A leader in her field of contemporary dance research, design, and practice, the latest iteration of Sue Healey’s distilled choreography mesmerised and intrigued. Alongside a cast of 23 final year Bachelor of Fine Arts(Dance) students, in partnership with a team of 12 graduating Production students, this work is a series of intricate meditations on body, form, being, and expression told in strong, cohesive chapters.
Set to an hypnotic soundtrack from legendary Australian jazz infused improvisational band, The Necks, the music enveloped the space with oceanic impact. It penetrated the air and built via crescendos to dramatic peaks, descents, swelling points to spillover, and recovery as each chapter of movement exploration occurred before our eyes.
Placed within Production student Niamh Jolly’s immersive, layered set, we walked into the deep black box space of the former Grant Street Theatre, and promenaded about its perimeter, guided by assistants. One could have been at Flinders Street station, after dark. This intersectional moment of lay people with ordinary bodies stepping into an environment close to and beside other bodies exemplars of dance expertise, inside art, made for a dynamic frisson and set the tone for thinking about artistry seen through the human body.
This was a unique way to enter as ‘audience’ within a space filled with dance moments enacted between pairs and small groups, through descended fabric strips onto which Healey and Jacob Edmonds’ films were projected. These were projected throughout the performance and sampled of flora and fauna – plants, insects, and animals. Striated lighting from Lachlan McLean added another searing layer of texture and incorporated haze. We were transported from the everyday world and into a temporal, imaginary space.
The beautiful hanging fabric pieces, soft panels which the dancers intersected carried film projections, bisecting the space as panels. Planes bisected the dancer’s forms. This was a commentary on uniformity and conformity, and the large-scale patterned section in the latter parts were visually stunning, akin to calisthenic parades. The work concerned the collective and was unceasing, unstoppable. Dancers as one were a mass, like a military body, marching, walking, rotating, coupling, then executing patterns in ensemble. Unlike big name commercial dance companies, though, we saw here dancers moving, not commodified bodies subject to technique or a choreographers’ will. The movement felt organic, arising out of and from the experience of dancers studying an artform through their body.
The dance movements were a series of sculptural studies in beauty joined together to create a symphony of signification. Detailed, elaborate, intimate, and communicative, the body’s tale devised and told through these performers was as deep, formal and richly meaningful as sign language. What seemed colloquial, reflective, or casual became rich vernacular as the work built.
The quietly considered yet busily energetic focus of the dancers, joined by the loud music, was compelling. Each dancer was dedicated to minute moments of grace – hands grasping, shoulders mirroring, hips swivelling, fingers entwined, rippling, or bodies falling into the floor as a cascade of persons slid down a raised collapsed platform centre upstage. The work had an unceasing rhythm to it, mimicking the forces of nature itself. This is the beauty of creative expression told through dance. It allows bodies and movement to convey as philosophy signature features of Healey’s deep concentration on the language of the human in their body.
Claudia Mirabello’s costumes were dancerly perfection. Colourful, abstract yet reminiscent of the everyday or personal, they displayed the dancer’s form whilst also accessorising and animating it, adding an embellishing tone to the characteristics. Hair braiding and bold nail polish on all genders added a glossy touch. In the final section, her creations were clever and quirky, in bold red, her headless, knitwear piece an example of bespoke fabric- architecture.
A contemplative presentation of zen-like beauty, this was an experience of a master sharing her discipline, passing onto the next generation veneration of the divine that is the medium of dance. The University Of Melbourne’s Victorian College Of The Arts houses so much talent, skill, and artistry – and is the place to be in Victoria if you wish to be an artist.
Body by Sue Healey showed 8-11 May (61 mins) at the Martyn Myer Arena, Grant Street.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of The University of Melbourne, Faculty of Fine Arts And Music.
Images: Sue Healey, Greg Lorenzutti.