Old Space, New Habits

So, another month of promises made and broken. Due to study commitments most of March Dance danced right by me, while letters forming a variety of polysyllabic jargon about dance danced on a brightly lit screen in increasingly close and somewhat disturbing proximity. PhD bah humbug. Who needs eyes anyway. Luckily though, I did manage to catch a couple of gigs, the first of which I was involved in (yet again), the second not as such.

If people know one thing, they certainly know this of me – I do not know how to say no. It is a curse passed down to me from other more experienced people in the business of show business. Alas, while I think they have moved on from this sentiment born from a superstitious notion of employment scarcity in the art world, sadly I have not. For I am renowned as the last minute, go-to girl. I was given some sage advice the other day regarding my reputation for easy capitulation. “And what was that?” I can almost hear you say with bated breath. My erstwhile mentor in this situation just advised me to state that I was unavailable, and nothing more. And nothing more! No qualifying and excusing of myself and my predicament? No.

I will tell you how that went.

So, as a somewhat newly minted member of the artistic directorate at PACT theatre I was asked to contribute, to perform as part of the grand re-opening. Not that it really closed but its opening got a new face. I mean its face got a new lift. No not a mechanical contraption to take us up to the tight confines of the balconies. A paint job. Yes, PACT has had some cosmetic surgery and they look absolutely fabulous and they deserved a party to celebrate.

As part of the celebration (after a bit of arm twisting to protest about my ailing commitment to my studies) I agreed to wax lyrical about how they have supported me in a myriad of ways since my early foray as a debutante on the contemporary dance circuit and how, after all these years, we have come to an understanding, a kind of sure-footed ease with one another.

Right about now, I assume you are lost and wondering what the hell I am on, or on about. In the planning of the shindig in question, after the organisation of the welcome to country ceremony was sorted, I spun a yarn about how inanimate objects in Aboriginal culture are assigned kin terms, just as people are. This means not only am I related to my mother and my cousin-sister, but in Aboriginal terms, I am also in a relationship with the trees and the stars. At this point in the meeting about how we were to celebrate PACT’s new up-do I spoke about my relationship to PACT, the theatre, in this context.

Was PACT my sister/ brother, my cousin-uncle or my mother according to Aboriginal kin? I mean they accommodated the second season of my second show. They witnessed my teaching and subsequent mentoring of new up-rising and emerging artistic talent. They kept me company over the Christmas New Year break that one time I made the long grass for Long Grass, my first Sydney Festival gig as director/ choreographer/ set designer and general dogsbody on my own show. They never left when times got tough and I rubbed my people up the wrong way. They kept my secrets. They kept what went on behind closed doors, behind closed doors. They also opened their doors to all my friends… and a few stragglers. They didn’t discriminate between the riff raff and the well to do like others do. Just the other day when the directorate was having a meeting they saved me a seat at their table.

No, I didn’t end up waxing lyrical then like I just did now, instead I danced a big thankyou to the building who, despite their uneven flooring, have kept me afloat as the last port in an artistic storm. I let my body do the talking because if anybody was going to understand what my body expressed it was them there in that nook next to the railway line in Erskineville. So, get along to PACT when you can and compliment them on their new look, if nothing else, they sure are festive.

In the interim between writing and sending this blog off to be published a dear friend and mentor of mine shared a quote from Winston Churchill in which he stated, “They shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” on October the 28th in 1943 as part of a speech to Parliament as part of the discussion to rebuild the House of Commons after it was bombed.

The second event I caught during my neverending academic duress was FORM’s first official Dance Bites event with resident WE ARE HERE Company’s new production Radical Transparency. As usual, I temporarily misplaced the program, but in the process found a website which explained that Radical Transparency was a strategy to encourage openness and decentralise power structures by disseminating previously undisclosed information.

So, what I initially assumed was a show about being back in the theatre, in the world after an overly long hiatus that was and still is, suffering the after effects of Covid, was not about that at all. I mean the act of bodies touching other bodies without masks on is radical enough right!?! But no, this show was literally about the underpants of making a show. The meta of the theatre.

In this respect the busily mix ‘n’ matched augmented costumes alongside choreographic direction which held within it much repetition, in replication, across the real time and filmic realms made perfect sense. For once we were not in the process of watching a finished product but in a theatre watching a process of finding its point. In this respect the costumes are transformed from bustling curiosities into accoutrements of possibility. Likewise, the movement is apprehended as a performance in search of a context. This means that each show would ultimately promise to be a distinctly new and unique experience from the last.

I am sad I didn’t get to witness more than one iteration but applaud Emma Saunders in her adventurous venture and the cast for their energy in execution which lent the appropriate air of spontaneity needed to pull off a challenging concept.

What a surprisingly great way to kick off the month that was March.

Vicki Van Hout
FORM Blogger in Residence