By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.
When renowned Australian soloist Ros Warby returns home to present two of her works, she will have both her past and her future in tow; and all the cellular intelligence she can muster.
If the world of dance is apt to produce artists of very particular vision, then LA based Australian dancer/choreographer Ros Warby surely qualifies. Renowned for the creation of intricate solo works, she has carved an entire three decade career out of dancing by herself. Indeed, her return to this country in December to perform two solos will do as much as anything to encapsulate both the history and the approach of one of Australia’s most riveting and individual dance exports.
However, let it be said that there is much more to Ros Warby than dancing alone. Beyond the ‘solo work’ dot point on the bio sheet, Warby’s close working association with Brooklyn born icon Deborah Hay has led her to drill right down into the very core of the form. In many ways, this is as far away from the sugar hit spectacle of SYTYCD as dance gets; which is why it is so richly rewarding.
At the heart of Warby’s process is the concept of cellular intelligence, a framework she refined via her long association with Hay. “It’s central to how one works,” she states. “In order to engage the dancer on a cellular level there needs to be engagement throughout the body that transcends what we know. Attempting to work from this place requires the dancer to see in a different way.”
For a dancer/choreographer a fresh lens is nearly always a valuable tool. As Warby explains it, “As a performer I rely on my relationship to what I see constantly. It keeps me firing and awake. The feedback from my seeing, places in space, experiences within the body, noticing my relationship to time; they all offer me so much information to compose with.”
What the solo performer most often lacks though is the exogenous discipline of the group. Left alone, soloists can tend to lurch into either arcane indulgence or formless improv, and so for Ros Warby there are certain safeguards in place. “Precision is embedded, whether I’m improvising or performing set movements. My attention is required to be equally alert, flexible and available in both situations.”
Yet, this does not merely imply a reactive rigidity. “I never set movement in my worn work, or within [Deborah] Hay’s work,” she adds. “It’s expected of the dancer to attend to multiple questions and focus at once. In Hay’s words, this requires a ‘catastrophic loss’, thereby eliminating somehow the tendency to be indulgent at all. As soon as that is recognised whilst I’m working, I use the tools I have at hand to redirect my attention to a question or proposition that engages me with where I am in time and space, and how I see.”
As part of her brief antipodean season, Warby will present two works. The first is a piece in development (Court Dance) and the second an adaptation of Hay’s No Time To Fly. Together they provide a glimpse into both the past and the near future of Warby’s milieu.
Of Court Dance, the official presser nominates hierarchy as a key motif. However, Warby’s meaning here is more visceral than theoretical. “Hierarchy is always present on so many levels, micro and macro,” she begins. “In dance I experience it constantly within the body. If I allow my mind, without the intelligence of my dancing body, to dictate decision making, I am not interested and therefore often lost. If I trust the intelligence of the body, which includes mind, I notice that the hierarchy of movement patterns, vocabularies and theatrical choices disappears.”
With specific reference to Court Dance, she says, “Within this piece I do reference hierarchy on micro and macro levels, although I do not expect the audience to recognise this in a literal way. Perhaps I should eliminate it from the programme notes?”
Meanwhile, No Time To Fly is Ros Warby’s adaptation of Hay’s signature choreographic language. “Deborah recognises her choreography not by how the dance looks, travels through space or by what the dancer is doing; she recognises her choreography by how the dancer is working and where her attention is. Is she attending to the questions, to the choreographic instruction? How is she seeing and working in relationship to time and space?”
As to where the blurred lines of authorship fall in this instance, Warby is very clear. “I do not set out to make anything my own. I work to adhere to the choreography, whether it is Deborah’s or my own.”
Of course, this may seem to be somewhat at odds with Warby’s reputation as a solo dance artist. However, any potential conflicts are resolved by clarity of focus. “I am always monitoring or attending to something very specific, whilst being in the moment,” she contends. “I am both the dancer and the choreographer, working simultaneously on stage. I am making choices, but not about what to do next or what movement may work here, rather choices about how to stay awake to the work, engage with the choreography and not get seduced by the temptation to go with an idea or physical motivation that will potentially feel great but lead me nowhere very interesting.”
Perhaps, at its heart, Warby’s commitment to solo dance is more about keeping the focus on human elements, as opposed to a dry penchant for the ‘form in space and time’. Indeed, stripped of its intellectual and artistic dressing, the lone body dancing may well be our most ‘intelligent’ organ.
Warby will perform No Time to Fly & Court Dance this Friday, December 5th at Critical Path, Rushcutters Bay, NSW. To buy your tickets visit www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=110633
She will then perform at Dancehouse, Melbourne on December 11th and 12th. To buy tickets visit www.dancehouse.com.au/performance/performancedetails.php?id=187.
Photo (top): Ros Warby in Tower Suites. Photo by Calista Lyon.