Australian Dance Reviews

Short Dissertations on Sleep

Walpole & Sister
Dancehouse
July 19th

By Paul Ransom.

“Sleep is invisible because we do it with our eyes closed.”

Or so goes the standout line from Grace Walpole’s  latest fact driven fusion of science and dance. By delving into the nightly mystery of sleep, Melbourne’s magical medical doctor of dance has created an intriguing piece of theatre. But is it dance?

Short Dissertations on Sleep is effectively a fifty minute lecture about brain states, slumber and the city. And as such it is utterly fascinating. However, rather than present us with a mere march-past of mind boggling data, Walpole leads us through a brilliantly factual but crisply metaphoric process, drawing wonderfully clever parallels between brain waves and architecture, between giraffes and dance.

Minimally lit, this solo show places Grace Walpole on a train journey through the night, where, watching her fellow passengers nod off, she poses the question: what is sleep? On a bare stage she scrawls notes on her blackboard and, accompanied by pre-recorded audio, talks us through the darkness. Oh yeah, and every now and then her presentation is punctuated by outbreaks of dancing.

And here’s where we come back to our question. Adding ‘dialogue’ to dance is nothing new, and fitting dance into a structure more like physical theatre is clearly a challenge that many choreographers relish. Short Dissertations is certainly in that zone. Here, the distinctions are pretty well nought, as Brain States 1.01 meets Samuel Beckett with a touch of good old fashioned German Expressionism. And dancing, of course.

That Walpole only performs a handful of short routines makes you wonder whether this is a dance show at all. Maybe it’s avant-garde theatre or a med school smorgasbord. Doesn’t matter; Short Dissertations is a quirky and fascinating vignette.

When Dr Walpole finally kicks off her shoes to move, she keeps it in a minimal contemporary vein. Her ‘giraffe’ piece is sinewy and vaguely uncomfortable and is the choreographic highlight. The music, on the whole, remains crisp and abstract, with some very adult electronica in evidence.

Grace and her sister Helen are clearly architects; builders of theatre using science to forge intellectually idiosyncratic art. It’s challenging, even daring stuff; and it really doesn’t matter what you call it.

 

Very top photo: Walpole & Sister

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