Australian Dance Reviews

Jonathan Homsey’s ‘Star Spangled Banter’: A delightfully discomforting space

Jonathan Homsey's 'Star Spangled Banter'. Photo by Shannon May Powell.
Jonathan Homsey's 'Star Spangled Banter'. Photo by Shannon May Powell.

Dancehouse/Melbourne Fringe.
14 October 2021.

If called upon to boil it down to a single word, it would be…post.

Post-dance, post-theatre, post-modern…post pretty well anything you could reasonably take at face value. However, this is not quite the calamity it seems. (I daresay it’s post-calamitous.) Rather, Jonathan Homsey’s contortionist self-referencing and absurd playfulness border on permanent subversion. The net result is that Star Spangled Banter remains elusive, evading easy labels and defying the norms of criticism (and associated taste making).

Perhaps Homsey’s most rebellious act is to openly defy the received standards of dance – aesthetic, theoretic and historic. At points, his latest solo is (deliberately?) ugly. He often appears clumsy, even uninspired. The ‘choreography’ borders on non-existent, a drabness amplified by the sterility of the online video platform. Both the work and the artist are distant. It is as if we are watching someone whirl around their loungeroom and we soon we find ourselves asking: why are we watching this?

Although Homsey is not the first to play this card, he does so with great dexterity. In a way, he is a trickster, a nomad in a world of enforced stillness. He brings numerous identities to his work, at once insider and outsider. As a dancemaker, he is comfortable thumbing his nose at dance. In fact, there are moments in Star Spangled Banter when you wonder if he is goading us to dislike it. To log off. Ask for a refund.

The central absurdity of the work is revealed through the glaring juxtaposition of the US national anthem and the words of philosopher Dr Philipa Rothfield. Here, we smash nationalist kitsch against the frequently arcane body of ‘dance theory’. I use this term advisedly, but the point is that the collision of the highly intellectualised with the stadium ritual of flag waving serves to highlight the catechistic qualities of both. Somewhere between the hollow orthodoxies, we find Homsey – not quite in the middle but hovering just beyond our grasp.  

It is not possible to say whether Star Spangled Banter would have been a qualitatively different experience live, but as an on-demand stream, it leveraged the innate disposability of online video. Somehow, it is even more ephemeral than ephemeral. Mirage. Chimera. 

In other words, it can’t be boxed up. No theory or genre or identity narrative will pin it down. Even our attempts to ‘understand’ it will fall foul of its slippery shapeshifting skin. 

Oops, blinked…over. 

As such, this work exists in a delightfully discomforting space. Are we being conned? Is Homsey laughing out loud right now? Or, perhaps more subversively, did he flip this out with barely a care, as if to say, in the end you’ll accept anything if I call it dance. Like all the constructions we salute in the name of those fluttering flags.

By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.

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