During a Contemporary dance performance, they close the doors to the theatre behind you, and don’t let you out until they’re finished with you. This simple device enables the choreographer to make you sit through fluid, passionate tracts (long bits) of a variety of modern dance moves including:
the rolling foetal; frantic bendy torso; the “We’re at One with Nature” serenity sway: rapid flat hand in front of face; spirit fingers (fast/slow/up/down); wall bouncing; the ragdoll slump; the “I Love You/I Don’t Love You” push/pull and (of course) the perennially popular, running about.
I prefer an intermission in my dance works. A time out to go to the foyer and see what everyone’s wearing. During intermission, you get to decide (in consultation with your friends) what you all think of a work, before it’s even finished. You can admire the great posture and the tight asses of the dancers who are there, checking on/supporting their peers. An intermission also helps heighten suspense and drama, perhaps even heightening the magic of the theatre. I don’t know whether I’m buying it. Or even if I can afford it. I’m too broke to feel comfortable in the theatre. If there’s free tickets I’ll go see anything secular.
Using your body to tell a story (mostly without words) that’s a difficult job right there.
Costuming is almost as important as an intermission. Sequins, makeup, leotards, I’m definitely a traditionalist when it comes to stagecraft. I like it when dancers have gone to a bit of trouble and don’t look like they’ve just walked in from a spot of grocery shopping down the Northcote Plaza. The wardrobe malfunction too, should not be dismissed; an unscripted nipple appearance can heighten the sense of spontaneity surrounding the body and it’s nurturing capacities.
Here is a clip that shows Quentin Crisp talking us through wardrobe and performance:
‘Style, is never of course elegance, it is an idiom which arises spontaneously from you, everyone has an individuality, but everyone must learn to present it. You’ve nothing else to give the world which no one else can give, except yourself.’
I’m thinking, I don’t see enough Contemporary Dance and I’ve resolved to become a more committed audience in the future.
Contemporary dance is often accidently hilarious. For example, Dance company Chunky Move’s Official wine partner is Xanadu Wines. How fun is that? Xanadu Wines. Xanaduuu. I imagine a young dancer might even need a couple of Xanadus just to stretch out the old hamstrings before they take to the stage to confuse another audience. I also enjoy the support of a variety of wine partners but only especially occasionally and when someone else is buying.
It’s the earnestness of the artistic sensibility of dancers that cracks me up. Most dancers seem to believe, if not in god, then definitely in Poetry. Capital ‘P’ Poetry. The dance fraternity’s way with words might need a shake: Chunky Move and Dance Massive spring to mind as potential renaming/rebranding exercises. Earnestness makes me as nervous as talk about creation or the Australian Arts Industry. When nervous, there’s a tendency to laugh. The laughs you have when you’re not supposed to be laughing are the sweetest. Part of a philosophy I call ‘Regression Therapy’. You know: acting like a child and feeling young again. Prohibited laughter, breaking the rules laughter, maybe that’s the best laughing to be had. So that’s a good reason to go see Contemporary Dance too. Choking back the laughs nobody else is feeling.
Miss Universal is a Chunky Move Next Move dance commission work by Atlanta Eke. The strong title points to a feminist body image work, and brings to mind Miss Universe pageants, women all lined up in a row, competing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRdAe3UAIVs Should Evolution be taught in schools? Miss USA Contestants grapple with facts and theories. That is such a tough one. Tight-roping American thought corrupted by extremism. So glad America are no longer our only Imperialist masters.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrFCWcFL1ao THE BEST INTELLIGENT ANSWER IN A BEAUTY PAGEANT IN HISTORY (I thought it was an average answer, but its a great retro clip).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww Miss Teen South Carolina, speaks about locating America on a map, sort of.
‘The fix is in’ is one of my favourite sayings. Everywhere I look, women are in competition with each other, and the divisiveness of this cleverly and highly orchestrated rivalry, serves our patriarchal oppressors very nicely. Indeedly. Women don’t need to fight each other; we need to help each other out. Identify our common enemy and neutralise said enemy. Hello equality.
Naomi Wolf says in her seminal text, The Beauty Myth: ‘Beauty is a currency system like the gold standard. Like any economy, it is determined by politics, and in the modern age in the West it is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact. In assigning value to women in a vertical hierarchy according to a culturally imposed physical standard, it is an expression of power relations in which women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have appropriated for themselves.’ (p.12 The Beauty Myth).
Atlanta Eke has worked out that if women keep competing we’re doomed. Within her new work, the four female dancers rely on each other, rather than competing for attention. Atlanta is clearly riffing off art, Maria Hassabi’s Intermission is a reference and the performances of Vanessa Beecroft also spring to mind (the ones where she dresses all the performers up like versions of herself).
There’s a lot of roughhousing going on in Miss Universal. Four dancers rolling down a set of stairs for instance. Growing up, my brother and I called it play fighting. There was always a slippage from play into fighting that drove our Mum mad. Dad liked to wrestle us kids round the lounge room right before bedtime. This too, would often end in tears but I loved it anyway. Being put in a slightly dangerous headlock or thigh grip that you couldn’t wriggle free from. It was a Free Jazz, 1970s blend of scrappy amateur self-defence and quality family time for a suburban Brisbane family of four. Preparing us kids for future potentially physical encounters (both welcome and invited) or unexpected and dangerous.
Sculptures by Claire Lambe are a highlight and effectively utilised as props and visual cues throughout the action. Production designer Matthew Adey makes effective use of a minimalist, striking set, and composer Daniel Jenatsch incorporates the Slave Harp, by local legends Slave Pianos. The catalogue includes grandiose manifesto style words. Manifestos are so hot right now, as people continue to grapple with the meaning of culture within the safety of expensive University structures:
Miss Universal proposes a global governance ensuring that every performance ever produced and presented will not submit to the friction and fragmentation of local imperatives. From this moment on, the singular mode of production in dance is love. The universal solution is a choreographic problem.
I take this to mean that all’s not well in Dance Land. Creating new dance works throws up challenging challenges and Atlanta is throwing around some youthful optimism and saying: Conflict be gone! We’re in this shit together! Lets make some new moves and not repeat the old crap ones that haven’t worked out well because everyone is fighting! Please. As for the problems of the Universe being solved by how we move our bodies, someone needs to tell her she’s dreaming.
Still, with this in mind, maybe Atlanta is on to something and the Universal solution is a choreographic problem! Back in contemporary dance land, and I hope you haven’t seen this trashy American TV show Dance Moms. Americans haven’t just left unexploded bombs in Vietnam, they send unexploded cultural bombs like Dance Moms out into the world to wreck shit too. The foundation on which notions of sisterhood are built, the mother/daughter relationship, is undermined in Dance Moms by the Moms. When and where are positive female relationships presented to us in mainstream mass media?
The blurb for Dance Moms reads:
‘Many Princesses, One Queen, screams the sleeve ‘every little girl has a dream…..but their mothers have even bigger ones. Explore the world of competitive dance, where mothers push their daughters to the extreme, while vicariously living out their own dreams through their children. These mothers are driven, fierce and at times ruthless, spending thousands of dollars, some even mortgaging their homes – all in the chance to turn their daughters into stars.’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvxDARu4gCo Dear Abby compares the girls strengths
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5-uRSfnN_I Here’s another taste test, why can’t I look away?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iypc255FSOw Christi & Jill sneak into the studio to find Maddie learning her solo early
Finally, from the online National Archives, are a couple of sweet clips of home movies by dermatologist and amateur filmmaker Dr Ewan Murray-Will’s. His 1936 film captures solo dancers from the Ballets Russes du Monte Carlo performing on a Sydney beach. Ewan liked dancing, and he opened his holiday house to the touring Ballets Russes for a couple of years and it looks as if they all had a wonderful time together. A dance lover offering a holiday to the touring troupe! That’s a great philanthropic decision (hint hint).
Clip description – Wearing what looks to be Christmas decorations around her neck, a female dancer, crouched on a rock, alerts her sleeping friend to something out to sea. A man carrying an unconscious woman emerges from the waves. He tries to revive her, but unsuccessful, goes to get help. He welters under the heat and collapses. Meanwhile, the woman regains consciousness and after looking for the man, heads over to the rocks where the crouching enemy awaits to capture her. He springs out from the cover of the rocks, grabs her and carries her away.