• Body of Work by Atlanta Eke.  Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti.
    Body of Work by Atlanta Eke. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti.
  • Rites by Matthew Day.  Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
    Rites by Matthew Day. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
  • Mass Movement by Jane McKernan.  Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti.
    Mass Movement by Jane McKernan. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti.
  • Three Short Dances by Sarah Aiken Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
    Three Short Dances by Sarah Aiken Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti

Keir Choreographic Award Finals -
Carriageworks, Sydney, 19 July -

The Keir Choreographic Award is a new national choreography competition dedicated to commissioning new work and promoting innovation in contemporary dance in Australia. Initiated by the Keir Foundation with support from Carriageworks, Dancehouse and the Australia Council, this biennial award follows the likes of the prestigious Place Prize in London, the first recipient of which was Sydney Dance Company’s Artistic Director, Rafael Bonachela.

Five international and highly respected judges selected eight artists from a pool of 80 video entries nationwide. These artists were then commissioned to develop their proposals into 20-minute works for which they received a fee, a production budget and in-kind space. From these works, which were presented at Melbourne’s Dancehouse, on 10–13 July, four finalists were chosen: Sarah Aiken, Matthew Day, Atlanta Eke and Jane McKernan.

Eke, Day and Aiken presented solo works on themselves and all chose to include their sound/lighting technician/designer in the space as accompanist or accomplice. This is a popular device in contemporary performance, which both acknowledges the work of the designer and allows the audience to observe some of the performance machinery. It also adds a live structural component to a performance space as well as providing some human interaction.

Eke’s Body of Work takes the theme of an infinite present, which she delivers through littering herself and the space with fragments of movement and visual ideas captured on video and relayed via two floor-level projection screens. Silver-spandex clad and further decorated with a range of absurd, shock and humour-invoking items, Eke performs her work in a functional fashion, at once in her body and observing it. Daniel Jenatsch’s sound score highlights and animates the action as we sink into Eke’s disturbing infinity.

Matthew Day describes his solo Rites as “a dance ritual” drawing inspiration from Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1913). This work could be considered the most conventional of the four pieces with its carefully choreographed movement taking a specific journey through space. It builds slowly, Day’s presence held in superb tension with James Brown’s score and Travis Hodgson’s lighting. Day is a beautiful, liquid mover, with fine control of limbs and dynamics making the work eminently watchable.

For me. the most captivating work was Aiken’s sculptural Three Short Dances which she simply describes “Sublime. Ridiculous.”, though there is little that is ridiculous. Three Short Dances demonstrates how simple geometric forms and objects can fascinate when well-lit, animated and given some kind of underlying score. Sound designer, Daniel Arnott emerges in the third dance, a timely arrival to build more physical tension. There is a satisfying, literal journey in this work as we digest first one, two, then three specific dances, which complement and juxtapose delightfully. This work owes much to its imaginative design and dramaturgy by Matt Adey and Rebecca Jensen.

Of the finalists, only McKernan removed herself from the picture using four other dancers. She describes her work Mass Movement as an “attempt to find unison choreography” through what seems to be an improvised, response-driven group performance.  The dancers improvise one at a time establishing a lexicon which is further developed through a kind of solo for two (an improvisation term coined by Jo Pollitt - the Response Project - when two dancers are negotiating one dance) three and four. This work is interesting not so much for the movement vocabulary itself, but rather for the process of physical, real-time negotiation between the performers. McKernan references physical culture and the girls’ retro phys-ed uniforms keep the atmosphere light. The only sound, for the most part, is the pitter-patter of tennis shoes, which as the work drew on highlighted the importance and power of a good sound score to hold you in place mind and body.
The jury for this inaugural award was Becky Hilton, Phillip Keir, Mathew Lyons, Josephine Ridge and Marten Spangberg – all seasoned and successful artists, presenters, curators, teachers and mentors in the international contemporary arts community.  As such, they have a good understanding of the potential of a work and of an artist to go beyond this initial opportunity.  They awarded first place to Atlanta Eke. The winner of the audience prize was Jane McKernan.

“This Award is about bringing enhanced attention to this art form which quietly but firmly organizes our bodies in space and our minds in our bodies and to its makers who relentlessly craft those journeys.” – Angela Conquet, Artistic Director, Dancehouse
- Emma Sandall

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