• 'Lush'. Photo by Edify Media.
    'Lush'. Photo by Edify Media.
  • 'What Came Before'. Photo by Edify Media.
    'What Came Before'. Photo by Edify Media.
  • 'Malo Manu'. Photo by Edify Media.
    'Malo Manu'. Photo by Edify Media.

Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts
May 29 – June 1 

Two of the three pieces staged by Strut dance in Perth’s Institute of Contemporary Art for the Restore season were, appropriately enough, gallery performances, or live art. Gemma Sattler and Molly McKenzie performed a cooly defiant duet entitled Lush, while Emma Fishwick, Serena Chalker and Michael Bullock offered lightly syncopated gestures beside carpentry in What Came Before. Much as I love task-based postmodernism, I found the more overtly dancerly, high energy solos from Ooshcon Masseurs and Jahra Wasasala in Manu Malo the highlight. 

Lush was well received at the Melbourne Fringe Festival last year, but I found it sat awkwardly between an uncompromising embodiment of minimalism (body as near static sculpture, etc) versus the overflowing energies of sexuality and abjection.  

Described as staging the “erotic as a resource within each of us”, the dancers sat with their legs making a V in the air, crotches orientated to the audience, gazing fiercely outwards, this gaze denying (not activating) the erotic. Oranges were brought on and messily burst leaving discoloured puddles, before the pulpy remains were sucked and spat out—all executed in a controlled manner. Having witnessed Jan Fabre’s I Am Blood in 2003, featuring naked performers exuberantly splashing about in goo, I was non-plussed by Lush. Fabre or Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964) offered Sattler’s and McKenzie’s “cyclical queering” of bodies animate and inanimate more ecstatically than Lush—but perhaps that was the point? 

What Came Before was also minimal, but leavened with surprising interjections, shifts into and out of unison, and delayed returns of simple gestures. There were basic floor positions, such as the pair crouched forward, heads down, palms on the floor, or resting on their sides like a reclining nude from art history. At intervals, one dancer carefully grasped the other’s foot to draw their partner across the floor. More commonly the body was upright, relaxed, with gentle sideways movement, but no cross-axial twists: an alluring ballet of banality. 

Throughout, Bullock assembled a pre-cut triangular frame, propped up with a side panel. The frame threatened to topple over on opening night, while the audible grinding of the drill’s gears didn’t inspire confidence. 

There are many precedents for What Came Before, notably sculptor Robert Morris’s 1960s wooden constructions arrayed against minimal dance from Simone Forti, or the collaborations of Yvonne Rainer and Joan Jonas. Given that one of Jonas’s pieces was staged at PICA in February, the influence of Rainer’s call for “No to virtuosity!” and “No to the heroic!” was palpable. 

Masseurs and Wasasala however emphatically said yes to both virtuosity and inhuman heroism. Directed by Aloalii Tapu, each dancer offered a solo extracted from the 2023 Pacific Dance Festival version of Manu Malo. The choreography drew on contemporary dance, krump, Māori performance (particularly Masseurs’ facial contortions), Fijian and Samoan dance (the complex weaving of hands in siva and taualuga), and other Pasifica traditions, recalling ritual fale aitu and other forms, in which humans grotesquely evoked the energies of an aitu or otherworldly spirit. 

Masseurs came on, head obscured by a mane of hair, arms protruding, to offer elaborate coiling of the hands, as though they were animals in their own right (similar to the recent Perth performance Only Bones). Emerging from behind his draping mask, he was pushed into and out of otherworldly poses by jabs from his own fingers, or hands pulling back his hair and skin to stretch his face. Masseurs both welcomed and fought a greater possessive force. 

Wasasala then repeatedly rose and fell to discombobulate her form, at one point making a rhomboid with her chest pushed out, legs folded behind at her knees, arms pointing down towards her feet. In a particularly striking moment, she grasped one foot at an impossible angle, inspecting it as though a foreign object. Elsewhere standing in a horse stance, her chin dropped into her chest, she grimaced wide as she intoned in a massive, distorted voice: “dua [one], rua [two], tolu [three]”, ending on “va [four]”—a term which also signifies the potent space between objects, ideas, spirits and the material world. Wasasala’s breathtaking, krump-infused contortions dynamically served to fuse her body with a trans-Pacific energy. 

Overall, Restore suggested that while 1960s postmodernism continues to inspire, there might be more to find in Indigenous futurism.  


Restore” was presented Strut at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts on May 29 – June 1. 

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