Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

The techno-digital sublime

Review: Rachel Arianne Ogle, i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night ·
PICA, 5 June ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

Rachel Arianne Ogle’s superb precipice concludes with a reveal at the back of the darkened stage, where a curtain draws open to show an intensely glowing, curved wall situated at the rear of a small box, within which stands a sun-struck dancer. i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night takes this image and turns it into a short, stand-alone performance installation, with glitchie live electronic music from Luke Smiles and a blindingly purist lighting design and luminescent projections from Benjamin Cisterne.

Smiles, Ogle and Cisterne build here on the optical games and devices that immediately preceded cinema proper, such as the spinning, slotted zoetrope, or the carefully lit and crafted panoramas and moving dioramas of the nineteenth century. Cisterne has previously experimented with patterned moiré effects in lighting with his design for Sydney Dance Company’s 2 One Another (2012). Robin Fox’s use of digital projection and intense, immersive digital noise for Chunky Move is clearly another influence (Smiles previously danced with Chunky Move), as is, presumably, the regular to DarkMofo and the Melbourne Festival, Ryoji Ikeda, with his supra-minimal techno and lighting works for dance and installation. The strongest resonance, though, is with the landmark Morphia series, which dancer Helen Herbertson created with designer Ben Cobham of Bluebottle in the early 2000s, featuring an often agitated, naked Herbertson suspended in a blacker than black space, housed in a glowing white box.

Photo: Mick Bello

The movement of i have loved the stars too fondly is, however, more minimal than Herbertson’s intimate gestures. Halfway through i have loved the stars too fondly, there is a blink-and-you-miss it section in which Ogle briefly tilts onto an extreme angle and folds herself onto the floor, legs protruding above her, whilst lit by a totalising, white wash. Elsewhere she ever-so-unsteadily walks slowly and with very small steps down the centre line from the back of to the front and then back again. She is, therefore, more object than dancer, more a sculpture than a human.

The sheer over-stimulation of optical and aural signals means that the audience’s perception itself begins to warp (as in a zoetrope or Ikeda’s installations). As the sound pummels us (featuring, for a period, some of the most intense bass thuds I have heard outside of the work of Fox or Decibel), and as the light excoriates Ogle from behind, there are times where it seems she may be perhaps mouthing a silent cry. But the solarisation about her head and shoulders, and the silhouette effect it produces, is such that one cannot be certain.

The framing of the performer within i have loved the stars too fondly, therefore, echoes the work of performance artist Stelarc, who insists on calling himself “the body,” signalling his status an entirely impersonal, fleshy sensate unit sewn into a non-human, technological system. The effect, then, is that the body itself is almost blown apart, shattered and digitised (think the origin of Dr Manhattan in Watchmen). This is the techno-digital sublime in the extreme, producing a mildly terrifying feeling of euphoria and amazement. In the most impressive visual effect within the production, when Ogle stands at the front of the stage, the rapid shifts in the colour and directionality of the light create the illusion of up to six or eight shadowy figures, arrayed in a semi-circle before us, each swimming into existence as its predecessor is blown away by the lighting.

This effect is staged early in the piece, and to some degree the dramaturgy has nowhere else to go. The distorted white dots on the back wall are patterned according to random transmissions picked up while the show is in progress. As Ogle moves away from us in this slightly more forgiving light-and-sound world, one is tempted to read this as a return of the human after its technological auto-da-fé.

But closure is denied and she keeps her back to us. The conclusion seems to arise out of its duration more than it does out of any musical or choreographic evolution per se. While it seemed a shame to end on a whimper rather than a bang, precipice and i have loved the stars represent the sort of work which drew me to dance in the first place: austere, formal, painstaking, and scenographically brilliant – two of the best movement works of 2019.

i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night runs until June 8.

Read a Q&A with Rachel Arianne Ogle.

Pictured top is Rachel Arianne Ogle in “i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night”. Photo: Mick Bello.

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

An exhilarating ride

Review: Rachel Arianne Ogle, precipice ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre of WA, 29 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Silence.
Two thin beams of light mark the stage with a giant “x”. A dancer in each corner.
Standing. Waiting.

From the opening moments of precipice, local independent choreographer Rachel Arianne Ogle places the viewer on edge. The prolonged silence at the start of the piece – before two of the four dancers tip off-balance into a run – sets the scene for a work in which movement, light and sound unite to repeatedly push the dancers and, by extension, the audience to that edge… to the precipice.

It’s a wild ride; visceral and invigorating. Though the work is abstract, there are clear arcs – sensual rather than narrative. And though precipice is unquestionably a contemporary dance work – the movement is often athletic in that way that makes you draw your breath sharply – it’s the deft interweaving of the choreography with the lighting and visual design by Benjamin Cisterne and score/soundscape by Luke Smiles that makes the ride feel so immersive.

Niharika Senapati and Tyrone Robinson in the 2014 season of 'precipice'..
The female dancers become perilous dolls: Niharika Senapati and Tyrone Robinson in the 2014 season of ‘precipice’.. Photo: Traianos Pakioufakis.

And finally, though it is designed around ramping up the senses, there is a poetic quality that infiltrates precipice. Now the stage is sliced in two by one of those beams of light from the opening. Against a swathe of ghostly electronic sounds, we see a dancer (the wonderful Tyrone Robinson) twisting, falling, staggering, limping. On the other side of the line, the remaining three dancers (Niharika Senapati, Yilin Kong and Linton Aberle) move through a series of supine tilts, rolls and suspensions that trace circular patterns on the floor and through the air.

Those circular patterns repeat throughout; we see them again as the two female dancers move through balances in which their legs and arms bring to mind the hands of a clock marching endlessly through time.

Though it’s hard to pick favourite sections (there are many), the synchronised male-female duos are a highlight. Apparently immobile, the female dancers become perilous dolls, to be manipulated by the male dancers who diligently insert themselves between the women and the floor. This morphs into a dance of fanning and falling counterbalances as the lighting gently oscillates between warmth and cool. The strength and focus required to pull off this movement material is considerable and on opening night, Aberle, Kong, Robinson and Senapati ensured this section had the audience mesmerised.

Another memorable movement phrase sees the dancers lie across one another as though their bodies have been plaited. To a soundscape of lightly pattering beats interspersed with electronic surges, a pattern of planks and folds ripples through the quartet; a strange caterpillar labouring through a field of light circles.

Storm Helmore, Tyrone Robinson, Imanuel Dado and Niharika Senapati in the 2014 season of 'precipice. Photo: Traianos Pakioufakis
Though the work is abstract, there are clear arcs: Storm Helmore, Tyrone Robinson, Imanuel Dado and Niharika Senapati in the 2014 season of ‘precipice. Photo: Traianos Pakioufakis

There is relatively little to separate audience and performer at the Studio Underground and in the penultimate scenes of precipice, the energy from the stage feels encompassing. Engine-like noises become increasingly loud and urgent as the dancers variously move as one, separate, pause, and explode into the space. The tension builds and builds until, with a blinding flash of light, it hits an almost unbearable peak. No spoilers – you’ll have to see the show to find out what happens next.

As aforementioned precipice depends heavily on the physical and mental discipline of its dancers. On opening night Aberle, Kong, Robinson and Senapati gave an outstanding performance.

This is not precipice’s first outing. The work was originally presented in the same theatre in 2014. As Ogle notes, it is rare that independent work is granted a second outing. Watching precipice for a second time, it’s easy to see why the State Theatre Centre of WA and Perth Theatre Trust chose to break with tradition and program this work.

Together with her creative team, Ogle has made a work that is exhilarating.

precipice plays the Studio Underground until June 1.

The sequel to precipice, i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night, plays PICA, June 5-8.

Read a Q&A with Rachel Arianne Ogle about the two works here.

Pictured top is a scene from the 2014 season of ‘precipice’. Photo: Traianos Pakioufakis.

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Back to back

Thanks to funding constraints, it’s rare to see a body of work by one independent choreographer, and even rarer to see independent works remounted. In the next two weeks, however, Perth audiences will  be have the chance to experience both. A remount of Rachel Arianne Ogle’s 2014 work precipice, will be closely followed by a season of its 2019 sequel, i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night. Nina Levy sat down with Ogle to learn more.

Rachel Arianne Ogle. Photo: Pedro Greig.

Nina Levy: precipice was your first full length work… how did the concept for this work come into being?
Rachel Arianne Ogle: precipice began as an exploration of various physical states in opposition. In my own movement practice I have always explored a physicality of being off balance – generating and riding momentum, falling and surrendering weight to gravity – to take risk and play more in the extremes of the unknown. This physicality informed my creative interests for this work. As I explored a series of physical provocations through movement, the larger concepts of the work began to reveal themselves to me. I have always been fascinated with space and the universe, and as the movement ideas developed it became apparent these concepts were all very much alive in the work. From there the work began to guide me, and tell me what it was about.

NL: And talk me through the creative process of making that work…
RAO: When I began to create precipice, I had no ambition to be a choreographer. But I had arrived at a point in my artistic life where I had some ideas that I was curious to play with and, for the first time, I felt like I was ready to do that with some bodies in space that weren’t my own. It was really the first time that I had stepped out from being on the inside, in an attempt to explore something, which shifted my focus considerably.

I would often start with a simple image, and then allow that image to invite my imagination and intuition to guide me, while offering the perspective of being the outside eye to what was unfolding. It was only at the end of the first stage development, that I realised I was making a show. From there, it continued to grow for two and half years before we arrived at the premiere season in 2014.

Tyrone Robinson and Storm Helmore in Rachel Arianne Ogle’s ‘Precipice’ (2014). Photo: Traianos Pakioufakis.

NL: It’s not often that independent works get a second outing. What’s it been like remounting the work?
RAO: It is an incredible privilege, so rarely afforded to an independent artist, to be able to revisit work in repertoire. It is invaluable to have the opportunity to reflect on where I have come from, and to consider the work in the context of, and relevance to, my creative present. I see my history, my lineage, and my influences in this work – but I also see a moment in time when I was beginning to unearth and trust my own creative voice, and my crafting of ideas.

The opportunity to be back working with the dancers, and to see how far they have come in the five years since we premiered… their own maturing as artists and performers brings a whole new depth to the work. At the same time, new cast members hold me accountable to justifying the work and the decisions I have made within it, as we transmit the information to new bodies. It has been a very short and intense remount period, but an incredibly joyful and rewarding one.

NL: Your design team for the two works (Luke Smiles – sound composition and Benjamin Cisterne – visual design) is a dream team. How did you come to work with these two creatives?
RAO:Ben, Luke and I all worked together with Melbourne dance company, Phillip Adams’ BalletLab, so we had been friends for many years. Luke is also a dancer, and he and I performed together in one of Phillip’s shows for which Ben was lighting designer, which we all toured to the US in 2007. Alongside his career as a dancer, Luke always had his parallel career as a composer/sound designer, through which he has a long history of collaborating with Ben. I had always thought that if I ever created work, I would love to have them both as the design team. To be honest, I think I just got lucky that when that time came, they both said yes.

Tyrone Robinson, Imanuel Dado, Storm Helmore and Niharika Senapati in the 2014 debut of ‘precipice’.

NL: Did you always envisage a sequel to precipice? How did the idea for i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night  have come about?
RAO: i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night began from a design concept that has a momentary presence in precipice. During the production week in the theatre for precipice in 2014, my design collaborators – Ben and Luke – and myself, began to discuss the potential for that design element to have a show of its own. So it started from there, and the work became a response to the design. Because the design element was born from precipice, it always felt very connected to that work. And conceptually the work continues the themes of where precipice arrives at its end, but also takes it in a different direction… like going down a different worm hole. It very much feels like an offer of what comes next, or like “the other side” of precipice – therein being its sequel.

NL: What made you decide to make a solo work this time?
RAO: i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night was always going to be a work for a solo performer, I think, largely due to the design concept we were working with and what felt appropriate for that. It never felt like a question that the performer would be me. This work is incredibly personal to me so I felt like somehow I didn’t have a choice in it… the work had already demanded that it come directly through me to the audience.

NL: And talk me through that creative process…
RAO: We watched a lot of science fiction films! And had many nerd discussions about space stuff… like black holes, the warping and manipulation of time and space, death, and what lies beyond. These filmic references unconsciously and inevitably fed into the work. During the first development we kept finding ourselves sitting for long periods of time just watching the lights and sound interact with the installation. We eventually realised that this hypnotic state that we were being drawn into was the experience we wanted for the audience. Once we made that decision it was about shaping and refining the elements to create that experience, and exploring the relationship of the body to that environment. Placing the body inside of the installation added the human element and completely shifted the perspective. The interaction of the body with the moving lights in front of the installation, created a visual illusion, distorting the perception of the reality the viewer is seeing. It was quite a magical discovery, and for me that sense of warping reality is really the essence of the work.

Choreographically, I originally started developing some improvisation scores, exploring different qualities and textures, and states of transition. However the more we explored the dialogue of the body with the installation, the more we realised that I needed to do less. So it became a process of stripping back. The choreography became quite distilled, but very rigorous in terms of the tension and focus in the body.

We further developed the work during a residency at EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Centre) in New York in 2017. We continued to develop these ideas by integrating a live feed of radio communications from different airports around the world, which directly manipulates the lights and the sound. Ben and Luke then respond to this stimulus in real-time, shaping the already moving lights and sound into an improvised score and structure. So they are live onstage with me creating the design in real-time, and the work is slightly different every performance as a result.

NL: What’s next after these back-to-back seasons?
RAO: I am currently developing a new work, which is my most ambitious to date in terms of scale and vision. I am planning a design development for this work later this year, and will undertake a larger development with the dancers early in 2020. I will also be creating a smaller site-specific work in Tasmania in August, and undertaking some international travel to participate in a 3 month intensive improvisation project in Brussels later in the year. I’m dreaming up lots of new projects at the moment… so stay tuned!

precipice plays the State Theatre Centre of WA, May 29 – June 1.

i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night plays PICA, June 5-8.

Pictured top is Rachel Arianne Ogle in ‘I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night’. Photo: Mick Bello.

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2 contemporary dancers on stage
Calendar, Dance, June 19, May 19, Performing arts

Dance: precipice

29 May – 1 Jun @ Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by State Theatre Centre of WA and Rachel Arianne Ogle ·

Inspired by tectonic shifts, gravitational torsion and states of emotional rupture, ‘precipice’ is a dance of abandon and precarious control. Australian choreographer Rachel Arianne Ogle wields her technical and extremely physical style to draw immense unseen forces in the bodies of four dancers.

Ogle has assembled leading performance designers to create a multi-sensory experience where choreography unfolds within an electrifying light and sound installation. Contrasting precision and strength with mounting tension and fragility, this is a bold and unique work of contemporary dance from one of Australia’s rising choreographic artists.

precipice returns to the State Theatre Centre of WA after premiering here in August 2014 to critical acclaim. It was subsequently nominated for a Helpmann Award for ‘Best Dance Work’ and an Australian Dance Award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance’ in 2015.

“precipice began its life as an exploration of various physical states in opposition. It very quickly grew to take on a voice and direction of its own, to transcend my initial points of departure and delve into territory encompassing grander concepts of the universe. The infinite space in which we exist and to which we are intimately interconnected, and the invisible forces that are constantly at play within this, are beyond the realm of my conception. Through considering our place in this immense system, we unveil a profound vulnerability and fragility that is both ephemeral and enigmatic.” – Rachel Arianne Ogle

“A knockout production… Rapid high-tech triggers transport us into an expansive universe through light, sound and dance… a ticket to another dimension” – The West Australian

“An intriguing visual feast… the resultant whole assaulting the senses and stirring emotions.” – Artshub

Choreography by Rachel Arianne Ogle
Performance by Tyrone Robinson, Niharika Senapati, Yilin Kong, Imanuel Dado
Visual Design by Benjamin Cisterne
Sound Composition by Luke Smiles / motion laboratories
Costume Design by Colleen Sutherland
Produced by Sam Fox

More info:
www.ptt.wa.gov.au/venues/state-theatre-centre-of-wa/whats-on/precipice/

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