Long Grass @ Dance Massive

Image: Lucy Parakhina

It could all go pear shaped.

It’s Sunday and I’m excited. I haven’t enjoyed enough sleep but I’m prepared to set the scene, by inserting hundreds of individual blades of woven grass into large chunks of polystyrene. This is my way of preparing the dance ground, creating a surreal environment for my performers to inhabit.

I pinch myself every time I walk over the rustic, uneven cobbled floor of the Dancehouse Meat Market. Ah, the perfect venue to showcase this work: intimate and with just the right ambience.

It’s late Thursday night and I’m lying in my bed. The bed in the serviced apartment I am currently sharing with my mother. My mother who is currently snoring louder than the dodgy clothes dryer which is accompanied by the sweet sound of gurgling pipes (insert sarcasm here)!

But I digress.

It’s Friday and I am recuperating after a day and night of choreographic hell. One of my dancers fractured his toe on a set piece. A set piece made from whimsy. From intricately woven glow-in-the-dark drinking straws, fastened to the floor with a generous amount of electrical tape. Maybe not generous enough.

Dance Massive is in full swing and we looked like we had come to a standstill. I took a gamble on a linear narrative (eschewing the tried and tested non-linear) conceptually-driven creative end-product, for five characters, who play out their fates on stage.

Their fates are interwoven. The plot: a fragile construct. So when we literally found ourselves with a man down, my precariously floating ego was sent permanently adrift.

It’s Tuesday, the weekend after we packed up, and how did it all end? Surprisingly well, the dancers rallied remarkably, each covering for their limping compadre, both physically and characteristically. Caleena Sansbury in particular went from progressively ailing supporting actress of sorts, to dying dynamo, able to take on muscle-bound bruiser Darren Edward’s character, while her shame-faced stage defacto sat head-in-hands on the side lines.

An intriguing plot unfolded before me, something I’d never have dreamt possible. The substitution of gender roles, hastily re-allocated in a time of crisis, heightened the already confronting politics. What began as a disaster of epic proportions became a more potent indictment on social inequality in the Top End (NT).  Maybe too powerful.

I am reminded of an anecdote that Gavin Weber, of the then Splinter Group and DanceNorth, shared at a World Dance Alliance in Brisbane, a few years back. He spoke of injuring himself (sadly I forget which body part), which reduced him to running in one circular direction, backwards. He recalls returning to the original choreography only to revert to the modifications upon recovery, as the injured end- result was infinitely more compelling to watch.

I thought my well-loved characters’ trajectories were set in stone. When one got injured, the plot seemed hopeless in life and on stage. How wrong I was.

While I never again want to experience this show is on, and then it’s off, no back on, but could go wrong again sequence, it’s good to know for sure that there are always options.

P.S. The dancer in question is on the mend and must be commended for coming to his fellow performers’ aid by passing on his role and cheering them on when he  keenly felt every move as they were executed by others.

– by Vicki Van Hout