‘Is this actually dance?’: Australia’s overlooked art form is its most exciting

Melbournes contemporary dance renaissance and a decade of Dance Massive festival go hand in hand

Contemporary dance began for me in 2015, midway through a Tim Darbyshire show called Stampede the Stampede. A little like Phillip Larkin, I was late to the party. Better late than never.

For 15 long minutes, Darbyshire head-banged to a monstrous beat. I mean, he really head-banged I became genuinely concerned about the health of his frontal lobe. Later in the show, he ended up standing on his head while an earthquake happened. In Tim Humphrey and Madeline Flynns ingenious sound design, a sub-woofer powerful enough to shake loose the pebbles and boulders strewn across it caused a low-frequency rock slide.

I was mesmerised. If this was contemporary dance, then I was all for it.

Of the art forms that vie for our extremely short attention spans, dance has long struggled for the popular enthusiasm it deserves. Official statistics count it as one of the smaller and more specialised of the performing arts. Jokes about it still linger in popular culture.

Thats a shame, because contemporary dance might just be Australias most exciting art form right now.

This is the largest Dance Massive yet, says artistic director Anna Conquet. Pictured here Lady Example, By Alice, Will & Caroline. Photograph: Mischa Baka

In the past decade, the nations small but fertile contemporary scene has spawned a string of globetrotting dancers and choreographers, such as Stephanie Lake, Atlanta Eke and Antony Hamilton.

Perhaps just as importantly, Melbourne has established itself as a centre of dance experimentation, carving out a kinetic niche on the world stage.

Its no coincidence that this renaissance has coincided with the establishment of Dance Massive, Australias largest festival of new contemporary dance, which turns 10 years old this year.


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Angela Conquet, the artistic director of Melbournes Dancehouse, is one of the founders of Dance Massive. This is the largest Dance Massive yet, Conquet says. In terms of diversity of forms and cultures, it is alive and kicking. I think it is a very interesting mirror for whats happening in dance now.

This years festival is also notable for having thelargest amount of First Nations work in its history. Alongside work by Joel Bray, Karul Projects and Marrugeku, the impressive DubaiKungkaMiyalk brings together a strong line-up of four contemporary choreographers, Mariaa Randall, Henrietta Baird, Carly Sheppard and Ngioka Bunda-Heath, curated by Randall, who is fresh from a well-received show at New Yorks Performance Space.

Le Dernier Appel by Marrugeku is among Dance Massives First Nations offerings. Photograph: Prudence Upton

Sitting in Dancechouses tea room, Conquet tells me the festival has always been about connecting with the masses. From the very beginning it was with, for and by the artists, but it was really about the audience.

And audiences have responded. Recent festivals have seen strong growth in ticket sales and a number of sessions in 2019 are already sold out.

One is Skeleton Tree from Stephanie Lake a world premiere, and one of Dance Massives most hotly anticipated shows.

In recent years Lake has shot to national acclaim, picking up a swag of glowing reviews, fellowships and prizes. As time goes on my ambitions get bigger, she says.

Stephanie Lake: As time goes on my ambitions get bigger. Photograph: Dance Massive

Skeleton Tree began as a conversation with the Malthouses Matthew Lutton. It came out of a suggestion of his to work with an album of songs, to use that as an anchor for the work, and I liked that idea.

She continues: Each song, each piece of music, is like a meditation on death, and were taken into a world of particular states for each of those songs. Nick Caves most recent record of the same name is among the works that soundtrack the piece, but there are others too.

Death is inevitable and something we all have to face, but and this is going to sound weird its not negative, necessarily. Im trying to cover a lot of emotional ground. Thats kind of risky Im going there.


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Were trying to express ambiguous and complex things through a medium that doesnt use words generally, or even a logic that were used to, but thats why its so brilliant and why Im so into it after all these years. It can speak about the human condition in a really accurate way.

Force Majeures Danielle Micich is bringing her show You Animal, You to the festival.

I think dance shows how the human body has a bigger capacity to show resilience, she says over the phone. Theres something about the body expressing itself through movement it shows the extraordinary. Elite athletes get this as well, when you see the body moving in a way that feels untouchable, theres something very special about that, thats the visceral part when you see this movement and you feel touched, that means its hitting this core part of you that cant be accessed by anything else.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific


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