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Review Journal, 11-5: 'Body'
Dance Storms Melbourne Arts Fest
By Chloe Smethurst
Copyright 2003 Chloe Smethurst
MELBOURNE -- The Melbourne
International Arts Festival is an annual celebration of arts and
culture focusing on both local and international acts. In her three-year
tenure as artistic director, Robyn Archer has dedicated each year
of the festival to a different aspect of artistic endeavor, nominally
text, body and voice. In 2003, it was Melbourne's
delight to experience Ms. Archer's interpretation of body,
which involved, essentially, huge amounts of dance. Not only were
there a great number of dance performances and dance film screenings,
every night of the festival saw thousands of people learning different
styles of dance out in the cold and occasional rain of Federation
Square. Also included were musical performances focusing on dance
scores, visual art works centered on the body and a number of movement-theater
and other cross-disciplinary performances.
While the overall standard
was, as always, very high, there were a few standout performances.
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan's performance of "Cursive II"
was masterful and elegant, bringing Lin Hwai-min's choreography
to Melbourne for the first time since 1988. In an absorbing exploration
of the art of Chinese calligraphy, set to a score by John Cage,
the exquisite artistry of these dancers was shown to full effect.
It was not only the skills of the dancers that were highlighted,
but also Lin's expertise in arranging the movements and performers
on stage. Contrasting strong, fast, martial-art like moves against
the most intricate and delicate undulations of the spine, the dancers
flowed across the space in a beautiful imitation of a calligraphy
brush on parchment. For me this was truly art that moves.
In a similar vein, and
yet entirely different in form was the stripped-down work of French
choreographer Odile Duboc, "Trois Boleros." To three different orchestrations
of Ravel's "Bolero," Duboc used a simple and yet effective movement
vocabulary to illustrate how complex the relationship can be between
score and choreography, and that there are many different possibilities
for an outcome between the two. Interestingly, I found that half
way through the second "Bolero," I was no longer listening to the
music, as I had become so accustomed to its repetitions that it
became almost invisible. While occasionally appearing to be little
more than a choreographic exercise, this piece's simple structure
was pleasing to the eye when performed at the end of such a long
and densely packed festival.
At the other end of
the spectrum was "memorandum," a creation of the Japanese performance
collective Dumb Type. Not only was this piece the opposite of "Cursive
II" and "Trois Boleros" in terms of style, it also fell well short
of the mark in weight and content. While the work revealed great
skill in the integration of multi-media into live performance, its
choreographic and theatrical elements were particularly underdeveloped
and often seemed completely unrelated. Even given that the nature
of memory, the focus of the piece, is often transitory and seemingly
irrational, some of the elements brought into the work did little
but confuse and irritate, with many sections drawn out far too long.
Unfortunately, I did
see another item in the festival which really wasn't up to scratch,
Salia ni Seydou's performance of "Weeleni." I was particularly interested
in seeing this work, as the promotional material touted a blend
of traditional African and contemporary dance. The three dancers
in the company began their careers in Burkina Faso, went to France
to train and work in contemporary dance techniques, and recently
returned to their home city of Ougadougou to make their own performances
as Salia ni Seydou. That the dancers had choreographed their own
movement was perhaps the main the problem with "Weeleni," as the
performance was filled with self-indulgent, repetitive movements
with little or no development or structure. Not traditional enough
to be counted as tribal, nor formal enough to be looked at as concert
art, this uneasy hybrid did not communicate to me at all.
There were of course,
a number of other fantastic productions throughout the three-week
festival. Of particular interest was Phillip Adam's "Nativity,"
a fantastically surreal vision of Australian suburbia in the 1950s,
featuring vintage furniture, various specimens of native taxidermy
and a series of piquant dance vignettes that left me wanting to
see more. Also very successful was the premiere of Chunky Move's
"Tense Dave," a collaboration between choreographers Lucy Guerin
and Gideon Obarzanek and theatre director Michael Kantor. The performance
was held together by a brilliant set, strong execution by the dancers
and a smooth fusion of choreographic and theatrical techniques.
Lucy Guerin also presented her own work, "Plasticine Park," details
of which can be found in my
While a three-week international
festival of dance was physically exhausting and mentally draining
for those of us who tried to see it all, Robyn Archer really succeeded
in portraying a wide spectrum of dance, both in terms of style and
cultural background. Undoubtedly the favorite performance, winning
both The Age Critic's Award and the inaugural Patron's Award, was
Cloud Gate's "Cursive II." It really was a pleasure to watch, constantly
surprising and challenging the imagination.
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