Melbourne Festival: ‘Dance Territories – Border Lines’

Dance Territories‘ is a provocative double-bill comprising bold works by Australian artist Sarah-Jane Norman and French-Algerian artist Nacera Belaza.

Norman’s suite of installation pieces powerfully addresses Australia’s bloody colonial history. ‘The River’s Children’ is an interactive piece where the audience is invited to contribute a personal item of white clothing. Watching Norman methodically soak and scrub the garments in water gathered from the sacred Murray River is almost meditative. The Australiana soundscape of buzzing insects and chortling magpies sounds familiar and safe. But as each item is submerged and scrubbed, one has the feeling of becoming implicated in something horrific. When my favourite Florence and the Machine t-shirt joined the ranks of others dripping on the line, it intercepted projections that cast the details of every documented Aboriginal massacre.

Before entering the adjoining room we were alerted to a sign that warned us the colonial-style afternoon tea we were about to share had been prepared using the artist’s own body fluids. I heard someone joke to lighten the mood, ‘Well, that’s different, the chef doesn’t usually TELL you when they spit in your food!’ Except… it wasn’t spit and this wasn’t a joke. ‘Take This, For It Is My Body’ pays tongue-in-cheek tribute to Christian rituals. But it also alludes to early colonial incidents of Aboriginal people being poisoned by flour laced with arsenic. Viewers had a choice: to eat or not to eat. I’ll let you decide what I did.

In the background, Norman’s work ‘Heirloom’ is a display of intricate Wedgewood-inspired plates, painted in the artist’s blood. We are confronted with the knowledge that white colonial privilege has come at enormous cost, paid for by the first peoples of this land. It was the most confronting afternoon tea I’ve ever had.

Belaza’s work, ‘The Shout’, is a simple yet enigmatic piece, performed by two sisters. The layering of music and sound is a deliberate assault on the ears. We hear some ye olde music from the time of the wireless competing for airspace over the top of a rhythmic, Arabic chant. It’s not possible to tell to which tune they’re dancing. The repetitious swaying motifs alternate between blunted and conformist to wild and frenetic. Belaza’s work speaks about the concepts of space and identity in a milieu of conflicting ideologies. It’s a slow burn, but a good digestif to Norman’s work on colonisation.

– Kaz 
When Karalyn isn’t procrastinating over a Master’s Degree she enjoys exploring Melbourne and working on her 90s dance routines.

‘Dance Territories – Borderlines’ runs 14-16 October, Dancehouse – 150 Princes Street, North Carlton. Installation available for viewing 5-7pm, or installation AND performance 7-9:15pm. Book tickets now
Venue has limited access, check with staff for details.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that images may contain information of deceased persons which may cause distress.

The Melbourne Festival runs from 3-23 October 2016 in venues across Melbourne CBD. Book tickets now. Plus read our guide to the best events.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Miranda Brown Publicity.
Image credit: Melbourne Festival.