Mountain – Kristina Chan

As usual I have let the aftermath of a performance permeate my marrow and just before it becomes a faint existence in our collective consciousness I scramble to share a snippet of the experience.

Get it? A Faint Existence. Sorry I couldn’t help myself, I saw a window…

The work in question is Kristina Chan’s Mountain, the much awaited second instalment of a promised triptych of dance performances bound by themes concerning the environment. I will preface with my regret at not catching the first in the series, A Faint Existence, which will enjoy a second season at the Opera House, 10 – 13 May, 2018.

As we entered the theatre we immediately became a part of a subtle environment that Kristina had constructed through Clare Britton’s set design which enveloped the entire house. We were submerged under what we would later discover marked the facets of a geological topography, as thin pieces of wire or string were fixed taut across the space, and I instinctively ducked as I climbed the small raked seating area.

The dancers were on stage, interacting with other pieces of the string, which demarcated the space at varying accessible heights on the stage. I found myself immediately referencing Sue Healey’s Fine Line series, where lines framed the theatrical space, and Bangarra’s Unaipon where interaction with similar horizontal wiring, resembling a musical stave, was used to mark the constellations. Although in this context I felt as if I had become a complicit part in the actions about to unfold. Somehow responsible for them.

Chan’s choreographic exploration consisted of a mixture of cues ranging in subtlety. Perhaps it was because I had choreographed a short work a few years back for NAISDA Dance College that it resonated for me. This reimagining of the college’s first full-length work, alluded to an amorphous ‘time before time’ whereby all things existed as a type of interconnected primordial sludge. So here, in Mountain, I immediately saw the three bodies moving (Chan along with the Palomares sisters, Melanie and Marnie) as one entity in a constant state of geological flux. I felt time expand and millennia sprawl before me as winds which would have shaped much of an escarpment. This was followed by cataclysmic action accompanied with loud explosive sounds which prompted me to think of a meteorite impact followed by something more sinister, the repetitious crack of explosives excavating a mine site.

Chan was steadfast in the execution of her vision. In this work she has eschewed the virtuosic physicality I have usually seen her demonstrate, which has been honed through her long association with Narelle Benjamin, to use the body as an equal ingredient in the final product along with the other technical aspects of lighting and set design. This more holistic approach is indicative of her working relationship with both Martin del Amo and Victoria Hunt (who is dramaturg on this project) and their respective BodyWeather histories/practices.

This affinity with the practice of BodyWeather reminded me of another of Tess de Quincey’s proteges, Linda Luke, and her choreography Some Other Body. This was performed by Angela French at the Conservatorium of Music as part of a series titled Dance Meets Music, curated by Kay Armstrong in the opening part of this decade. In it, French slowly crawled down a ramp, laden with three stones precariously perched atop her back, lit by a single torch. I remember the ingenuity employed in this almost consummate example of BodyWeather performance, to create a vision of travelling long distances as the torchlight hit the railing, casting a shadow to conjure a highway or a property fence. I remember the care Angela took to maintain all of the rocks in her possession and the immanent feeling of precarious fragility as I sat on the edge of my seat and willed her to plough on.

In this respect Kristina Chan’s work is important both to dispel the notion that Sydney is comprised of a disparate community of dance practitioners, and as a testament to Chan’s versatility as an artist. I will definitely mark the date on my dance card to see the remount of A Faint Existence and the final instalment in this series. I am eager to witness the ongoing evolution of the integration of BodyWeather principles in Chan’s future works.

Vicki Van Hout

A Faint Existence
Sydney Opera House
10 – 13 May, 2018