2018 Keir Choreographic Award
Prue Lang, Bhenji Ra, Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters (Branch Nebula), Nana Biluš Abaffy
Tuesday 6th March, 2018
Amrita Hepi, Lilian Steiner, Luke George, Melanie Lane
Wednesday 7th March, 2018
At the Kier Choreographic Award semi-finals my shoes cut loose. At the Kier Choreographic Award semi-finals, independent of me, that is, my shoes cut loose. Lobbed by an enthusiastic audience member, relishing their liberty, my left shoe, it flew across the dance floor, airborne and free. It landed with a thud. The right shoe, it was a log that tripped another audience member mid-dance, before it transformed from obstacle into a fish flipping on land. My shoes, free of me, had the night of their lives, I expect. And when it came time to collect my shoes from the stage, I thought, yes, I am at the Keir Awards, at Dancehouse. (In truth, I also thought, why did I wear my new shoes tonight? I’d spent the day treating them like a newborn kitten.) Spread over two nights, four different works presented on each, the brilliance of the unexpected hit me in the heart. Moo like a cow on one, jangle your keys on two, applaud on three, shake it all about. This hokey pokey was the creation of Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters (Branch Nebula) and the invitation to explore the uncharted was lapped up by my chattels a little more than it was by me.
Branch Nebula’s Stop-Go toyed with their definition of performance being “in essence, just one thing after another”[i], and the audience, furnished with different sets of printed prompts (which had been left on each seat) when asked at timed intervals (at 01.45 to 02.00 “Pass all shoes to the right”/”applaud for 15 seconds”) were indeed “foregrounded throughout the performance”.
Independent of my shoes’ preference for abandon, for me, Prue Lang’s Yoni resonated. Performed by Mikaela Carr, Lauren Langlois, Amber McCartney, and Tara Jade Samaya, this self-described game was one I wanted to participate in. Indeed, both nights of the KCA semi-finals embodied the collegial spirit that has always drawn me to dance, contemporary and classical. From 80 applications, eight were drawn, and all presented something to chew on or gnaw at, or perhaps even bring up. This is, of course, entirely how it should be. The cup, the prize, it is well worth striving for, with the prize being the chance to present a 20-minute work to the judges (of the award) and the audience. There is, of course, a winner of the KCA, to be announced at the finals presented at Carriageworks, Sydney, but I attended for the experience of seeing Hildegard von Bingen — the visionary, the pioneer, whose devotional songs, illuminated manuscripts, and writings on biology, botany, medicine, theology, and the arts — revealed in the vision-like assured movements of Samaya and McCartney. As McCartney passed her extended arm through the ring Samaya made with her hands, the single window within the stone walls of the monastery was drawn: a window to the outside world; a window to a higher plane.
Within the focussed, uncluttered offerings of Hildegard von Bingen came a reminder to keep it tight. You cannot put all of your ideas in the one drawing, painting, or performance. The Canticles of Ecstasy, an elegant, early variation of the Principle of ‘Keep-it-Simple-Stupid’.
Yoni was an A to Z of strong female voices, from Pina Bausch and Louise Bourgeois by way of Sylvie Guillem, and in the Os, Georgia O’Keefe and Michelle Obama. A rapid-fire of questions and answers: Mary Anderson invented the windshield wiper; Nobel Prize in Physics (1903) and Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1911) recipient Marie Curie conducted pioneering research on radioactivity; Statistician Florence Nightingale founded modern nursing. The bell rang. Positions changed. And a circle became Barbara Hepworth piercing a stone, echoing her statement and practice that she rarely drew what she saw, but rather, drew what she felt in her body[ii].
From Program Two, the following night, Lilian Steiner’s Memoirs for Rivers and the Dictator, irrespective of how much the sound sought to push me away, and Melanie Lane’s Personal Effigies reeled me in closer. One must look back in order to move forward, in order to be a “timeless …. artefact in flux”[iii]. From Steiner’s body as “an archival document, mapping multiple histories of presence, perseverance, inevitable physical dissolve and reincarnation” embedded in our cells, our selves, to Lane’s mirror held to the “slippery ecologies …. we inhabit. How do we design our shells, conjure our ghosts or distil our souls?”[iv] How? With a trumpet that pierced Hepworth’s stone (and pierced my ear drums and rattled my spine in the process), and a green stage light so intense it made one read the following darkness as red. With strombidae (conch) shells with their large, curled legs for a pair of gloves, and a face painted gold beneath a mask also painted gold. How? With a mirror that enabled tricks of the eye: a form floated, weightless, a leg extended joined a leg reflected and together made a long noodle. Cells, shells, selves, Steiner and Lane flipped what was inside, revealed it to the outside, and rendered me, floored.
The human body was explored in all eight choreographic works, but not always in ways I had expected. In Bhenji Ra’s remixed fish-slip, The Wetness (Program One), and Luke George’s Public Action (Program Two), the audience, and their camaraderie vied for, in the former, and stole my attention, in the latter. From “spectatorship [to] audienceship …. with embodiment and empathy”[v] from the seats towards the back of the theatre emerged, rolled, and swelled, Latai Taumoepeau, Timothy Harvey, Brooke Powers, Leah Landau, and George. Slowly, they cleared the mountain of seats, “moving a difficult object from one place to another” in a “social choreography” and it was to my fellow audience I looked, noting who was hesitant to move, who found it amusing, who bristled, who became unsure.
The semi-finals were rounded out, no, make that ripped, made raw by Nana Biluš Abaffy’s brutal “ChoreoGraphic”[vi] marathon, Post Reality Vision, and Amrita Hepi’s roaring (yet soundless Yamaha PeeWee 50) A Caltex Spectrum. I walked home, and the world looked different. I walked home, and I was unsure of my place in it. In the comparative silence of the traffic, in the dark of the night, my familiar path was no longer; who could ask for more than that?
[i] Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters, Branch Nebula, Stop-Go program notes, Dancehouse, Melbourne, Tuesday 6th March, 2018.
[ii] "I rarely draw what I see — I draw what I feel in my body. Sculpture is a three-dimensional projection of primitive feeling: touch, texture, size and scale, hardness and warmth, evocation and compulsion to move, live, and love. Landscape is strong – it has bones and flesh and skin and hair. It has age and history and a principle behind its evolution." Extracts from Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor's Landscape (London: 1966), accessed 7th March, 2018.
[iii] Lilian Steiner, Memoirs for Rivers and the Dictator program notes, Dancehouse, Melbourne, Wednesday 7th March, 2018.
[iv] Melanie Lane, Personal Effigies program notes, Dancehouse, Melbourne, 2018.
[v] Luke George, Public Action program notes, Dancehouse, Melbourne, 2018.
[vi] Nana Biluš Abaffy’s biography, accessed 7th March, 2018.
Saturday 10th March, 2018: Congratulations to Nana Biluš Abaffy (Post Reality Vision) from Program One, Amrita Hepi (A Caltex Spectrum), Luke George (Public Action), and Melanie Lane’s (Personal Effigies) from Program Two, announced as the four finalists going to Carriageworks.
Image credit: Lilian Steiner, Memoirs for Rivers and the Dictator, by Gregory Lorenzutti