Monday, October 4, 2010

Intimate Exposure

Dancer Sara Black. Photo by Six 6 Photography.
Part of the excitement of the Melbourne Fringe Festival is uncovering new and unlikely venues, which is what made the prospect of Intimate Exposure so intriguing. Housed in the recently converted Substation, it is, as the title suggests, a series of up-close and personal site specific dance works throughout the premise. The Substation is an old electricity plant turned into funky new multi-purpose art venue in the unassuming Western suburb of Newport (conveniently a couple of steps away from the train station).

While some of the cavernous brick building has recently been renovated to make way for slick gallery spaces, there are still plenty of nooks and crannies and industrial elements providing great potential for engaging with dance. Probably the most unique space was that used for Amelia McQueen's solo in the bowels of the building and filled with open squares of space within the bricks - like frames missing their windows.  McQueen used them to some effect, posing and pushing into them as she appeared to be in some sort of mild electrical shock. Then she slowly got up, maintained her physical state and walked through the central corridor, past the standing audience and completely out of the space. 

Sound was one of the over-arching themes that tenuously held the different works together and many of them were intentionally unpleasant and confronting.  Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal sputtered and dry retched her way through a powerfully guttural solo while hurling oranges against the wall and vigoursly whacking her legs into recognizably balletic lines. From less than a foot away and in a brightly lit, white-walled gallery, the audience was right there with her - some even copped desicated orange on their shoes. 

In another space, but to equally confronting and confusing sound ( some generated by the dancers and the majority by sound artist William Bilwa Costa), the two women engaged in a violent, disjointed duet surrounded by the audience. Dressed in only nude underwear and backless flourescent green blousey tops, they counted into walkie-talkies, wrestled in semi-sexual ways, scaled down a wall, violently scattered paper debris around the space and ultimately left the room to peer down on us from the other side of a high window. The closing image was Tunggal slowly pulling on a thread on the front of McQueen's top that began to open the shirt and reveal McQueen's breasts (not the same top that she was wearing in the opening of the piece!)  It was a baffling duet - fierce and committed in its energy but still closer to a work-in-development for the dancers than a piece for general audiences. 

The strongest offering of dance was Simmer: That which bubbles away under the surface choreographed by Carlee Mellow and danced by Sara Black, Madeleine Krenek and Paula Lay. There was both a cohesion and an offbeat sensibility within it that held together. Working with vocal scores and gestures, full of half-finished questions and disjointed conversations, there was the sense that conversations were trying to happen - communication was being attempted - but thwarted along the way (much like real life, actually). In funky, artistically chrocheted outfits and pink gum boots, each of the three women was a unique and strong presence. There was an equality to their contributions and all were totally committed to the absurdity and awkwardness of the material, even the ending which involved splashing in an upstage wading pool and distorting their voices through long tubes.  

Simmer was the only work in Intimate Exposure that felt like a complete work in and of itself, but it wasn't really site-specific to the Substation space. Performed on a raised, white square platform (very much like a stage), it could have been done anywhere. Acoustically, it may have been site-specific - that I am not sure. 

Also included in the itinerary around the caverns of the Substation were stops to see two short dance films, both by Dianne Reid. They were included to offer a different take on the theme of intimacy of personal experience - sleeping and grieving. While nice enough films in themselves, they were made for different projects a couple of years ago and felt a bit out of place, since all the other content had been developed specifically for the event. 

Of late, there has been a lot of dance in site-specific indoor and up-close spaces. Natalie Cursio's Private Dances for the Next Wave Festival springs to mind, as does The Oaks Bride (also in the 2010 Next Wave Festival) at Donkey Wheel. (Donkey Wheel has a similiar feel to The Substation - underground, brick, subterranean). These events generated  massive public interest. Audiences are hungry to experience dance in different ways; to be surprised by new places and to feel close to the performing acts. These events are exciting and engaging - they feel more like interactive artworks than a sedentary night in the theatre. They generally can make the act of watching dance more visceral and appealing. 

While this sort of engagement was the intention of Intimate Exposure, some of the material presented probably isolated rather than invited audiences. But it was definitely a risk worth taking since dance needs to keep finding different ways to manifest itself. It will be interesting to see how the Substation's programming continues to incorporate dance into its multi-modal mix and how the venue will use its unique interiors to support live performance.  

Intimate Exposure
Melbourne Fringe Festival
The Substation
30 September to 09 October 2010

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