Dance is all about movement. Or is it more like memory? Perth-based choreographer Sue Peacock takes time to reflect on this in her latest work, which has its world premiere in May.
By Paul Ransom.
When a choreographer declares that they are “returning to a primary focus on movement” you could be forgiven for wondering whether you missed something along the way. However, dance being the complex and abstract form that it is, you may well be asking exactly what a “primary focus on movement” is. A statement of the obvious? A post-modern ironic pose? Well no, not quite.
Speaking from her office at WAAPA in Perth, acclaimed choreographer and dance teacher Sue Peacock drills into the reasons behind her beguiling declaration. While conceiving her latest work Reflect she decided to strip back. “I wanted to focus much more specifically on the choreography,” she begins. “I mean, not that you don’t ever but really, this time, I tried to concentrate on the movement and the whole choreographic form.”
For Peacock this represents a response to her past use of text and video. “There is video in Reflect and we did try talking but I decided against it,” she explains. “I did think that maybe the piece was bit too esoteric and that the text might help people; and I did like it but when I watched it back on the video I realised that I had stopped watching. Because of the talking I didn’t need to pay attention to the movement.”
In a career that has spanned eight years dancing for ADT, amongst others, and making work for companies as diverse as Chrissie Parrott, 2 Dance Plus and Expressions, Sue Peacock has been at the core of the Australian contemporary dance scene. Therefore, she has naturally been apart of its embrace of multimedia and the use of text. “This time I made a rule for myself that there wouldn’t be any props or talking. There would only be dancing.”
By employing a stark, white box stage and a small ensemble of five, Peacock’s Reflect puts the focus squarely on the physical. However, this is not to suggest that it is a themeless work. Reflect is about memory; the very act of reflection. “It’s also about the process of memory and how you remember, and how that’s important in terms of how you make a decision to do something different,” she adds.
Given the limits she has set for herself, Peacock’s challenge was to draw out the work’s central idea without the trigger of language or reference to prop devices. As she explains it, “Elements of the work are repeated throughout. So, there’s one section near the beginning which is then repeated with a different person. The video might focus on a particular movement but that is then repeated in a grainy way, or with time slowed down.”
Just as we repeat patterns in our lives, so too does the work. “In a sense the whole thing is a bit circular; but more like a loop that continues rather than a fixed circle.”
That all of this happens in a bold white space is no mere trick of aesthetics. “There’s comfort in blackout because everything goes quiet but white is very exposing,” Peacock argues. “The performers are very vulnerable. It’s my thinking that you’re focusing only on the dancers, so for me there’s a kind of truth you can get at through that.”
Returning to the theme of the work, she wonders, “Those things in your head that you can’t quite remember, do they slide off into black or slide off into white?”
With its use of minimalism and abstraction, Reflect could easily have become a dry, programmatic work. However, it took some unexpected turns in rehearsal, as Peacock recalls. “I did start out thinking that it was going to be abstract and quite heady in that sense but in actual fact it’s quite emotional in a funny way. That wasn’t my intention but that’s where it’s gone; and that because of the contributions of the artists.”
The five dancers, including West Australians Kynan Hughes and Tyrone Robinson, all brought “personal/specific” ideas to the palette and the result, according to Peacock, is a work brimming with very human subtext. “It’s like when you walk into a room and there’s tension. You know something’s happened but you don’t know exactly what.”
Minus the clue giving add-ons of text and objects, dance works risk befuddling their audiences, and while most artists are more than willing to take this risk, Sue Peacock admits to a more nuanced view. “I do think about how it will appear to an audience,” she says. “I suppose I just have this hope that there is something beyond language that translates. If we just watch and stop thinking we actually can understand it physically. There’s a kind of empathy that we have because everybody moves and breathes and feels things.”
And yet, like memory, dance is an elusive and shape shifting experience. “I like the mystery of dance,” Sue Peacock concludes simply. Oh yes, and the movement too.
3 – 11 May
Studio Underground State Theatre Centre of Western Australia
Tickets on sale in January through www.ticketek.com.au
Photo (top): Sue Peacock’s Relect. Photos by Christophe Canato.