Above and beyond

 

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The Beyond Technique Residency project is part of Dance Integrated Australia’s annual program held at Bundanon Trust’s Boyd Education Centre. Situated on the NSW South Coast inland from Nowra, the Riversdale property provided an ideal backdrop for dancers from across Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, USA and the UK to participate in a week-long skills development and performance making project.

Leading this project was Creative Director, Philip Channells and guest artist, Lee-Anne Litton (Strings Attached). Channells & Litton combined forces with Adelaide-based filmmaker, Tim Standing (Daylight Breaks) to seed new choreographic possibilities of three solo performers (Daniel Monks, Zac Mifsud & Tara Coughlan) whose work was inspired by the natural and architectural surroundings of the Riversdale property. Standing is currently in post-production of a triptych of films from these solo works.

Part 1 of the BTR#2 showing began with a promenade walk which started at the Boyd Education Centre (BEC), over the hill and around the wombat holes (which were marked out with bright orange witches hats to avoid any danger to the audience). Passing one performer (Zac Mifsud) dressed in contemporary-style army combat gear, they then crisscrossed through the dry creek bed. One octogenarian audience member (a grandmother of one of the ensemble performers) was seen being carried across the creek on the back of a much younger man.

The audience rested on one side of the riverbank, looking out to a seemingly lifeless corps (Daniel Monks) whose head and one foot were barely exposed under the awning of a dark shallow cave covered in cobwebs. Buried under the forest mulch, the head turned to the audience, slowly coming to life as it slid the remainder of the body upside down and finally dropping off the slope of the riverbank to another resting position. The body now fully exposed, slumped twisted and contorted gave a creepy picture of a suspicious murder or wrong doing. In (insert name of work) Monks uses the environment of his performance space well to portray frustration, pain, loss and re-identification of a different man in a different body.

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The second performance location was a short stroll to the bottom of the hill next to the property’s entrance gate. The man we passed earlier appears out of the woods about 100 metres from where the audience now stands huddled together. In ‘Ode To (my) Grandfather’ he’s tough, robust, and ready for action. With his earplugs in, he is warbling nonsense and its hard to tell if his sounds are commands, directions or words to his favourite song but adds a humorous element to the soundscape of what looks like a scene in a war movie battle. Mifsud’s high physical action moves come closer to the audience until he pauses, standing completely still close enough that we hear his heavy breathing from the repetitive, strenuous choreography. He drops his pretend gun (a small branch from a tree), sheds his armour pack, and continues walking away from the audience. One audience member (one of the ensemble dancers) fake-collapses to the floor and is revived by Mifsud on his return.

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The next location is a shorter stroll to a tree beside the administrative buildings of the property. For (insert the name of the work) the dancer (Tara Coughlan) is seated against the tree looking up through the branches. There is a partially damaged pale pink teddy bear resting in the fork of the trunk of the tree above her.  In between the exposed roots she sits in dust and there are a hand full of oranges placed around the performance space which the audience sits in a semi-circle position. Couglan describes aspects of her family life in an interview which is pre-recorded with music overlaying and adding a personal element to her work which is intimate and reflective. She dances around the tree… bending, standing on one leg and reaching out to her childhood best friend (teddy bear) arching backwards over the fork of the tree repeating her phrase again on another side before resting again in her starting position, this time with her teddy bear wrapped in her arms.

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Whilst there was still daylight, the backdrop of the Shoalhaven River provided the audience a postcard-perfect  location for part 2 of the BTR#2 showing. Jianna was part of the ensemble group work that began their showing with New Zealand-based dancer Georgie Goater (a Touch Compass dancer) perched still laying on her side to the right and on top of  the small amphitheatre. She begins on hands and feet in a bridge position crawling across the grass like a strange extinct human/animal creature before she stands to drift from one side of the amphitheatre to the next, falling off her weight each time. She stands still to one side and addresses the audience….

If I that tree was but a single blade of grass, and I a just a little ant, that body of water would be a mere puddle left in the imprint of a giant’s footstep. Georgie Goater

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Wearing pig tails and ribbons, fifteen year old Melbourne-based dancer, Stella Barton (who has Cerebral palsy) has a dream to one day compete in the equestrian dressage event at the Paralympics. As Goater disappears over the edge, Barton, taking one carefully considered step at a time, slowly appears and stands tall on the top edge of the grassy area with the river behind her. She presents the audience the equestrian routine which circles in different directions in the base of the amphitheatre whilst 17 dancers, shoulder to shoulder slowly appear behind her.

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The line breaks and three groups are formed to open out the performance space which is now spread across the amphitheatre and into the foreground. Barton joins in with Chris Bunton’s grandfather dance in a slow gestural duet whilst the other three groups form an all legs and arms creatures huddles head to head on their backs and in a circle. More of the human/animal creatures appear from within these groups who contort and entwine their bodies to create an other-wordly scene where images appear and disappear everywhere you gaze.

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In a line formation they walked slowly across the frame and led the audience to the dormitories where the ‘Peep Show’ section was performed. With the sun now dropped behind the building the dancers appeared in windows… sometimes solo, sometimes together whilst some performed in front of the building. In unison they repeat Bunton’s ‘grandfather dance’ before reshuffling into their next scenes, which were initially constructed in the nature as a response to the sensations the dancers experienced but then brought back and placed into the architecture. When each scene ended the windows closed and the lights turned off. A clever tool to guide the audience along the building from left to right.

PEEP SHOW by Philip Channells

The final section of the BTR#2 showing happened inside the BEC building. This part was a demonstration of the morning workshops that were led by Litton and choreographed by Channells. The evening ended with the dancers commenting and sharing their experience with the audience, a bar-b-q and a ‘disco / show off / show us what you’re really made of’ session.

Photos: Philip Channells

Click here for the Beyond Technique Residency #2 program. Art work and design by Chris Anderson (Program Assistant, Bundanon Trust).