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Reviews/Dance/Music

Dance and music in the attic

28 November 2020

Reminding us of theatre’s ability to synthesise the joys and pleasures of the past with contemporary forms, STRUT Dance and Tura New Music’s ‘Situ-8’ is an evocative program of short new site-specific works, writes Jonathan W. Marshall.

‘Situ-8’, STRUT Dance and Tura New Music ·
State Theatre Centre, 26 November 2020 ·

Taking dance and music into the corridors, roof spaces and basement venues of WA’s State Theatre Centre (STCWA) “Situ-8” is a collaboration between STRUT Dance and Tura New Music that sees local independent dance artists partner with musicians to present eight short, new site-specific works.

Previously performed under the name “In Situ”, the program takes place annually, staging new works in atypical spaces. Curated by Serena Chalker and Geordie Crawley, the eight works in this year’s program are best described as installed works; though they occupy specific locations and riff off these associations, most of them could be staged elsewhere. The works rest lightly within their awkward yet apt placements, viewed by the audience from balconies, along corridors and bars, or sitting in the black box venues of the STCWA basement.

Many of the artists all but ignore the literal space, evoking a much older building – STCWA is transformed into a dusty theatre from the indeterminate past. In Muse, director Sally Richardson adorns the basement with rickety cages, bric-a-brac, even old children’s toys (a teddy bear sits comfortingly on a faded deckchair). For The Kingsford Lilies, Talitha Maslin dresses her dancers in hyperbolic, white diva costumes that balloon out from the waist, their hair piled high and adorned with feathers – like refugees from an 18th century ball or Swan Lake – while composer CRONES bathes the audience in samples and guitar noise.

“Situ-8”, therefore, serves as a reminder that while high-tech theatre exists, theatre is, at its heart, a musty, rather dated artform. Its joys and pleasures are akin to the curios and prompts to memory which one finds in childhood attics, basements, abandoned prop rooms and wicker touring baskets. Muse and The Kingsford Lilies especially evoke this sense of theatre as a space of reverie and dream, of something about the past; something borrowed and something new, all at once.

Standout works include Joshua Pether’s Siren Call: a very John Cage-style piece of music/theatre in which the plash of water and washing of utensils, the scrape of a glass over the bar, and the turn of an old reel-to-reel tape recorder are unfussily manipulated by two dapper wait-persons-cum-actor-musicians (Simon Charles and Josten Myburgh). This is set against two female dancers (Daisy Sanders and Tahlia Russell) who appear from beneath the catwalk upon which the audience stands. The dancers’ faces are obscured by grey wigs. Hunched over, they extend spidery arms, as though searching for a lost dance, which here emerges as a series of barely remembered fragments.

Also striking is Eve, from internationally renowned dance artist James Vu Anh Pham, in which two gracile men (Pham and Tyrone Robinson) flank a female performer (Zunnur Zhafirah, another dancer with an international reputation). Nemo Gandosini-Poirier’s lighting renders flesh and musculature prominent as the trio twine and contort. Zhafirah grimaces, swiping her face with her hand to transfer energies from her mouth to the rest of the body. Legs splay and the torso hovers low above the ground – reminiscent of the complex bony manipulations that dominated late 1990s eastern Australian dance (I have in mind Phillip Adams’ balletlab), but with an expressive intensity, a nervous shudder and an overt use of physiognomy that bring the performance close to Hijikata Tatsumi, butoh dance and even contemporary Maori performance. This is supported by a wonderful deracinated use of historic Baroque lute or theorbo, which provides crushing bass tones through a distorted system. Composer/musician Matthew Jones supplements this with oddly tuned plucks and arpeggios; the Near East comes to European art music by way of noise art.

Though Siren Call and Eve stand out as more resolved offerings in what are otherwise dance-music sketches, the strength of “In-Situ” has always been the diverse combination of physical works that draw one into various niches within little-known spaces. That samples of one kind or another feature in many scores is unsurprising, given the space becomes an echo chamber of noises and all but forgotten corporeal acts.

“Situ-8” finished its short season 28 November 2020.

Pictured top: From left are James Vu Anh Pham, Zunnar Zhafirah and Tyrone Robinson in ‘Eve’, a standout work in ‘Situ-8’. Photo: Anthony Tran

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Author —
Jonathan W. Marshall

Dr Jonathan W. Marshall is postgraduate coordinator at WAAPA, Edith Cowan University. Jonathan has written for RealTime Australia, Big Issue, The Age, Theatreview NZ, IN Press, and presented on radio, since 1992. He grew up beside the Yarra River, near a long metal slide, set into the side of a rocky slope.

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