Phoenix – Legs On The Wall

As the weather heats up so too have the pandemic’s shackles, with wiggle room emerging as tiny cracks in the crackdown of lockdown, whether imposed on us from the voices on high or as cautionary whispers from within.

I experienced the first real inkling of former freedoms in the guise of a weeklong interdisciplinary performative workshop. Held at physical theatre company Legs On The Wall’s famous Red Box studio, the workshop week was titled Phoenix. Charismatic Legs director Joshua Thompson wrangled a group of established and mid career dance, theatre, physical theatre, circus and musical practitioners  to ‘revitalise, reactivate and reimagine’ what it is our bodies do, for each other and the broader community.

In preparation we were all required to take a covid test. This act intimated forthcoming intimacy. The rules pertaining to spatial social behaviour have never been clear cut and definitely not uniform. As a judo player I have resumed full body contact for over a month, albeit in increments. At first, we trained outdoors in groups of ten, progressing to separate indoor training sessions at the dojo, then with one dedicated partner performing standing throws, until just recently resuming floorwork. (For those of you not familiar with judo think contact improv, substituting the series of soft yet dynamic sequences of counterbalances, bodies yielding into one another, with the swift competitive intent to destabilise and immobilise your partner.)

In contrast to the dojo, at Sydney Dance Company we are instructed to maintain social distancing by standing on tape placed at 1.5 metre intervals throughout the studio. As we all realise, dance is rarely a stationary activity and adequate social distancing is met with varying degrees of success. I mean, this is also why we couldn’t wait to get out of the virtual studio where kitchen cabinets could do as much damage as an inconsiderate peer with poor depth perception.

Back to the Red Box. I can’t recall what day or hour it was when we threw distancing to the wind, but we did. Before I knew it, I was burrowing into a tunnel made of assorted limbs. Over the course of the workshop my hands would be pinioned in the steel trap vice of a kneeling leg and I would be held aloft, my torso balancing on a ledge of shoulders, so you can just imagine the incredible feast of physicality on offer from the more abled bodies. I won’t say younger because Craig Bary, who, while not necessarily old but decidedly experienced, danced a spontaneous spatially distanced duet in juxtaposition with Zachary Lopez.  They had the collective enthralled with their matching unbridled energy and virtuosity.

The yearning to be in our bodies surpassed self-conscious inadequacies normally confronting artists with different specialities. As a dancer I am usually much more hesitant when it comes to tumbling, my ego forbidding me to illustrate a less than perfect handstand.  In this instance I embraced my less than vertical up-ending. I even had my first go on a harness, swinging wildly for way longer than suggested and paying the price with intermittent bouts of nausea, as I tried to regain my land legs.

Together we screamed. A powerful composition which called on us to deliver consecutive screams whilst sitting in a tight knit circle devised by Ekrem Eli Phoenix was spontaneously included. This act unleashed unexpected vulnerabilities and paved the way for a more profound approach forthwith and a deeper curiosity and heightened sensitivity for one another.

I facilitated two workshop slots. The first was comprised of my brand of contemporary Australian Indigenous dance vocabularies. We all bandy about the concept of decolonisation. Even though I sometimes doubt my inclusion in these situations, where I am so much older and daggier than the usual young vibrant cohort, I am committed to reasserting a locally self determined Aboriginal agenda through both aesthetics and intellectual property. So, I did my thing.  My second workshop was prefaced by mapping country, observing special features of the land and acknowledging secret information embedded within it. This exercise, although appearing to cater to a much younger demographic, acts as a prelude to the creation of a song cycle and demonstrates the importance of the embodied arts as a repository of knowledge, equivalent to the written word in the western academic canon.

I was so bummed when I missed what sounded to me like the day definitely not to be absent in the Red Box. While I was otherwise engaged at NAISDA Dance College, Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal and Kirk Page facilitated a session based on their new cross cultural collaborative work in development, titled Smoke. I won’t extrapolate, instead click on the link to attain but a glimpse of the wealth of combined knowledge generously shared.

What would a workshop be without a showing? And so, in the last hour of the last day we reassembled for the last time. Was there the potential for a work in there? I don’t know. As a collective we were reconciled to the knowledge that everything we did would be interpreted through a lens dictated by the current global conditions where even a kiss. Yes, that’s right, a kiss. A kiss can be interpreted as a provocation. It wasn’t until my bicycle ride home did I realise this.

(Jade and Kirk’s workshop can be found starting at 15.51secs.)