The connection between the living, breathing human being and the inanimate object intrigues independent choreographer Alison Currie.
“I’ve been working with various objects for a long time now,” Currie says, sipping a glass of cold water on a hot Adelaide afternoon. “And have come to notice in lots of different ways how a dancer standing next to an object becomes more like the inanimate object. So what happens in a crisis or something traumatic — there’s a shutting down inside the person to numbness.
“There’s something in the connection between body and object, subtle references to things in the world that allow you to see a range of emotions somehow that if it was another person. The way you touch an object — a gentle touch can create intimacy or solitude, and a more violent touch — because it’s an inanimate object it’s not violent, but it can be used in that way.
“What does that mean for the person?” She ponders the question for a moment or two. “It dehumanises the person while humanising the object. And this is what is happening today in places like Syria. Some people will come to a show and see some pretty dancing and some people will see the subtle connections when, for example, the dancer is crushed by the object. And that’s what’s happening in the world. We treat objects as more important than people.”
As part of last year’s Versus Rodin exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Currie and her visual artist sister Bridget collaborated on a performance piece, Things Meeting Now, in which Currie interacted with Bridget’s lightweight sculptures, one a rough slightly bent tube, which fitted over her arm, another that clumsily covered her back. Many people thought they had been moulded on her body, but this was not the case. “They were just Bridget’s imaginings,” she says, “but they do have a connection with the body, and when I pick them up they become more like parts of a body.”
This was a theme in a section of Three Ways to Hold (2010), in which Bridget piled lengths of cloth on her sister, who remained standing steadily as long as she could, but eventually, bowed down by the increasing weight, almost fell over. Instead she dumped the weary load and strode off.
In Sisyphean Action (2017) — named for Greek king Sisyphus who was punished by the gods for his deceitfulness by having to roll a rock continuously up a hill only for it to roll back down again — Currie lifted and rolled over a 28 kg red sandstone chunk she found beside an Adelaide Hills road (she grew up in Strathalbyn). There were moments when the dancer and the rock seemed to become one. “The rock,” she says with one of her many wide smiles, “is now in my garden.”
Not all her works are small and intimate. In 2009 she choreographed Bedroom Dancing, directed by Steve Mayhew, for Restless Dance Theatre. Staged in series of open bedrooms in the Queen’s Theatre, it was a huge success and won the Outstanding Achievement in Youth and Community Dance 2010 Australian Dance Awards.
Even before she had graduated in 2015 with a Master’s degree from London’s Roehampton University, Currie had been thinking about Concrete Impermanence, her new piece opening at Space Theatre on Thursday, May 17. The title is a play on the saying of the ancient Greek Heraclitus, “Change is the only constant”. The idea came from seeing the earthquake destruction in New Zealand. “Physical things that seemed so strong just became useless,” she recalls. “When big events happen globally or personally there’s this sense that everything’s changing, that something’s been pulled out from under you — so change is the only constant.”
The work will be audio described for the hard of hearing, and an LED screen reacting to Alisdair Macindoe’s soundscore will give a visual description. To convey her ideas, as well as three dancers, Currie is employing cardboard molo objects, concertina boxes of various sizes that can expand and contract. She uses cardboard because cardboard was extensively used for temporary buildings after the Christchurch 2011 earthquake, including the architect-designed Cathedral, which opened in August 2013.
Whether large or small, Currie’s works are always thought-provoking, and Concrete Impermanence will be no exception.
Thursday, May 17 and Friday, May 18
I Can Relate
(short video dance work)
Tuesday, May 8 to Monday, May 21
Header image: Alison Currie’s Concrete Impermanence, (photo: Jessie McKinlay)