High Stakes More Than Entertainment

I have to be honest, this was a difficult blog to write as the works I’ve witnessed this week were so deeply personal and present for the creators extending beyond the realm of ‘entertainment’.

So, let me cut to the chase.

Karul Projects, in tandem with their producers Blakdance, were commissioned by the Sydney Opera House to present Silence as part of their annual Unwrapped season. I have seen it numerous times and in a few different incarnations. After two years of touring it is a tight show. Oh yeah, and I had involvement as choreographic dramaturg.

‘What the hell is a choreographic dramaturg?’ you might ask. Well a dramaturg is someone a director engages to bounce ideas off and to generally help clarify what it is they want to communicate, whether that be a mood, a concept and/or a particular aesthetic. Think dog’s body, or someone in lieu of friends and family members, who you trust to tell you like it is. Yep, the dramaturg is trucked out as a sounding board when the sounding board you have isn’t quite cutting the mustard, so to speak, maybe isn’t considered qualified to address possible concerns you (as director) has with your production.

So, when somebody pronounces a show is in need of dramaturgical tightening, it generally indicates that there is a disjunct between the audience and underlying premise the creator was aiming to convey.

The role of the dramaturg can be tricky because the dramaturg is NOT the director. That means a dramaturg may make suggestions which may not be implemented by the director. Funnily enough this is also good or useful because in suggesting something the director doesn’t care for, the director is inadvertently clarifying the direction in which they do want to go. So the dramaturg is not responsible for the overall dramaturgy of a work but has a definite hand in it. Sounds pretty convoluted but there you go.

Back to Silence. The genius of this work is that this work is timely. As the title refers to the lack of Indigenous visibility in politics and towards our right for self determination to address the disparity in access to education, health care and life expectancy. It was timely before the failed referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament and it continues to be so in order to maintain the discourse surrounding the issue of the gap between the living conditions of the Indigenous community and the national average.

So I could talk about the aesthetics of the movement language which utilised several Aboriginal gestures and locomotors such as double stomps and emu hand motifs, as well as Western markers of dance virtuosity in the deep pliés in second position and the various transitions into and out of the floor, or the use of text, which addresses the lack of representation in positions of governance employed with equal measures of humour and disturbing candour, but as long as the overall message was clearly conveyed creators Thomas E.S.Kelly and Taree Sansbury, along with their cast, have successfully done their job.

Now to the second show I witnessed as part of FORM Dance Projects commissioning program titled None of Us by Australian born choreographer of Palestinian parentage, Mathew Mizyed, director of DUTI Dance Company and studios operating in Newtown, in our city of Sydney’s Inner West. However I must clarify Mizyed is a Western Sydney man at heart, growing up in Bossley Park.

In comparison to Silence, the thematic instigation for Mizyed’s None of Us is still very much in the national and international news cycle. In Mizyed’s words his work, “Questions the concept of ownership, identity and connection to place.” Upon reflection of his first visit to his ancestral homelands the following provocation was formed, “The expansiveness of this desert land made me question who had walked here before. There were people here before us and ‘None of Us’ were the first…”

Upon experiencing this work I felt as if I were many of the uninitiated to Blackfella dance expression, meaning, I did not possess the adequate literacy to be able to discern whether or not their were aesthetic markers of specificity pertaining to Palestinian culture alluded to in what was a very tightly composed work, which the performers executed well. The penny dropped upon reading the program afterwards, I discovered that Mizyed and his cast have had extensive experience in the commercial dance sector which utilises the platforms of music video and live music performance where tight composition in short consecutive sequences is a must. In this respect these guys are at the top of their game.

I saw elements of release in the upper torso from both the soloist Georgette (Sofatzis) Xuereb and from the trio Chantelle Landayan, Andii Huynh and Rachell Dade expressed through the drape of their costumes and the tassel of their extremities, especially their long loose locks. A highlight for me occurred as sand fell from the rafters and the dancers swept the floor with their seated bodies. There was a temporal stretching achieved through the repetition of their movement which was offset by Xuereb’s all-in-black standing solo whereupon she appeared like both the interloper and the ghost of times past.

For an audience to feel what Mizyed intended I hope this work gets the further development it needs, just as Silence did, for there is so much to unpack and like Kelly and Sansbury, Mizyed has hit on the Zeitgeist. Through Silence Karul Projects was able to supply another more intimate and personal perspective in relation to his Indigenous concerns. I want to be able to revisit None of Us down the track sometime and feel the degree of urgency and intimacy that Mizyed communicates so well in his director’s notes, along with his attention to detail in composition and within the virtuosic demonstration of his performers. When the stakes are so high there is much more to consider than just attracting bums on seats, one has to feel like you have passed on the baton and that the bum in question will take up action somehow.

Vicki Van Hout
FORM Dance Projects
Blogger in Residence