• Gabriel Comerford. Photo: Nick Hanson.
    Gabriel Comerford. Photo: Nick Hanson.
  • Jenny Large and Emily Sanzaro. Photo: Nick Hanson.
    Jenny Large and Emily Sanzaro. Photo: Nick Hanson.
  • Kyall Shanks and Spike Mason. Photo: Nick Hanson.
    Kyall Shanks and Spike Mason. Photo: Nick Hanson.
  • Amber McCartney. Photo: Nick Hanson.
    Amber McCartney. Photo: Nick Hanson.

Ten Days on the Island Festival
Rowella Community Hall, Rowella (40 mins north of Launceston)
11-13 March

Conceived by Festival Director Lindy Hume, the “If These Halls Could Talk” project is a celebration of the role of community halls in our society and matches a hall each with a Tasmanian artist or team. The Tasdance/Rowella residency has allowed a site-specific response to one of 10 halls chosen across the state. (Mature Artists Dance Experience, MADE, is performing Belvedere Ballroom at the Sorell Memorial Hall in the South next week).

Wherever you have driven from, Rowella immediately demands that you to slow down and contemplate the journey you have just made and the one you are about to experience. A winding lane through bush and fields opens to skirt along the western edge of kanamaluka/Tamar River then curls back into vineyard country. This is a region of many shades of green and tranquillity. As one of the key venues for Ten Days on the Island, the Rowella Hall is festooned and surrounded by food tables, wine and a community feel. It is clear that local people are taking time out to engage with an event which brings performance to their doorstep.

In the centre of an intimate circle of plastic chairs, long-standing Tasdance artist Gabriel Comerford slowly circles as he acknowledges the traditional owners of this land and invites the audience to make a vocal contribution by humming. There is no right way or wrong way as we find our own ways to feel the vibrations in our belly and chest. The communal sound of living creatures is released, and our humming score launches Comerford into his solo. Now apparently pinned to a black spot in the centre of the space, he pivots his shoulders and twists his torso, repeating sharp criss-crossing patterns, his focus determined by the mechanical actions and reactions of the human-powered turntable under his feet. Each action contributes to build, or stall, the momentum. The mechanical nature of what he is doing is hypnotic. As he continues to turn, we find rhythms with the now accompanying soundscape of bees. There is a joy in the buzz of the movement and sound combined, and playfulness in the gradual relaxation in strictly working with both feet on the turntable. Exploring different speeds and contact with body parts recalls dizzy memories of hopping on and off old playground merry-go-rounds. Comerford, as human turntable, is sleek and centred on the importance of each action, which propels him further and wider towards the floor. This structure is satisfying, providing the time for deep exploration and execution of one focal point.

Saxophonist Spike Mason is next to take over the space. He is well known around Launceston for his passion for music, which he claims “connects us. It gently weaves its way past all of our barriers and touches our heart”. He also claims, “it makes other people come alive”, so it is not surprising that a rude interruption to his musical thoughts initiates his slightly combative collaboration with Kyall Shanks. In this partnership, Mason’s current scholarly investigation into “random points of resolution in multi-pulsed improvised and composed music” fits well with Shanks’s quirky bodily distortions. Setting and resetting shapes seemingly in response to Mason’s bidding, Shanks fills the space with his very personal movement perspective. Although cohabiting, the call and response between musician and dancer allows each to explore and refine a deeply personal solo vocabulary while creating further challenge for each other’s strong performances.

Next, Amber McCartney is partnered with Taiko drummer Yyan Ng. Previously performing in Tasmania with James Batchelor (Deepspace) and for Tasdance in Reactor, McCartney is magnificent. Her masked face is both a reminder and evidence of a separation and other worldliness in her movement. Are any of her movements actually human? She appears to make very little connection with any surface as she glides across the floor, which is clearly her territory. So convincing are the images she creates that you cannot take your eyes away to catch the physicality of Ng’s performance, whose percussion reigns over the room from the raised stage. McCartney is everywhere in the space, drawing every smidgen of focus into the circle. At one point there appears to be a moment of synchronicity with the constraints of Comerford’s solo when McCartney’s rocking knees are seemingly locked with a bar between, but this passes as she breaks the illusion as easily as it was made. Again, we are presented with a work displaying deeply personal movement vocabulary with an intensity moulded through finely-tuned practice. The level of commitment in each of these works is palpable and the Rowella locals are clearly mesmerised.

The final work is a collaboration between Emily Sanzaro and Jenni Large. Large has had a history performing with Tasdance on and off since 2011. In between, she has performed and created works independently and with companies across Australia and I am reminded of something she said about her work at Lucy Guerin Inc in 2019 where she asked, “How can I obscure viewers’ perception of me/my body? Can I obscure my own perception of my identity?”

In this new work, both Sanzaro and Large blur the boundaries of dancer and musician. From the outset both set up the harp, violin and loop machine; both create vocal harmonies exploring intimate parts of the massive harp; both move in efficient ways to achieve this. Eventually it is clear there is an incredible trust between the two artists as Sanzaro’s precious harp is manipulated and its human-scale weight given to Large to do with as she wishes. Trust and tension are drawn as clear lines through this piece, with the harp and bow bisecting the widest circle Large can embody. Sublime sounds fill the space. As a testament to the space these artists have created, there is a lengthy pause before the audience can react.

“Where Do We Start?” was originally advertised as four solos but it is much more than that. I am so pleased to say that the maturity of these works indicates a new beginning for Tasdance. This is a point where the dancer/makers seem to be bouncing off each other’s experience and finding synergies, while encouraging individual voice. “Where Do We Start?” gives the audience a real insight into the depth of this small but precious ensemble and perhaps some hint of the performers' commitment to their practice despite the isolation of recent Covid times.




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