Australian Dance Reviews

Dance (Lens) highlights dance films from Australia and internationally

Mischa Baka's 'you and I are stood'. Photo by Baka.
Mischa Baka's 'you and I are stood'. Photo by Baka.

Dancehouse, Melbourne. 
August 2021. 

Dance (Lens) is a most exciting festival of screen dance organised by Dancehouse in Melbourne. Thirty-three short works are included, both Australian and international, each running a maximum of approximately 40 minutes. 

It is an impressive overview of world dance at the moment. There are some gripping, fascinating works, while others are really strange and quite bizarre. A common thread is a concentration on texture (of costume perhaps, or of the landscape, for example) with some fabulous photography, and a big feature as well is the focus on tiny hand movements. All sorts, shapes and sizes of bodies are included, ranging from disabled to stilt walkers and professionally trained dancers. Various dance styles are used, from contemporary to Butoh to A-line and assorted blends. There is a contrast between the works that are inside and those that explore a connection to nature (forest, water, desert, beach, grass, rock).The connection between sport and dance is also included (e.g. Strategic). Some of the works also examine the creative process of making the work. 

I won’t review all of them but some of the highlights include:

The opening work, Being Seen, by Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Hugo Glendinning (2016) is divided into 12 short sections featuring various people or sitting at a table. The movement is restricted and controlled, focusing on arm and hand movements – ranging from sinuous and slithery, steepled fingers, to wide flurries, or close-ups of   ‘talking‘ hands and emphatic shoulder movements, changes in mood of the various performers. In one section, it is as if the dancer was trying to gather everything in (memories?) while others use wide diagonal arms and flurries, or are pensive with their head in their hands. One dancer is on crutches and turns and twists their body away.    

Mothers and Daughters by Victoria Marks and Margaret Williams (1994) includes wonderful aerial shots and the use of shadows. There are intimate touches (finger walking up an arm, nose rubbing), hugs, turns and twists. We gain a great sense of love and protection as the various mother/daughters couples spin and turn. They ‘dip’, hold and hug. It asks some of the big questions of life with the ‘death’ (?) of the mother and the gentle,  intimate touch of the daughter. 

Alice with black mattresss by Siobhan Murphy (2019) celebrates the somewhat older dancer, Alice Cummins,  dressed in yellow, who hugs, folds, bends the mattress, performs some Pilates exercises, shifts/twists/folds/pushes the mattress, performs toreador-like flourishes, punches it as if she can’t sleep, crawls on the mattress and then sits quietly, pensively waiting. 

Emma Yussa by Sue Healey (2018) is dreamy and exuberant, slithery and fluid, set in an outdoor pool. Her long hair is important as she leaps and splashes buoyantly with exultant curves of her body. At times, it is almost as if she is drumming. There is also the contrast between the cold artificiality of the tiles and the textures of the outdoor environment. 

I Want to Make A  Film About Women by Dr Karen Pearlman (2019) celebrates the work of pioneer Soviet editor Esfir Shub. Some of it is in the ‘Constructivist‘ style and there are dancing shadows, controlled angular movements and pirouetting light globes. 

Cycle RE  by Ana Mariija Marinov (2016) delights in texture and nature with the dancer having fun breathlessly ‘spotting’ on the beach. She then slides down the railing to an empty tennis court. We then cut to the inside of a car, detailed closeups of hands the back toward the pier and water (but now it is night time) – and jumps. It is based on the concept that nowadays, no ideas are new, everything is being repeated – yet, things are being changed and moving forward. 

In Outside in by Swedish choreographer and dancer Tove Skeidsvoll with co-director Petrus Sjövik (2011), we discover a haunted, misty forest with an apparently doll-like barefoot Elvish creature (Skeidsvoll). She has fierce arms and does back bends exploring the forest – she darts, quivers, jumps, runs, rolls, utilises the deep Graham plié, touches the forest floor – and discovers a tiny shoot of a green plant growing (a symbol of hope?). We also see however all this being filmed, the dancer being corrected, et cetera. 

you and i are stood is another aquatic work, by Mischa Baka (2019). Both dancers, Ella Dumaresq and Shari Cohen, are in wetsuits as they roll, slip, slide, hug, perform backbends in the surf and on the beach. There is a warm sense of intimacy, encouragement and support. 

One of my favourite pieces was the powerful and hypnotic Fathom, by Dave Meagher (2021), set underwater, and a tribute to those lost at sea. The dancer softly floats and performs delicate arm movements. She kicks, rolls and turns while floating underneath. We also are made aware of the sun’s reflection while she assumes graceful dance-like poses. We see coral spawning (or are they bubbles?). The dancer vanishes, and we see the seabed floor. Is she a mermaid?  

Coutervail, by Lux Eterna and Kathryn Puie (2017), with its relentless pulsating score, is set in a lift with the doors opening and closing. The dancer has to use calipers for support and twists, turns, raises their arms with angular elbows while their legs wobble. Balance is extremely important. The lift opens to a carpark and the dancer uses the calipers like circus stilts. Their face is always obscured and they use birdlike arms at times, rippling, flowing, shape changing in the reflection of the mirror and other surfaces of the lift. It explores the concept of the body as weight and muscle and also as a fleeting object.

A crackle, crackle on the soundtrack takes us to Yinarr (2020with a First Nations dancer Amelia Jean O’Leary, and it explores her Indigenous identity. Graceful, flowing arm movements are contrasted with jagged ones. Suddenly, the frame freezes and then there are fast flickering movements. This is repeated and leads to floorwork with a deep Graham plié and a chair that is used. Suddenly, there are ominous shadows and a threatening ominous person stands behind the dancer – with a knife. 

Stuttgart Corner by Thalia Livingstone features a fabulous textured wall and wood, the dancer precariously balancing on the wooden plank. She slips, slides, goes under the plank and lifts it, and there are changes in texture and fun with bubble wrap.

Set on a basketball court, Strategic Choreographies by Leo Tsao (2021) is fast and furious with a circle dance,  tightly coordinated moves, at times chopping arms, crouches and a swarming seething united mass of the six dancers. They also have fun doing percussion with bouncing the balls before shooting them through the hoop. Also included is a circular duet with folding curved arms as two of the ensemble fight for the ball. 

By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa. 

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