Tag Archives: contemporary dance

Melbourne International Arts Festival

Art involves a risk, a risk for the artist that they might fail and a risk for the audience that they might not enjoy it. Sports, strippers and stuntmen are risk free entertainment for the audience; you will generally get what you expect. Art involves an investment by the audience that might not return value for their time, money and emotional investment. Not that the risks posed by art are that great, a waste of time, money and thought. I have been bored far more often than shocked and rarely hurt (use ear protection when going to live bands or night clubs).

A critic should take more risks in what they see than ordinary members of the public. A critic should be an explorer of new territory, as well as, being aware of the established areas. I have not been taking many risks recently going to events at the Melbourne International Arts Festival as they have been programmed by festival directors and praised by other critics. Arts festivals attempt, with their selection and discount ticket packages, to ameliorate the risk of sampling new work. In this respect I feel a bit negligent in my selection of items to report in this blog. I excuse myself as I am still recovering from all the secretarial work for the Melbourne Stencil Festival.

Seeing a production of Chunky Moves has become a safe bet for me, after the last three of their productions (Glow, Two Faced Bastard, and Mortal Engine) that I have seen. I know that they will take risks in new and daring dance productions. I know that they consistently produce excellent performances and I never know what to expect from a Chunky Moves performance except that it would high-energy contemporary dance. Certainly their production Black Marrow lived up to expectations in that it defied my expectations all the way through. Just when I expected not to see a face for the whole performance, a man in a three-piece suit emerges from the mass of bodies and starts to talk to the audience. I laughed, I cried, it was grotesque – it was life in all its swampy blackness. The sound, lighting and other stage effects combined brilliantly with the dance. The Merlyn Theatre at the CUB Malthouse, is well equipped for these effects and is an excellent venue for Chunky Moves.

I had less of an idea what to expect of Ray Lee’s Sirens at the Meatmarket even though by the time I saw the second last performance there had been a few published reviews. It was clear from the festival program that this did not fit into a conventional artistic format of a play, concert or exhibition. It was worth the risk its of ambiguity and minimalism as there was a lot of beauty in it. Sirens is low-tech, drone installation and performance. It required a meditative mind, a person capable of keeping silent and listening to nuances in sound to appreciate. The machines, tripods with a rotating arm with a speaker and LED light on either ends are turned on and tuned. A single oscillator provides the sound to each pair of speakers. Then a motor turns the arm creating a Doppler effect as the speakers swing around. The shadows projected onto the walls of the Meatmarket of Ray Lee on a ladder turning one of the taller tripods as other arms rotated around was surprisingly beautiful. In the darkness at the end of the spinning LED lights are another beautiful image. All of this made me keep on moving around the installation to see and hear it from a different angle.

Dancing in Melbourne

Merce Cunningham was once asked after one of his performance at a university in India if people in America liked his type of dance. Merce Cunningham started to respond with an explanation of the popularity of his performances. No, this is not what the question was about: did people in America like to do this type of dance after dinner?

This distinction between dance as a performance and dance as a social activity has existed for a long time. There is also dance as a hobby, along with dance education and dancing competitions, all of these blurring the line between performance and dance as a social activity.

This weekend I saw a variety of dance and I danced. On Saturday there was the extraordinarily powerful, acid-trip level, experience of seeing Chunky Move’s production Mortal Engine. (For a review of Mortal Engine read Alison Croggon’s blog Theatre Notes.) And on Sunday I went to Fabian’s dance theme party danced and had a good time.

Fabian has evidently been doing Cuban dance classes amongst his wide variety of hobbies. And there were obviously other members of his Cuban dance class at the party. Fabian, ever the extravert performed two Cuban dances each with a different partner and then opened the floor for other of his friends to perform. And so I saw a sample of the type of dance that Melbourians like to learn, practice and perform. There were more Cuban dancers, a bald fire twirler dressed in a kilt, two women doing a pole dance and a woman doing a belly dance. Amateur belly dancers are typical for Fabian’s parties and they are always attempting to be more seductive than the belly rolling professionals at Coburg’s Turkish restaurants.

Dance is not an unproblematic activity for cultures due to the eroticism of moving bodies. However, this is not the case in most of Melbourne and certainly not at Fabian’s party where the gender of your dance partner was determined by your preference. I do remember seeing a Bosnian Moslem friend keep his eyes firmly fixed on his wife during a belly dancer’s performance when we were having dinner at Turkish restaurant in Coburg. And at the performance of Mortal Engine there were the ubiquitous warning about “partial nudity, smoke, laser and strobe lighting effects and loud volume audio.”

In some places how people dance, where and with who is determined by tradition, it is an expression of their identity. In contemporary Melbourne dance is a choice not tradition; Cuban dance is not an expression of Cuban identity any more than pole dancing is an expression of vice. 

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