Andrew Fuhrmann reviews The Boom Project and Solos for Other People from Melbourne’s Dance Massive festival.
Rosalind Crisp/Omeo Dance, The Boom Project (Blueprint Showroom, Melbourne)
There is exhaustion, too, in Rosalind Crisp’s new work, staged in an historic, high-ceilinged old factory at Blueprint Furniture in North Melbourne. In her program she writes: “Dance has exhausted herself. Form is collapsing. Nature is rapidly being extinguished. Our house is burning, hors contrôl.”
Why this obsession with exhaustion? It is by no means only performers of Crisp and Shelley Lasica’s generation. Everywhere you look dancers are made to run in circles until they fall over, or are otherwise laid out in panting heaps. Is this, as André Lepecki has suggested, the final agony of that peculiar invention of early modernity, the body disciplined to move according to the instructions of an author?
In any case, what is surprising and even inspiring about Lang’s work is its strategy of resistance. This is not a piece interested in exploring exhaustion, only in defying it.”I can’t go on,” she is saying, like Beckett. “I’ll go on.” She does this in a very un-Beckett-like way. She returns to the pre-modern salvation of the muse. It is not, of course, quite the romantic muse; this is a muse which is more collaborator than obsession or personification. And yet what is interesting is that there is still a necessary element of ravishment. Crisp writes: “Helen’s gaze thickens my awareness of feelings and fictions in my body”.
This is Helen Herbertson, artistic companion and provocateur. What Crisp describes is exactly what seems to happen in the performance. How she fats me –she might say. She plumps me, pats me, squeezes me and feeds me. Crisp lies beneath a curtain of light, at first motionless, foetal. Even the light seems heavy, seems to weigh her down. She wears faded baggy sweats and looks in every way worn out. Herbertson sits to one side, half in shadow, her back to the audience, watching. The dancer begins to move; the provocateur watches. Tentative gestures and repetitions follow as Crisp unfolds and fattens. New possible ways of “going on” rise up in the body, vitalised beneath the benevolent gaze. Crisp mutters. Herbertson encourages, softly. New forms collapse almost as soon as they are tested, and the dancer constantly threatens to fall back into exhaustion. Somehow she always finds something new to go on with. There are no dead ends anymore.
The performance has a lot of theatricality and playfulness, but the relationship between Crisp and Herbertson is a thing of profound authenticity. As spookily atmospheric as Ben Cobham’s visual design is, at times it seems too much for this delicate drama. The former industrial space is full of smoke. Possums dash across the tin roof and make a sound like stage thunder, a declaration of hollowness which couldn’t have been more apt if it had been planned. A spotlight glides across a wall without finding anything in particular.
Herbertson and Crisp work their way to the far end of the space, all but invisible to us. Then eventually Crisp finds her way back.
“Where is she now?”asks Herbertson, still in the shadows.
“… à l’enfant,” answers Crisp.
And thus to discover herself returned, beneath the earnest reviving gaze of the loved one, with everything once more before her.
Shelley Lasica, Solos for Other People (Carlton Baths, Melbourne)
In they file, attired in a costume gallimaufry of op-shop horrors and Spotlight dance fabrics. Veteran choreographer Shelley Lasica has here created ten solos for ten dancers and an eleventh for herself. She’s worked with all the dancers before; some she has collaborated with off-and-on for almost twenty years.
The solos are all performed simultaneously on the indoor basketball court at the Carlton Baths, with performers spread to all corners. It instantly begs the question — in what sense are these solos rather than parts of a single orchestrated group piece?
There are moments of obvious synchronicity and interaction. Two dancers break formation at the same time in a curving parallel sprint across the court. Deanne Butterworth hangs between Kylie Walters and Jo Lloyd, supporting herself on their shoulders, both legs off the ground. Bodies are piled in frozen tableaux suggesting consolation or lassitude or something amative. The sound of feet drumming on the court builds to a crescendo, then, in the abrupt silence which follows, Kylie Walters begins to speak.
At other times the performers do suggest detachment and self-sufficiency. Occasionally it looks like a dance therapy session at a suburban community centre: each dancer in his or her own world, struggling towards self-expression. They fold at the middle, arms swinging, legs bending. Hands are pressed to the court as if to keep from toppling. It’s almost like the performers are drunk on Lascis’s vision. Her movement is heavy in their limbs — a familiar juice in the veins. Some hold it better than others. Daniel Newell, who first worked with Lasica in 2013, reels and judders, his face pale. Kylie Walters, a collaborator from way back, has all the boldness of sculpture.
People on treadmills stare in through the glass wall of the gym next door. No doubt they’re wondering at the synthetic chiffon catsuit and purple-sequined bolero. The sound design is all wind chimes and soothing keyboards; it competes with the muted workout music and grunts of accomplishment from men straining at the weight machines.
What is Lascisa doing in this unusual space? The performers traverse all parts of the room. They look under a sheet of gold tinsel matting. They sit. They run. Natalie Abbott sticks to the corners, far from the rest, rocking back and forth, looking at the walls. The audience are entirely peripheral, spread haphazard along the walls. Is Lasica perhaps exhausting the space of its possibilities?
Exhausting a space is itself exhausting. Does this explain the general sense of intoxicated lethargy? Is this why they are called “solos”? Because eventually the space will be entirely exhausted and possibility will have been reduced to its lowest possible degree –to the eleven individual skulls, each one forever alone?
Well before they reach this end point, the performers abruptly leave the space. It’s all over for today, but you feel there’s work still to be done tomorrow.
THREE AND A HALF STARS