Dance Massive review wrap (Spaceproject and Depth of Field)

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Andrew Fuhrmann’s first wrap up Melbourne’s Dance Massive festival features reviews of Prue Lang’s Spaceproject (pictured above, image by Gregory Lorenzutti) and Chunky Move’s Depth of Field.
Prue Lang, Spaceproject (Dancehouse, Melbourne)
Four dancers – James Batchelor, Benjamin Hancock, Lauren Langlois and Amber McCartney – take it in turns to sit behind a desk and recite longish chunks of cultural theory. It’s a terrible opening gambit. The dancers lack conviction and clearly have only the barest understanding of – or investment in – the words they’ve been asked to memorise by choreographer Prue Lang. The sense of what they’re saying is extremely hard to follow, even if you do recognise the quotes.
But it gets worse. From this hasty introduction to the concepts of nomadology, the simulacrum and Lygia Clark’s organic line we move into – of all things – a naturalistic drama. Yes! a lecture on overturning established aesthetic ideals and resisting political hierarchy is followed by the sorry spectacle of dancers pretending to be actors pretending not to act.
The story is that the four of them have gone camping and lost their way. Scenes from this unfortunate bush adventure are interspersed with various verbal and physical games, as well as with some smallish fragments of dance. There are a couple of nice duets testing figures of encirclement and enfoldment, and there are some interesting choreographic representations of body parts connecting in odd ways – hands to knees or to other people’s shoulders. Overall, it’s pretty small beer.
Certainly, smoke the rhizome if you must. Throw bits of political philosophy into the choreographic mix. Explore the plateau. Quote if you want. But Spaceproject does not give the impression that a significant political or aesthetic practice has been activated by the philosophical encounter. Or not one sufficient to justify the prominence given to the quoted texts.
Chunky Move, Depth of Field (Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne)
Depth of Field is the most satisfying, most fully realised piece that Anouk van Dijk has yet produced as Chunky Move artistic director. The Dutch-born choreographer has here recaptured something of the fascination and excitement which attached to the site-specific work she first staged in the Netherlands immediately before her arrival in Australia – one of which was on a dike on the scenic island of Terschelling, the other in a derelict shipyard in Amsterdam.
Her debut with Chunky Move back in 2012, An Act of Now, was also site-specific; but whereas that was essentially staged in a small smoke-filled box in the middle of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, now we have the box turned inside out. Here we have a return to landscape.
Performed in front of a spectacular sunset next to the rusty hulk of the Australian Centre for Contemporary art, the audience sits looking out over the busy evening traffic of South Melbourne. We’re each given a set of headphones, into which is transmitted a very cinematic Vangelis-type sound design, which also incorporates and ambient noise from various parts of the performance space.
It’s a performance which features a large cast of extras in addition to the three principal dancers (James Vu Anh Pham, Tara Jade Samaya and Niharika Senapati). The sense of being caught up in a grand choreographic conspiracy is thrilling. Passersby turn out to be agents of dance. It turns our attention to the rhythms and atmospheres of the city itself. Ultimately, you become aware that even the setting of the sun is, in a sense, staged.
With this in mind, there could have been a few more quiet moments, moments where the audience were allowed to just sit back and absorb the drama of the city, to better merge the spectator with the spectacle: passing trucks, the play of reflections over apartment towers, peach-streaked clouds passing briskly overhead.
But van Dijk seems liberated by the outdoor setting, and is eager to master the space. With so much sky and light, her technique of suspended falling really does begin to look like a kind of flying – the kind where, as Douglas Adams puts it, you throw yourself at the ground and miss. Highlights include some very dramatic swooping movements across the length of the vast space. And it is captivating stuff – even the weather gods seem to be in awe.

7 responses to “Dance Massive review wrap (Spaceproject and Depth of Field)

  1. Hi Andrew, thanks for your reviews. I think you were too hasty in your judgment of spaceproject. Prue Lang is no fool. Check out her bio. Give her some credit. don’t you think she/the collaborators were aware of the effects they were creating? I think it would have been more interesting if you’d asked why they chose to get dancers to do those things, in those ways, rather than just panning it. you’re an intelligent person, you’ve worked on understanding some of the texts referred to/used at the start of the show. Perhaps, when you saw such things treated as sound poetry it was just too irritating and you could only read it as them stupid. I doubt that myself

    1. Paul,
      Space project was terrible! Andrew is being generous with two stars. It was like watching a high school drama assignment in rehearsal.
      No work should need it’s audience to read a bio in order for them to appreciate it, the work should speak for itself.
      Pru Lang may be a great artist. But lets not pretend this work is something it wasn’t and deny her the chance to learn from something that was a complete failure.
      I’ve seen plenty of dance, and spaceproject was the worst I have seen in a few years.

  2. Hi Paul, if you think it’s more interesting to speculate on the possible intentions of artists than to respond to the art itself, then stick to reading the bios and manifestos and give up on arts criticism. By the same token, don’t get caught in defending the intelligence of the artist, or impugning that of the critic: it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. The work will either stand, or it won’t; the criticism will either speak, or it won’t.
    And, yes, as “sound poetry” the use of text in Spaceproject will not stand. The sound is awful. Oh, smullkrum! Oh, organic loin! It’s the worst sort of affected naivety. Think of the infantile way Lauren Langlois delivers her under-the-desk bit — what kind of music is that? (As music it sounded like the theme to Ocean Girl.) It’s not really important whether “in real life” the performers understand the text. It’s the performance which matters. And they sound exactly like school kids on recital day. Now think of Langlois in Keep Everything or in Complexity of Belonging. My god: *that* is music; *that* is conviction.
    But the bigger problem is certainly the hypocrisy of pairing these texts, which demand a new avant garde, with Lang’s return to drama and the discursive principle. Even if the movement is to be read as a disruption of the drama, well, it’s still only a representation of disruption. I just don’t see how there can be a true exploration – in the sense of “legwork” – of the nature of space when the space here is the invented space behind the fourth wall. And the fourth wall is only ever a kind of mirror; so whatever is “discovered” about the relationship between thought and embodiment will only be a reflection — a confirmation — of what the choreographer already thought she knew.

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