Momenta and Weredingo

According to the Oxford online dictionary momenta is the plural of momentum and therefore belongs firmly in the scientific realm of physics, whereby momentum is described as “the quantity of motion of a moving body, measured as a product of its mass and velocity.” More specifically it is “the impetus gained by a moving object.”

No truer title has been assigned to a work by Rafael Bonachela. I would argue that there has been a suite of works by Bonachela that could alternatively be titled Momenta. That his latest full-length work is so titled feels long overdue.

Bonachela is a master of composition of the spatial and rhythmic arrangement of bodies on stage, and that his world premiere presented at the Roslyn Packer Theatre just across the road has garnered uniform praise for this aspect, confirms my assertion. The performance opens with the curtain rising to reveal bodies moving en masse uniformly in gesture and at a temperate speed. As the show unfolds the bodies steadily accelerate and individual enchantments emerge like whizzers, the volatile spiralling fireworks bought from a corner store of yesteryear, when such purchases were both legal and lethal.

The athleticism on display here was mind boggling. As a dancer myself, an albeit aging one, there is a part of me that secretly judges a work against the changing parameters of my physical ability and in this work I could say that I was right there with them in the opening gambit, I even recognised some of the well trodden movement pathways and my body responded accordingly, until I was placed firmly in my seat as the dancers physicality shot off into a physical trajectory of which my body simply refused to empathize and I, like many an avid dance performance punter, became a passive consumer.

However, this is not a negative indictment of the work, merely a sobering observation of the disparity between the action on stage and the physical reality of the majority in occupation of the seating bank.

While watching the action on stage my thoughts moved from Martha Graham, to which I attributed some of the Modernist style floor sequencing, to Merce Cunningham who pioneered a Modernist movement for movement’s sake movement. Whereas Cunningham was famed for embedding his choreographies with games of chance whereby no two performances were exactly the same, or his integration of computer generated scores to push the boundaries of the body’s capabilities I wondered if there were similar ground breaking methodologies at play in order to produce the impressive physical spectacle on display in Momenta. My mind also briefly wandered to British neoclassical choreographer Wayne McGregor’s Entity which I saw as part of the 2011 Sydney Festival season in the same theatre. Entity opened and closed with a video of the famed nineteenth-century British-American photographer and pioneer of the physics of animal locution, Eadweard Muybridge’s greyhound series. I remember feeling a mixture of revulsion, awe and fascination at the extreme hyperextension of the torso and limbs on display amongst that similarly themed work and wondered what impact Momenta might make on the future of dance and dance making, and/or if that was a consideration of Bonachela’s.

A favourite moment in this work occurred way past the midpoint of the performance when the dancers appeared under a low level amber light where the sole set piece, a suspended circular lighting bank, was placed slightly upstage stage right. Within that lighting state, as busy bodies vied for luminescence, a Bruegel-esque pen and ink on brown paper vignette emerged. For this scene alone Damien Cooper’s lighting design has to be commended.

I am always heartened when the annual season of New Breed comes along as the costume design becomes playful and imaginative, however in this production I was a tad disappointed with the costuming which didn’t veer too far from the well trodden dance-meets-underwear Sydney Dance Company signature styling.

From Sydney Dance Company I move to Minjungbal-Yugambeh, Wiradjuri and Ni-Vanuatu Thomas E S Kelly’s Weredingo, of which I was a cast member, performing as part of the Pasifika Dance Festival in Aotearoa.

Weredingo is a dance theatre product designed as a meditation tool, a provocation of social and cultural politics. Within a world containing people with the ability to shape shift from human to animal form I play an imposter, an ambitious yet misguided non-shifter with an eye on a position of leadership. Like Thomas E S Kelly’s preceding works, Weredingo is located firmly within his Australian Indigenous cultural paradigm.

This work is important within this blog as the inclusion speaks to the breadth and diversity of works on offer in Australia. A work like Bonachela’s Momenta can be more fully appreciated when compared to Kelly’s Weredingo which inversely requires audience participation, and by asking the audience to engage in discourse surrounding governance of minorities, more specifically of a right to self-determination.

Whereas Bonachela’s Momenta affords the audience the freedom to interpret, to free associate in relation to the movement, Kelly’s Weredingo takes you on a specific journey through narrative form. Set in an anonymous support group, Weredingo immediately alerts us to the premise of something broken and in need of attention. Within the pre-show preamble my character Frankie meets with each audience member asking them to reveal their true animal selves. This tactic is clever in that the audience member in question participates in a relaxed setting, is intimately invested but not ‘on show’.

The movement language employed in Weredingo featuring crouched torsos, foot stomping punctuated locomotives and claw like fingers is as highly nuanced, also requiring a highly trained body to execute the sequences as Bonachela’s Momenta. However, unlike Bonachela’s Momenta, the dance language in Weredingo can appear pedestrian and is therefore more readily tied to its ‘traditional’ or folk roots than Bonachela’s neoclassic form which upon initial appraisal doesn’t appear to have much in common with the dances of the European courtesan from which his dance lineage hails.

Kelly’s Weredingo proved to be a rewarding challenge for me in that it was my acting abilities that were called upon, as opposed to my dancing prowess, which played second fiddle in this instance (and increasingly so in the works of others), causing me alternate pangs of jealousy and hope that maybe I don’t have to think about closing the door on an already ridiculously long career. Playing a character that is a euphemism for the ongoing impact of colonial settlement, I was also inadvertently forced to ponder how to navigate ideological differences which was, although at times excruciating, all the more rewarding as it ultimately means that Weredingo plays an important role in the perpetuity of an Australian Indigenous cultural legacy in all its possible guises.

Both Rafael Bonachela’s Momenta and Thomas E S Kelly’s Weredingo serve as embodied artefacts chronicling the times we inhabit. For Bonachela it is the pace at which we conduct our daily lives, the amount of information that we consume and ingest and the rate at which the variables change for us to exist. For Kelly, his imperative remains in the right to cultural identity, of difference and divergence and for visibility and recognition.

Vicki Van Hout
FORM Dance Projects
Blogger in Residence