as a trio consisting of a poet and two dancers, Rhiannon Newton and Paea Leach. The description of the work is the description of what dance is and I got lost in the detail. Until I saw it. How is it that the written word fails to successfully encompass what the act of doing (and witnessing of said doing) so succinctly manages to accomplish?
At first glance I made the general assumption that these two dancers were made from the same mould, despite the fact that I have seen both perform in other people’s works and those they have devised themselves and know this is not true.
The work progressed almost seamlessly from choreographic score to score. I caught only the tone and possibly the sentiment of the poet who was mentioned in the short spoken prelude by Leach. I detected an accent and a passion in the voice but the actual content evaded me and served only as a percussive accompaniment. What emerged was a beautiful unison not in unison, a relationship as delicate as my fading eyesight. That is to say, each dancer in turn provided a frame for the other in moments of slippage. It is in these moments I appreciated the consideration of Leach, she seemed to be dancing with her ears as eyes. I know this may sound ridiculous but her outward gaze seemed secondary to an impression of an acute ability to hear everything in order to gauge her environment. In juxtaposition to Leach’s internalised rendering Newton seemed to perform a more exterior communicative role. Newton’s face was more malleable, on occasion affixed with a slight frown. Newton also demonstrated a whimsy, a playful reaction upon the discovery of a new physical pathway, reminiscent of Lizzie Thomson, whom I also sought out. Then of course I thought of Rosalind Crisp# and was told that Rhiannon was also taught by Crisp (as was Thomson).
Angela French capped off the evening with T.E.Q. She entered dragging a bag of loose sand in a cloth sling-like bag, which she inevitably swung as a pendulum to the accompaniment of the tides, before unleashing it in a circular spray. She then walked, stopped, gestured and repeated this sequence as she exited. Each time I imagined her being fashioned by the wind. I was also reminded of the work Linda Luke, the curator of the event, made on Angela as part of Dance Meets Music, a YouMove event at the conservatorium of music a few years ago. T.E.Q., like the aforementioned predecessor, was heralded a more site-specific experiential process for French.
Since attending Happy Hour, I attended to a showing of Branch Nebula’s new work in progress titled Skin at Studio 1 UNSW. I felt privileged to witness it, almost glad it was not a finished product. I saw the seed of an idea, minus the almost flashy light show it was promised and was satisfied with the leap my mind was asked to take. In lieu of a smooth transition from pitch to pitch I was treated to the impersonal clean up and technical segue provided by the technical team. Somehow the uninvolved action that punctuated each scene imbued each with a heightened and dangerous inevitability.
The Branch Nebula no frills presentation asked more of my involvement and had me wondering if this new frugal arts reality might precipitate a more vital movement. I just know that I prefer to be close to the action and in attending these two events I could only get closer if I was in it.
-Vicki Van Hout