One is the only number

This blog is all about the solo.
One body.

In the current lights and tights performance economy where bodies add dollars, it’s a no-brainer that many of us start our careers literally using ourselves as test dummies on unsuspecting audiences. Solos are spaces to find one’s artistic identity. There’s no squabbling over what comes next and how. Unfortunately there’s also no one else to blame when things get murky or go south in a spectacularly catastrophic manner. Fortunately for the seven artists who presented over two programs the Saturday before last (inclusive of myself, a film and a score for a group also engineered by the power of one) things may have traversed into puzzling territory but we managed to make it out the other end all the same.The two events in question were Readymade’s last Happy Hour event of the year, held at Critical Path, and Form Dance Projects’ very own Common Anomalies held at Riverside Theatres.

Mercifully I will bypass my own contribution to an evening of solos and move onto the second on the bill for Readymade which was a beautiful piece of guerilla filming conducted in an empty pre-refurbished Alfred Park pool. Shallow Water by Heidren Lohr, in collaboration with composer Hans Bildstein, has a series of still shots edited as an animation of performer Martin del Amo.  He is captured executing swimming strokes and with his body poised on various inclines as if ice skating. A split-screen series of close ups of Martin – holding a chandelier atop his head as a video of a diver plunges into a deep pool to create a plume of bubbles beside him –  imbued the film with the old world charm of a bygone era.While the program describes the solitary body as futile in its aquatic setting, the musical accompaniment lent itself to a sense of surreal whimsy.

I finally got the chance to partake in Matt Cornell’s own brand of cipher where dancers bring their irrepressible grooving selves to the transient human enclosure. It was an exhilarating experience. I haven’t improvised in a group setting for so long I forgot how in-the-moment, on-the-spot, ultra-present you become. As if nothing else exists except the reading of bodies and the pushing of limits in the earnest want to build a relationship that defies long term temporality and conventional categorisation. Last time I had witnessed Cornell’s Autonomic cipher (which might’ve had another name/ incarnation) I figured the hip hop/ breaking origins still prevailed and wondered if Matt’s cipher would hold up without a hip hop majority. Yes it did. The second evening’s performance truly celebrated the individual body within its assemblage with audience members and virtuosos Kristina Chan and Anton as well as a pregnant Imogen Cranna amongst a whole slew of ‘readymade’ groovers from all walks of dance life  joining in.

After what seemed like mere seconds transitioning from ultra responsive mover for Cornell, Lucky Lartey’s Full Circle  promised to take us on a dancing journey from African tradition to hip hop America. There was one particular sequence in which Lartey repeatedly rose and fell into and from an effortless high back arch while walking on his hands and reciting a mantra, “I am proud. I’m black and I ‘m proud. We shall overcome,” whereby the effort of the action accurately exemplified an ongoing sentiment of struggle and subsequent triumph, making me suppress the urge to fist pump the air in solidarity. I kid you not.
After a whirlwind trip to Parramatta from Rushcutters Bay I was ushered to the outdoor foyer of Riverside Theatres as the Common Anomalies program commenced with Bhenji Ra making a comical entrance in a blue woolly suit akin to Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster. The suit was designed by Matthew Stegh for his work, Aproaching Gone (+ytfingers). Ra’s blue, furry, enigmatic self led us into the foyer via a series of vogueing gestures and deep squats. Ra incorporated spoken text as a provocation, beckoning us to voice our own yet-unnamed enquiry. Ra proceeded with lilting slippages as sentences were slowly augmented, with words substituted to create a slowly morphing narrative, appearing to parallel elements of his own personal gender map.

Ra playfully taunted the audience, making certain members complicit actors in a striptease of sorts. I found this work very relevant not merely for its sex/sexual agenda/gender but in the current trend of mining vulnerability to make work. This is happening especially in the health sector for which I have been utilised in both the Big Anxiety Project festival and as a part of two year initiative titled The New Normal (whereby the titles speak for themselves). Ra’s work could easily be extended to accommodate a gallery space.

Imanuel Dado’s What We Don’t See was more than kinaesthetically  satisfying, his physical virtuosity evident, beginning with the fluidity of his torso, his centre of gravity crouched low to the ground. Dado’s work was performed to the accompaniment of recorded text, revealing the processes by which he came to create the sequences we viewed. With a stunning series of body slams, as he propelled his body at the back wall leaving a white imprint of flour in his wake, Dado’s choreography escalated dynamically. A ritual ‘paint-up’ style immersion of the flour onto his black costume immediately preceded his horizontal ballistic gymnastics. The work concluded as the propulsion of the body was repeated on a different plane with Dado’s body hovering in suspended animation each time he left the ground. Dado’s set was spare, reminding me of a Mark Rothko painting, his agile body juxtaposed in relief.

Carl Sciberras was the final choreographer of the night, his work Gbejniet celebrating his Maltese and Italian ancestry. Gbejniet is a cheese, one of the key ingredients in his Grandmother’s soup, which he cooks on stage. He used the intervals between every step of the cooking process as a timer, topping and tailing each danced vignette by returning to the kitchen.

This is the second work I have seen of his to honour family, the first being Dads, a group piece created in collaboration by Dance Makers Collective, directed by Miranda Wheen, which premiered last year.
Sciberras transported his family and its customs to us, taking us back in time to the era of the ‘ten pound pom’ and its European equivalent, whereby thousands of hopefuls embarked on an arduous journey by ocean liner to resettle in Aus. Sciberras’ dance integrated filmic animation by artist Todd Fuller as hand drawn vignettes depicting the foreign climes, with people appearing and disappearing through repeated deft scribbles and erasures on antique cartographers’ maps.
Sciberras employed several cyclical repetitive dance phrases combined with an extensive usage of properties in his dance to lend a sculptural element which gave the illusion of the presence of a family or community gathering. This work would also excel in an intimate site-specific or gallery setting.

Like film, the solo is versatile and can be accommodated to fit many unconventional spaces. Although it is the conventional theatrical setting which still dominates in terms of presentation it is not necessarily the ideal fit. So how do we keep costs down and make the more convenient spaces viable for more than a one off or ‘special event’? Alternatively, how do we transform the theatre into gallery without breaking every OH&S rule in the book? Both the intimate setting of Readymade@CriticalPath and some of the staging and thematic choices of the artists in the Common Anomalies program gave serious consideration to the site-specific within the theatrical construct, highlighting the flexibility of working as one.

– Vicki Van Hout