Australian Dance Reviews

A Small Prometheus

Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
October 16, 2013
Melbourne Festival

By Tamara Searle of Dance Informa.

‘…every art of mankind comes from Prometheus.’
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

In Greek mythology, Prometheus gives fire to mankind, for which he is punished by the gods. A Small Prometheus, an interart collaboration between composer and sculptor Robin Fox and choreographer Stephanie Lake doesn’t set out to explore the Greek myth but rather proposes to explore the physicality of heat, and the co-existence of darkness and light in human nature. These themes are explored in a series of kinetic sculptures and choreography, in an ambitious work well suited to the festival context where audiences are anticipating spectacle.

The three major kinetic sculptures created for the piece by Robin Fox recall minarets. The sculptures are revealed to the audience by the first action the dancers perform which is to light and animate the sculptures. Each minaret houses a circle of candles. Once lit, the heat from these candles turns a fan in the dome of the minaret. From these fans hang chimes which beat against the metal wall of the minaret creating an aleatory soundscore. The mesmerising sculptures embody a clear cause and effect: they make the heat from the candles visible and subsequently audible. We are drawn away from our kinaesthetic response to the sculptures with the overlay of a soundscore and dance. From this point, the sculptures become increasingly extraneous to the performance, used as props rather than as an essential manifestation of the artwork.

A Small Prometheus

Stephanie Lake and Robin Fox present ‘A Small Prometheus’. Dancers Lauren Langlois and Lee Serle. Photo by Jodie Hutchinson.

The electronic soundscore riffs on and layers emblems of matches being stuck and manifestations of the chiming from the kinetic sculpture. This soundscore enters before there is much opportunity to absorb the experience of the sculpture, its movement and noise. The aleatory nature of the sound produced by the sculptures has more promise than is realised, and is obscured by the recorded soundscore.

Five virtuosic dancers – Alana Everett, Lauren Langlois, Rennie McDougall, Lily Paskas, and Lee Serle succeed in illustrating the motion of flame, of heat, in frenetic phrases and sequences. We see shapes created by the sculpture transposed onto the dancers bodies: the spirals of motion; the collapse of flame; luminosity given rhythm in a match striking dance: a duet between the two men with torches in their hands trails light behind their movements reminiscent of the arcs of fire twirlers or glow sticks. We are not invited to linger long with any physical image.

However successfully the work communicates its intended themes of heat and light and dark, the very presence of the kinetic sculptures proposes its own exploration: the relation of the sculptures, and the motion of the sculptures, to the human form and to dance. Traditional sculpture, uses space as its primary modality. When sculpture also includes the element of time, as with kinetic sculpture, dance and sculpture become analogous artforms. Much like the dancer entering or exiting the stage, the performative value of the kinetic sculptures commencement and cessation has enormous potency. The candles in the sculptures are extinguished at one point during the work, rendering the sculpture dead – the logic of this action within the piece is not clear. Beyond extinguishing the sculptures and relighting them, the integration of the sculptures and the dancers is perfunctory. We are left wanting to know about the essence of the sculptures, the meaning of their presence, and the relationship that might exist between the movers and the sculpture.

Photo (top): Stephanie Lake and Robin Fox’s A Small Prometheus, presented at Arts House, Melbourne. Dancers Alana Everett, Lauren Langlois, Rennie McDougall, Lily Paskas and Lee Serle. Photo by Jodie Hutchinson.

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