Film and dance can sometimes be problematic partners. In this age of readily available video technology the temptation to weld live performance to screen content can easily overpower the sense of a piece. In this context, it is both rare and richly rewarding to witness a choreographic and cinematic marriage that is obviously more than mere convenience.
Sue Healey’s On View: Live Portraits is without doubt one of the finest, most gorgeously honed film/dance works this scribe has ever seen. Having debuted earlier this year at Dance Massive in Melbourne, it returns, revamped, to the Sydney stage this month. Starring Martin del Amo, Shona Erskine, Benjamin Hancock, Raghav Handa, and Nalina Wait, (and featuring a complementary installation with Australian dance icons Dame Lucette Aldous and Professor Shirley McKechnie), On View is a luminous, poetic and exquisitely detailed portrait of the moving body.
Its creator has a long history of working in both live and screen mediums; and indeed her ongoing passion and artistic endeavour has been to make the two work together. Alongside renowned cinematographer Judd Overton, Healey and her eclectic cast of five have made an intimate and sensual paean to both the art of the dancer and the tradition of the portrait.
As Sue Healey tells it, “I’ve been interested in film and how the camera can see the moving body for years, because it’s a different way of seeing. It gives me much more detail. That’s what I love. The accuracy. Y’know, I can direct what the audience sees with much more detail.”
With five screens and five dancers, On View sets up both internal and external dialogues; the ensemble dancing both together and with themselves. “It’s about reality and our version of reality, our perspective on what is real and what isn’t,” Healey explains. “I love the gap between the real and the unreal. Although theatre has always played with this, dance perhaps hasn’t because it’s a very ‘in the moment’ artform. But as soon as you bring in the filmed body it gives you many other things to play with.”
Naturally, you would expect someone steeped in dance culture to be attracted to the notion of the dancer as subject matter. However, for Healey the lure runs a little deeper than body worship or dance narcissism. “The dance performer has this incredible ability to be seen, to allow themselves to be seen,” she argues. “On the other hand, they are very good at seeing. So that makes them the perfect subject of a portrait because they are enquiring about the actual act of seeing.”
This is where the other core tenet of On View comes into play; namely, portraiture. “Since time began we’ve been making portraits of ourselves and each other and it seems to me that it’s utterly fundamental to being human,” Healey contends. “It’s in order to understand identity; who we are and what we’re doing on this planet.”
Indeed, both Judd Overton and Sue Healey took inspiration from the long cultural history of portraiture. The look and feel of the filmed sequences recalls Renaissance Humanism. “A lot of the interior shots were filmed using that Western European lighting technique from old oil paintings,” Healey confirms. “Y’know, one strong soft light coming in from the side. I spent a lot of time in galleries looking at those techniques and so I adapted some of that.”
For all the high art conceptualising though, the work presents much more mundane challenges. How, for instance, to get five separate film threads to run in the way you wish? Whereas in March On View was performed in the intimate surrounds of the upstairs space at Dancehouse, July’s version will happen on a much larger scale at Carriageworks. “It’s at least four times the size of Dancehouse,” Healey says; the point here being how to get the various bits of kit to talk to one another. In Melbourne, media players sufficed. The bigger room in Sydney will necessitate a more complex rig.
At the very thought of it, Sue Healey laughs, “Actually it was quite lo-fi in Melbourne; and it nearly killed me.”
That said, she is probably one of the best qualified, most experienced video/dance practitioners out there; all of which will doubtless make the Sydney season of On View: Live Portraits as luminous and lyrical as the Melbourne one, technology notwithstanding.
For tickets and more information visit: http://bit.ly/onviewliveportraits
By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Shona Erskine in Sue Healey’s ‘On View: Live Portraits’. Photo courtesy of Sue Healey.