Keir Choreographic Award semi-finals 2016 -
Dancehouse, Melbourne, 26 and 27 April -
Viewing a program of dance works that are competing for an award can be a peculiar experience. It is not expected that they will necessarily speak to one another or cohere in any way. Yet a number of the works vying for the 2016 Keir Choreographic Award bore some curious, if unintentional, unifying features that may say more about the temper of current independent dance practice than about the individual dance makers.
The first program of four works seemed particularly to have binding elements. Along with a strong focus on choreography by women and female dancers, and a central presence of digitised encounters, there was a preponderance of spoken word in all of them. Voices of the creators prominently announced themselves, either by intoning their own names or providing extended commentary throughout the works, and the effect of this mass deployment was of unnecessary self-referentiality. It almost seemed to be a deliberate trope that had been assumed by the choreographers in this program. Overall, it felt strained and noisy.
Of the first program, Alice Heyward's Before the Fact went furthest in exploring fresh and rigorously considered territory. She constructs a dance from a series of fictitious notations - diagrams and plots made by Ilya Milstein and made available to the audience after the performance with an "invitation to interpret". The provocative twist is that the dances are purported to be from the future and so the documentation is of something that doesn't yet exist.
Martin Hansen's If it's all in my veins exposes us to looping fragments of iconic dance footage across the ages and has three female dancers of different generations quite manically imitating the short phrases featured. Racing against a clock, they reproduce the phrases while calling instructions. As a commentary on time, dance lineages and positioning of current practice, it is involving while its reduction of dance to a collection of key gestures points to the inevitability of repetition and reinvention.
Program Two offered the stronger works. James Batchelor and Ghenoa Gela especially captivating with strong central ideas that seemed rigorously considered. Batchelor contrasts the human, pliable form with hard constructed shapes that he negotiates slowly, journeying from one side of the space to the other. He plays with texture, light and the accommodations that the body makes to the built environment.
Gela, by contrast, starts with a melding of traditional Torres Strait Island dance and contemporary movement, which has been transmitted to non-indigenous female dancers. Gela is also the only choreographer not to appear in her own work. Not only was this cultural transference an engaging idea, it was also quite thrilling and entertaining and had a sense of real development across a relatively short work.
Works by Rebecca Jensen and Paea Leach were also strong. Jensen created some very arresting images as she traversed a human/digital landscape, eschewing earth-boundness to make excursions along walls, utilising angles and pitches with the support of an anonymous, lycra-clad enabler. Leach's choreography featured a loose dynamism with quite a bit of unison between the two dancers. Live Poetry performed by Candy Royalle was simultaneous but self contained. Her words and more especially her vocal effects creating a wonderfully atmospheric sound score.
Dancehouse has been supporting independent and experimental dance for over 20 years. Since 2014, along with Carriageworks in Sydney, it has partnered with the Keir Foundation to present the Keir Choreographic Awards. Eight commissioned semi-finalists have the opportunity to work in a supported environment to develop a twenty minute piece. Each choreographer is given studio space and financial support and the competition culminates in seasons in Melbourne and Sydney prior to the announcement of the winner, who takes away $30,000. The strongest works this year had a strong, focused conceptual core, others felt in need of further refinement.
But competitions demand winners: Four finalists were announced at the end of the Melbourne season: Rebecca Jensen, Martin Hansen, Ghenoa Gela and Sarah Aiken. The winner will be named at the conclusion of the Carriageworks season on May 7.
All photos by Gregory Lorenzutti for Dancehouse. Click on thumbnails for captions. Top photo: Rebecca Jensen's Explorer.