September has been chock full of dance and as usual I have had my foot planted firmly within it, beginning with the co-direction of Thomas E.S. Kelly’s Kuramanunya as part of Brisbane Festival line-up. Kuramanunya is a new solo work honouring ancestors who never received their ceremonial rites, to return to the Dreaming, due to the disruption of colonialism. As I said farewell to Kelly, who was off to Canada to perform the work as part of Ontario’s IMPACT International Theatre Festival, I plunged into a quick film shoot on the banks of Duck River in the Auburn Botanic Gardens for an exhibition with my long time collaborator, Western Sydney based digital media artist Marian Abboud. Held in the Art Gallery of NSW the resulting two short films were part of their bumper initiative to animate venues with the embodied practices of music and dance through their inaugural Volume program. The Volume program reads like a who’s who of the independent dance community featuring artists including Martin del Amo, Katina Olsen, Raghav Handa, Angela Goh and Ryuichi Fujimura to name but a few.
Yet while all this was happening, so too was the Sydney Fringe Festival which spanned the whole calendar month, having its fair share of dance and, which I regret to inform you, I also missed. So bummed.
However, as the month closed I did manage to catch dance company DirtyFeet’s annual Out Of The Studio season, which was presented in the Sydney Dance Company’s new in-house theatre. This event was described as sitting somewhere between the showing experience and the show, without the full-on whiz bang production values. SDC’s Nielson Studio was the perfect fit as it’s eighty seat capacity led an air of intimacy, a cosey non-judgmental familiarity of sorts. Just the right setting for an artist’s first polished run of ideas.
Hip Hop artist Azzam Mohamed who also operates under the alias Shazam, presented the first work titled T.H.E.L.A.B (Transcending Horizons: Exploring Limitless Artistic Boundaries) in collaboration with DJ composer and sound engineer Jack Prest.
Mohamed began moving at a slow pace, his movement small and gestural. His hand maneuvers had an air of architectural simplicity which immediately reminded me of Ghanaian born contemporary dancer and visual artist Lucky Lartey who creates compelling digital images with his body in tandem with everyday objects. However, Mohamed’s dance sequences kept escalating in speed, size and coordinational complexity until we felt as if we were in step with him, on a relentless restless journey (I hate that word) to parts unknown.
Somewhere in the mix Azzam began to verbalise his dance, making onomatopoeic sounds to accompany his physicality. His music making had the curious effect of diverting attention to Prest mixing at the desk, which due to staging, had our eyes darting to and from one and the other as if they were parrying for the clincher in a tennis match.
I am disappointed I never saw Nick Power’s choreography Deejay X Dance inspired by the North American block parties of the 1970’s, more specifically to the rapport between the dancer and the supplier of the beats, putting out a call to fire up the embodied response as Mohamed reiterated this same relationship aspect with Prest in his performance in the Q&A afterward. However, I felt Mohamed’s relationship with Prest was more symbiotic, occurring as an interdisciplinary duet rather than a series of to and fro communiqués.
The second work on this triple bill was titled My Spoons and Me, choreographed by Sarah-Vyne Vassallo and performed by dancer/collaborator Bonnie Curtis. This work unfolded in three distinct parts using ‘spoon theory’ as the creative impetus.
‘Spoon theory’ is a term first coined by blogger Christine Miserandino in 2003 as a metaphor for energy expenditure. In a conversation while having dinner, Miserandino used her cutlery to describe the daily ramifications of having lupus.
My Spoons and Me unfolded in three distinct sections and began with Curtis reorganising a pile of dessert spoons, of which there were over four hundred in total. The deliberate equidistant spatial placement of the silverware prompted me to meditate on the concept of measurement. I was also prompted to think about the time disparity between an abled and disabled body through the elongated pace she maintained throughout, which was emphasised upon the realisation that Curtis wouldn’t finish until she had arranged every spoon in her first pile.
By loading and reloading spoons upon her body whilst repetitively performing a whole body movement sequence, the second section depicted the literal demonstration of a challenged life balance.
In the third section the spoons were pushed, not handled. The tinkling cacophony this action produced instigated a meditation upon feelings of frustration, of what it would feel like to imagine a better alternative, just out of reach.
I know Curtis and of her condition and what makes this work so vital right now is the fact that not all disabilities are immediately identifiable. This work has coincided with the current campaign, spearheaded by former Paralympian Dylan Alcott, geared towards increased visibility and representation of people with disability in the media in line with the demographic within the national population.
I remember seeing the next male dancer, Matthew Massaria, from the last work on the DirtyFeet bill titled What Remains choreographed by Martin del Amo, featuring in a work under the DirtyFeet umbrella over a decade ago. I distinctly remember his dexterity. While Massaria spoke about his physical limitations on stage within that work, I could only think upon how his idiosyncratic embodiment was enhanced by his disability. Mesmerising even.
Fast forward 10 years and Massaria was dancing in a duet with his artist support worker Zoe Morgan. I had seen this piece performed as a solo by Benjamin Hancock in 2009 and as part of del Amo’s Slow Dances For Fast Times in 2013, in which I also performed a short solo. Whereas Hancock’s body knows virtually no boundary, it is Massaria’s physical boundaries which made me sit further forward in my seat, as my body trained itself to appreciate the work with more intensity. The negotiation of space between Massaria and Morgan was charged because of Massaria’s fragility. In the otherwise pedestrian act of perambulation, each step became a precious repository of facets, of nearness and near misses.
I just hopped off the phone with Martin where, in his description of What Remains, he spoke of navigating an imaginary landscape and I can’t help but think that the evening’s offerings ended as they began, with a preparedness to venture into the unknown.
A great way to cap off the month.
Vicki Van Hout
FORM Dance Projects
Blogger in Residence
“Nick Power’s ‘Deejay x Dancer’ – Dance Informa Magazine” https://dancemagazine.com.au/2022/07/sydney-opera-house-presents-nick-powers-deejay-x-dancer/
“What Is Spoon Theory Used for, and What Are Its Benefits? – GoodRx” https://www.goodrx.com/health-topic/mental-health/spoon-theory
“What Is the Spoon Theory Metaphor for Chronic Illness? – Cleveland Clinic” https://health.clevelandclinic.org/spoon-theory-chronic-illness/amp/
“New campaign to lift disability representation in advertising | SBS News” https://www.sbs.com.au/news/podcast-episode/new-campaign-to-lift-disability-representation-in-advertising/8yc1oz0yr