Understanding conceptual dance at the Keir Choreographic Award Semi-Finals

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Louise Avery

Dance is a story carved out by the body using sound and the framework of a set created to explore ideas. It is a language that sometimes seems misunderstood or obscure. We went to a fringe show where a man danced in a chicken suit, so obscure and not even funny with its experimental use of sound and light that we didn’t quite get.

Attending the Keir Choreographic Award Semi Finals was an opportunity for me to see what dance was doing these days. I was lucky enough to sit next to the mother of one of the finalists who told me that her daughter’s best advice is that “it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it you just have to experience it.”

So with four 20-minute performances scheduled WE shuffled into the theatre, I was feeling strangely invisible with some of the most creatively dressed people I have seen for a while.

The programme explained the show thoroughly so we wouldn’t get lost and often the program notes would help us understand what the artists were trying to say.

If your idea of dance is a set elaborate tutu’d affair you will be surprised to see the acrobatic strength of Rebecca Jensen arriving on stage with a leaf blower, who proceeded to walk over her fellow dancers curled up, pretending to be rocks on the stage.

And as she explored the world she created, she played with form and shape and moved in an acrobatic meditation. She climbed; she was carried and walked around the room’s walls. The man dressed in an onesie helped her flip, roll, fly and climb mountains. It was dance, but not as we expected.

While we were still trying to work out what just happened, our next performer/choreographer set up with a roll of plastic and some grey boxes that fit into trapezoid type shapes.

James Batchelor was exploring his relationship with surfaces and the body. His work was a beautifully and painfully slow controlled interaction with the boxes and plastic. I did get a moment of irreverence wondering why his head was in the box but his slow mesmerising movement was a fascinating experience.

Next up after a break was a contemporary version of a Torres Strait Islander dance, with three non-Islander women moving with a mask held by a mouth grip. It was strong vital, rhythmic and possibly one of the more accessible works telling with dance and creative expression a story that flowed together and apart.

We got the stories and loved the character of these bird-like creatures dancing in a way that transported us to a different world.

Finally, we had a poet and two dancers express a story of love and breakup and passion. The performance by Paea Leach and performance poet Candy Royalle from Sydney, was a different experience again.

Dance, poetry and music created a moving and energetic connection that was intensely beautiful. Candy Royalle was intense with her poetry, playing with electronic sound and voice.

The Keir Choreographic Award semi-finals produced four winners who would be heading to Sydney for the finals. We saw two finalists who would compete so understand how rich and varied the final performances will be.

The award will undoubtedly go to a deserving and inspiring winner. Dance as we saw this night comes in many forms of expression as expressive as a humans personality.

If you like watching people move and amazing bodies, go see some contemporary dance. It could be funny, moving, infuriating and inspiring… But you never leave a performance without responding in some way and that is what it’s all about.


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