• Nude Live. Photo: Pedro Greig.
    Nude Live. Photo: Pedro Greig.

Sydney Festival

Sydney Dance Company & Art Gallery of NSW: Nude Live
Art Gallery of NSW, 7 January

Dancenorth Australia/Japan: Spectra
Seymour Centre, Everest Theatre, 11 Jan

Sydney Dance Company’s Nude Live is set amongst the artworks of “Nude: art from the Tate collection” currently on display at the Art Gallery of NSW and has a sold out season in the 2017 Sydney Festival. As the name suggests, the work is performed by seven naked performers.

The program notes read that the work is “non linear” and audience members are free to roam throughout the exhibit’s rooms as they wish. The performances happen simultaneously and the audience is cheekily warned, “don’t touch the art unless the art touches you”.

In the work, dancers can be found performing trios, duos and, as the program notes foreshadowed, at times dancers interact with audience members either with a gaze or by taking hold of their hands to lead them to another room. The audience is corralled to watch a large group section where the dancers briefly come together to create tableaus before dispersing again into different exhibitions. There is a constant tension created by the choreography walking the line between cheeky play and being overtly distasteful.

With the audience often moving en masse to follow or observe the dancers it seems like there is too much movement amongst the still art pieces, leaving one feeling that there is a shortage of time, or perhaps space, to enjoy either the dance or art completely.

The performers are to be commended for negotiating the gallery setting, which seems inhospitable to dance with its cold, tiled concrete flooring, small benches on which to dance and large crowds. The small gallery speakers, usually used more for ambience, at times did not handle the strong score that was an integral element of the work. This was another reminder the work has been imposed on the space.

Nude Live. Photo: Pedro Greig.
Nude Live. Photo: Pedro Greig.

A stand alone art work itself, there is little to no relationship between Nude Live and the pieces in the exhibition. The exhibition is grouped by historical period or a shared ideology whereas Nude Live fails to truly embody or explore any exhibition or period, including the present one, deeply. The art collection spans a range of body types - disfigured, morphed bodies; bronzed athletes; mothers who have just given birth - and includes some pieces considered too crude to display in their time. In a contemporary climate, where contemporary dance can take many forms in and on many differing body types, seven seemingly perfect nude dancers in their prime seems like an outdated idea. The work is pleasing but not provocative.

In comparison, Dancenorth’s Spectra packs more of an artistic punch. Created by the company’s artistic director Kyle Page and his wife and colleague Amber Haines, Spectra premiered in 2015. The work is a “dialogue between artists from Townsville and Tokyo”, featuring dancers of the Townsville-based company and Japan’s Batik dance collective, and thematically explores cause and effect and, therefore, interconnectedness of everything.

The live music score has begun as the audience enters the auditorium and is eventually joined by a dancer (Josh Mu). What seems like a flash of light darts across the stage but is, in fact, part of the simple but highly effective rope-like set being manipulated on stage. The ripple immediately establishes the cause and effect exploration of the work.

Spectra. Photo: Prudence Upton.
Spectra. Photo: Prudence Upton.

This theme is successfully and skilfully explored throughout the 60 minutes. A simple motif of joining arm to arm is utilised in one scene and we watch the way this connection ripples, waves and affects each performer, whilst giving a nod to the wave like images created by the moveable set.

Every element of the work has been well considered. Everyone and everything makes a valid contribution including the hanging lights individually and choreographically flickering to life and Amber Haines’s baby bump, used as a stimulus for movement. Her solo (or perhaps duo) was breathtaking. This audience member watched in awe as she commanded the space, her pregnant body diving fearlessly to the floor. It was a terrifying honour to witness.

This production’s greatest asset was the performers and artistic collaborators, including live musician Jiro Matsumoto and set designer Tatsuo Miyajima. Individually they have great skill and came together seamlessly to make a powerful ensemble. The seven dancers were exquisite. At times their dancing bodies looked entirely like liquid, whilst nailing strong partner and floor work, popping and locking, and effortlessly moving between intricacy and explosion. The live music, made with the voice and string instrument, was the perfect complement throughout.

The work ends as a dancer moves slowly between two wave-like ropes, fiercely activated by Page. The music is resounding and the audience is held in suspense as, abruptly, it all ends. The sudden cessation gives the work a feeling that it is both suspended in time and a powerful drop in the big dance ocean.

- Elle Evangelista

Top photo by Pedro Greig. 

Nude Live closes 24 January.

Spectra. Photo: Prudence Upton.
Spectra. Photo: Prudence Upton.
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