For Joseph Mitchell, contemporary dance is the art form of the 21st century, and his OzAsia program reflects this view.
“We’ve moved on from the safety net of the three-act structure off the written text,” Mitchell says.
“We’re looking at body movement, space, and thematic ideas as the primary means for storytelling – choreography is the art form of communication.”
Headlining the performances is Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Sutra, 10 years old but continuing to garner fivestar praise and a Mitchell favourite. Cherkaoui appears in it himself, joining 19 Chinese monks from the Shaolin monastery, the birthplace of Zen Buddhism 1500 years ago. Mitchell, who has brought Cherkaoui’s work to previous OzAsia festivals, considers him to be “an outstanding model of global perspective and collaboration”.
“He gives himself over to different countries, different dancers; he wants to explore how new forms can emerge through collaboration,” Mitchell says.
“He didn’t go to China, to the monastery, to make work, but to chill out, for self development, as a reflective time. But he’s the sort of person who has an overarching desire to create, and he naturally gravitated towards forming a relationship with the monks, developing all these journeys – from boy to adulthood, from traditional China to contemporary China, from Chinese culture to western culture, and all these were built from the ground up in a really organic and authentic way.”
The set by noted British sculptor Antony Gormley uses tall boxes with great versatility; the choreography is both furiously athletic and quietly meditative, supported by Polish composer Szymon Brzóska’s score. Reviewing the recent season in London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre, the Guardian’s Judith Mackrell described the kung fu movement, practised as part of the monks’ spiritual discipline as “maniacally dangerous and beautiful moves which also carry the aura of compelling ritual”.
And then, by way of contrast, there is Dancing Grandmothers, South Korean choreographer Eun-Me Ahn’s tribute to the generation of her country’s women who lived through war, many of them losing male relatives, but gave birth to the women who have brought modernity. In 2010, Ahn travelled the land, visiting especially villages, filming and documenting hundreds of women and their movements. Her own company of 10 dancers responded to these and she has incorporated the various local gestures and mannerisms she found into a professional dance performance with 10 grandmothers, which ends with a disco party, glitter ball and all – her way of thanking them.
Mitchell says “she wants to give as many as she can the experience of going to another country, going up on a big stage, dancing in front of an audience”. She takes a different group of grandmothers to every country she tours, and says: “In the end I want every grandmother in Korea” (a somewhat ambitious aim in a country with a population of 25 million).
On a smaller scale, Close Company is a collaboration between Adelaide choreographer Alison Currie, dramaturg Neo Kim Seng, sound designer Sasha Budimski and Singapore-based Ricky Sim and his group Raw Moves, formed in 2011. Sim, a dancer and choreographer for more than 20 years, has worked with companies in Asia and Europe. An original thinker, Currie has established herself as a significant figure in contemporary dance, and the present work is the first to come out of her participation in OzAsia 2017’s Dance Lab, in which 10 choreographers from Asia and Australia undertook an intensive one-week residency curated, as this year’s is also, by Leigh Warren.
Currie says this new work “starts from a space where two dancers are leaning on each other but are emotionally disconnected”.
“It’s called Close Company because of the dynamics of the two dancers – but also because of the audience,” Currie says. “There are different performances, and for each the space will become smaller – the dancers will get closer to the audience.” At the time of writing, she hadn’t worked out the details, but in general knows “how the performances will go”.
“My idea is that the dancers get further away from each other as the audience encroaches on them,” she says.
The dancers will necessarily interact with the audience; they will be distinct, but share the same space. Currie “wants the piece to be accessible as possible”. There will be some chairs (useful for older members of the audience) and standing or sitting room on the floor. This worked very well at the Samstag Gallery in her sold-out Creatures for the recent inaugural Adelaide Dance Festival.
Sasha Budinski’s Close Company score is already complete, and very local – fundamentally a field recording of a crowded Ying Chow restaurant in Gouger Street. This loops over itself, and is added to but not overwhelmed by an electronic beat. Appropriate for a work that is being fully created and will have its premiere in Singapore.
Indonesia’s Eko Supriyanto brought his Cry Jailolo (2013) to OzAsia in 2015, making a political point about marine pollution. Jailolo is a seaport whose pristine waters are under threat, so the theme had special meaning for the superbly disciplined cast of seven young men: all of whom were divers. The work became the first of a trilogy; Bala Bala, for five young women, came in 2016 and last year Salt, a solo piece for the choreographer, which he is bringing to Adelaide this year. Where Bala Bala was concerned with exploring what strength means for young women, Salt returns to the ocean, and the contrast in the duality of salt in the sea and lifegiving water. It shows the influence of three different dance traditions – classical Javanese dance, folk dance, and Jailolo dance, which is at times militaristic.
Another soloist, Berlin-based Japanese choreographer/dancer Yui Kawaguchi performs her own Andropolaroid 1.1 (2010) amid a forest of white neon tubes, the lighting designed by her husband, Fabian Bleisch. A French dance critic, Lea, wrote that Yui Kawaguchi is “a dancer of exceptional suppleness and lightness … offers us a rereading of this introspective piece evoking the states of mind of the immigrant that she is and the cultural wranglings she has encountered”. Particularly relevant to Australia.
In all, a program of dance that is enticing in its variety
Thursday, October 25
to Sunday, November 11