23 October 2020.
Streamed online for Liveworks 2020.
A musician crouched in desert plants and red-tinged dirt, the sounds he creates on various devices electronic but with a natural feel. A dancer moved among boulders while another partnered with the grass, the wind moving bending and swaying it. Was this a making of a dance film, or even some sort of wellness or arts retreat? It was actually a live performance filmed from a drone, from Performance Space in Sydney. As the need for social distancing in the face of the COVID pandemic has changed the ways in which we can gather to create and experience art, we also have ever-advancing technologies at hand to supply new ways to create and enjoy it. Sue Healey’s work in Performance Space’s Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art, felt like an Exhibit A of that truth. Raghav Handa, Billy Keohavong and Allie Graham danced the work.
The performance opened on the musician (Ben Walsh) mixing with electronic musical instruments. He created sound effects such as dragging the microphone for a gravelly quality and hitting rocks together for a scratchy pounding. The camera shifted to a view of a rocky shoreline, and a dancer crawled — intentionally, mindfully — toward it. He threw some of the stones in front of him, therein shaping the space itself.
Another dancer moved in a grassy area, bare and red in some places. She slowly curved through her spine on her back and then into a half circle shape, hands and feet grounded while her spine arched toward the sky. She moved with incredible flexibility as well as a weightedness, a connection to the ground. Later, she moved within large rocks, shaping herself to their contours with the comfort of being at home. She came to face one of them and press her palms against it, throwing all of her weight there as if trying to push it. Atlas of ancient mythology came to mind for me, endlessly pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity. I pondered to myself if the work of an artist is a kind of perpetual pushing a boulder up a hill.
Seeing the musician at work again snapped my attention back to the performance. The meta quality of seeing him perform along with the dancers was fascinating to me; it was another layer of sensory input that’s part of the performance, which we audience members could directly see created. The next thing that truly snapped me to attention was one of the dancers kneeling at the edge of shallow water and then splashing her face with it. This action deepened the overall feeling in the work of returning to simplicity and everything natural. White, simply cut and draping costumes added to this feeling, as well, through imbuing a feeling of purity and naturalism.
Later, a dancer stood high on top of a rock formation, reaching high and wide to take up space amidst the open spanse all around it. The shifting of the shot from the drone’s flight was evident (drone flight control by Ken Butti), something that felt possible here that might not be with a person filming. Next, the performers created many different qualities, music and movement together — a section that was staccato in style and another that was more solemn and slow.
For a moment there, going back to a staccato quality did feel a tad disjointed and jarring for me. Yet, when this quality once again reigned came a stunning solo from one of the dancers. He grounded, lunged and lengthened in a roaming quasi-battement that truly floated like a feather. I did appreciate the pedestrian quality of the movement thus far; it further enhanced that feeling of simplicity and naturalism in the work. Yet, this solo made me want to see more of this virtuosity of strength made to look so soft and simple. It too felt “back to basics,” as complex technically as it was. It was a wonderful bundle of contradictions that I wanted more of.
Then came a wonderful feeling of playfulness, the three dancers coming together in a clearing that was strikingly circular. They circled around and through one another, and then began moving long, thin and red wooden planks. They moved around and through those, too — the play didn’t stop! Play itself is also part of our human essence, after all. Finally, they laid out the planks to spell “LIVE” — live as in streaming to an audience as it happens, or an encouragement to truly live? Perhaps a clever double-entendre.
In any case, the symbolism here felt rich, accessible and open to audience interpretation — the most effective kind of symbolism art can offer, I’d argue. We audience members experienced everything that the piece created and presented through the unique technological approach of filming from a drone. The cultural moment at hand met a newer technology to create something truly memorable and impactful. Art is a space where those kinds of confluences can happen, if we breathe life into it.
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.