The Little Black Dress Suite

Photo: Heidrun Löhr

You have to promise when you read this that you’re not going to think it was interesting, then file it in the recesses of your memory that promptly give you permission to forgot. No.

Because the man I’m going share insight into is none other than maestro Martin del Amo who is shortly presenting a quintet of dances titled, The Little Black Dress Suite.

I am delighted because the first image my brain conjured was Martin himself, resplendent in fantastic jersey noir, with bare legs and black boots, ready for combat. He was all shoulder rolls, bent legs, Bob Fosse hands, head thrown back as if tipping a top hat with body in profile, performing in the inaugural IOU season at UNSW two years previously. I am assured that this work will be reprised by Martin himself.

I have followed Martin over the years, so closely that he’ll confirm that I can quote his performances almost as well as he can remember them, his anecdotes, so peculiar, yet made all the more poignant for his idiosyncratic vocal delivery. He revealed to me that his narratives are endowed with a ‘fluid’ veracity. I remember my initial shock because he seemed so believable, so consummate was his commitment to these peppered half-truths (in hindsight, outrageous fabrications). Shock turned to awe.

Earlier this year I took part as performer in his inaugural season of solos titled Slow Dances for Fast Times. Like Slow Dances, The Little Black Dress Suite is a mixture of new and remounted solo works. I can share this; he was able to draw out a version of myself I never would have realised. Armed with a stop watch, he took me through my paces. I skipped until my calves sang and my ability to walk down stairs was best done backwards. (Luke Smiles, whom I affectionately termed ‘my character wife’ because he donned a little red dress which he flounced with abandon, while I literally wore the pants, suffered a similar fate.) Martin created something that could only ever be recreated with his guidance. It wasn’t about the steps but his methodical pathway to them.

I caught up with performer Miranda Wheen in Broome earlier while she was in development with a new work for Marugeku based around the premise of ‘Listening to Country’.  It was here that Miri shared a markedly different creative process shared with Martin. You can imagine my envy, no stopwatch in tow, replaced instead with a gentle prompting laden with imagery. Seemed she got to play, while I got boot-camp.

Miranda’s work, Quest, is the longest on the bill running at 20 minutes. It was choreographed in collaboration with composer Alex Pozniak , made possible through a partnership Dirtyfeet and Chronology Arts and shown at the Seymour Centre in 2012. Unfortunately, I didn’t see this work and I am kicking myself for the buzz it created. Martin describes an imaginary world in which Miri inhabits and draws you into. This is not hard to believe as I have seen Miri  in two of choreographer Liz Lea’s works and what struck me was her uncanny ability to engage the audience in what seemed like an individual experience. It was an entire embodiment of character, not schmaltzy but comprehensive.

Kristina Chan will reprise the role made for Jane McKernan in Slow Dances titled Tomorrow Never Comes, a work that requires supreme balance and a back without vertebrae- almost. This piece unfolds so slowly yet culminates in an expansive series of floating undulations teetering on spiked heels. Like sleight of hand, it must be seen to be believed. I am curious to see how Kristina interprets this piece, how she lends her sensibilities and her incredible physical virtuosity.

Like Slow Dances for Fast Times Martin’s collaboration with Sue Healey grew out of a duet performed as a birthday present for long-time industry friend, Julie-Anne Long. From then Martin and Sue have practiced together on and off. I saw a duet performed as part of IOU 2  titled Melting Moments earlier this year (see previous blog) in which I described the work as intricate as fine lace. Their bodies worked well together, very complimentary, simultaneously refined and raw, honest and sophisticated. This will be a treat to anticipate.

The season of The Little Black Dress Suite will open August 15th  in the Lennox theatre of Parramatta Riverside.  Book here –