Australian Dance Reviews

Lucy Guerin Inc’s ‘NEWRETRO’: An epic installation of retrospection and creation

Lucy Guerin Inc's 'NEWRETRO'. Photo by Gregory Lorenzutti.
Lucy Guerin Inc's 'NEWRETRO'. Photo by Gregory Lorenzutti.

The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.
26 March 2023.

NEWRETRO is Lucy Guerin Inc (LGI)’s latest offering, a celebrative collation of 21 Guerin works, spanning 21 years, with 21 dancers performing. NEWRETRO was staged in a convergence of the spaces usually reserved for opposing media installations, with performance usually seen in a black box style theatre, placed in the white cube space of the galleries of The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) in Melbourne this March, termed the ‘gray zone’.

NEWRETRO is a retrospective containing excerpts that have shaped Guerin’s choreographic process and journey, selected from those that have resonated with her voice over the decades she has been creating dance. The ACCA space was chosen for its expansiveness that leant itself to a performance installation, and the ability to stage different ideas in the various rooms of the gallery, giving audiences the ability to experience and interact with the work from as may angles as they would like, in as long or as little time as they were like.  Upon arrival, entrants were given a white band, which allowed viewers to roam the gallery spaces, and leave and enter the gallery as they pleased. Photography and filming by the audience was encouraged as a part of the experience, viewpoint, and capturing of the new work being created using historical works.

There are four rooms in the ACCA, the first and largest space hosting most of the dancers, most of the time, although this varied greatly. At times, the dancers were all performing different sequences, at times in sync with one or two others, at times performing solo, at times all in unison, at times spread out, and at times very close together. The lighting in this first room also interacted with the work, as with art works that would usually be lit to direct attention and show the piece at its best, with strip lights running down the space, a small distance apart, parallel and in two rows. They would be turned selectively on or off, depending on where the focus was to be pulled, and at times they were choreographed into the work to move quite specifically the dance. In this room, the dancers wore black for the most part, with simple form fitting undergarments, and stiff-ish transparent material as an over layer. The black was very effective against the stark white background of the space, and with the depth of the gallery, this was quite interesting, highlighting the juxtaposition of what is the gray zone.

The second room had 21 screens with headphones for sound, showing excerpts of work that the live performance merged to create its novel montage. The third room consisted of a large video projection on a wall showing sections of various pieces, with a solo dancer toggling through the excerpt and playing it at varied speeds to learn it, showing the process quite a few of the dancers had to go through to learn the historical excerpts for this performance. The fourth room consisted of five rotating pairs of female duets, a theme that has emerged for Guerin throughout her choreographic career. The costumes for this room consisted also of simple undergarments and transparent overlayer dresses, but this time each pair wore a different colour. This performance space was set up to be a typical black box style, reflecting the standard contemporary dance performance space, and one that Guerin has typically staged her work in. The audience could either go back through all the rooms to exit, or through the first and largest main room, where the majority group was performing most of the time, for the three-hour duration of the installation.

The cast consisted of past and current LGI cast members, as well as some newer dancers who have not previously performed with LGI. A fascinating part of the process in putting this work together was in how previous cast members had muscle memory for the work they had been involved in in the past, some dancers had the experience of learning it from those who were originals, and still others learning it from videos. A real mixed bag of ages and stages of career, as well as process for putting this work in this space and time together. What a treat it was to see the generations come together to perform, a collection of talented dancers, with some having now been making their own work over the years, and are established in their own right, such as Antony Hamilton, Stephanie Lake, Melanie Lane, Lillian Steiner and Tra Mi Dinh. It was an incredible look back on the development of Guerin’s body of work, the cohesiveness of her voice, with a view into choreographic development over the last two decades in Australia, of which Guerin has been instrumental in shaping. 

NEWRETRO was both a marathon for the dancers, and a marathon viewing experience for the audience. Although we were free to come and go from the gallery, it was an almost impossible task to take our eyes off the work. It was a fascinating, mesmerising work which morphed and changed, weaving in and out of cohesion, masterfully utilising the expansive space with intricate detail, both cathartic and strikingly new. The largeness of the room, and the audience lining the edges, with constant shifting and moving, became an interesting detail in the performance. To observe the observer was almost as interesting as the constant movement of the work, and completed the experience in a whole new way.

NEWRETRO was a very special work on so many levels, and one which Guerin and ACCA should be especially proud of. It was an incredible experience for the audience, and one that we will not easily forget. Congratulations to LGI for a wonderful expanse of work that has spanned over two decades, and for putting a masterful collage together to celebrate this milestone. Here’s to many more years of LGI dance creation.

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.

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