Tuesday 19 March 2019

First Dance - Event Review

What: First Dance
When: 18 March 2019
Where: The Supper Room, Arts House
Stories and performances by: Adolfo Aranjuez, Ash Flanders, Danny Katz, Brodie Lancaster, wāni Le Frère, S.J Norman, Raina Peterson, Niharika Senapati
Raina Peterson
One of the important things Arts House has been doing for a long time now is acknowledging and acting on the importance of conversation around and about art as well as being a vehicle for the creation thereof. The leadership has changed and so it is reasonable to assume focuses and emphases for the organisation will change. With the incoming of Emily Sexton, the ideas and conversations surrounding art creation remain a priority and with this, her first Dance Massive festival,  Sexton has partnered with The Wheeler Centre to bring us First Dance.

First Dance sees 8 artists of various disciplines gather to respond to the provocation of the title. Each have 10 minutes to tell their story their way. An incredible and excitingly diverse group of writers, performers and dancers have been curated and every 10 minute story is shockingly and exhileratingly different and yet surprisingly relatable. 

How can the stories of all of these people be speaking to my experience of life? I don't know, but somehow they did. Perhaps it is because all of them gave us the gift of the personal and the honest. They allowed their souls to speak and move which allowed ours to hear and see. Many of the stories were funny, but some where serious and even heart rending.

Senapati was the first to present her piece called 'Dedication to Magic and Silliness'. In her introduction she told us she would be "just a human wiggling in front of other humans" and she was right. Her jiggling, however, showed a beautiful and fun story of a girl growing up in dance. From those silly jigglings as a toddler, through ballet training, to contemporary dance Senapati weaves back and forth across time making us laugh at artlessness and pause in awe of perfection almost in the very same moment.

Katz was up next. In 'Boogie Wonderland' he had us belly laughing through his recollections of his first school dance. "She was using dance and fun in the same sentence!...Dance feels like something you should do in private, like going to the toilet." Katz manages to remind us all of our teenage awkwardness as well as a burgeoning sense of self realisation as, after embarassing himself completely in front of a girl he remembers his dad's advice and discovers why dancing is fun.

Lancaster followed with another teenage nightmare. The teenage clubbing scene. Riffing off the meme 'dance like noone is watching' Brodie points out that "it is impossible to think about dance without considering our bodies". As she makes us laugh in shared pain at the mistakes made in preparing for that ever elusive slow dance with a boy - and the let down of the experience when it finally happens - Brodie reminds us that in small towns everybody is watching all the time. Her point, in the end, is "The greatest lie perpetuated is there are people who don't care what anyone else thinks". The Hollywood chick flicks are a lie. Dance like everyone is watching!

Peterson told us about their experience as a 5 year old about to dance their first Diwali festival in regional Victoria in 'Green'. In a beautiful outfit made by their mother (because Indian clothes weren't available) Peterson joined the celebrations and through the dance becomes the birthplace for and the radiation of green. Despite a violent childhood Peterson discovered "From dance I can grow all beauty from my hand."

Bouncing up on stage next was Aranjuez. Aranjuez's art is a "collision of poetry and dance" but tonight after a brief introduction he gave us his first dance about him. At another festival not too long ago it was brought to his attention that his art has revolved around love and as such is always about others. As a response he let us see his "first dance for me". Popping and locking across the stage it became clear what the difference was. You could see a focus and attention on self. It has something to do with the hands. Rather than reaching out, they explored and celebrated and framed Aranjuez, not the world outside of him...

A deceptively understated Flanders came on stage next to take us through the signature events and moves which made him believe he was a dancer...and then understand he wasn't. Flanders had us laughing unmercifully as he meandered through the running man, the hand jive, and a time step not even he would repeat in public in '5, 6, 7, 8!'. With the learning of the running man at an Arabian Nights dance ("...because it is the 80s and noone questions the optics...") he discovers his super power - "The power to make people look at you". Thus begins a journey to musical theatre school and 2 years working at a theatre restaurant in a job he had sworn years earlier he would never do. And thus he shares with us the sad truth the reality of life will inevitably put us where we never wanted or imagined we would be. It is just one of those humbling life lessons we have to go through to grow up I guess.

The tone of the evening took a more serious tone when Le Frère took over the stage with his poem 'Grandma'. Le Frère is a New Zealander whose family had emigrated from the Congo. His poem talks about the time he had the opportunity to reconnect with his grandparents. He did not speak their language but his grandmother loved to dance and so she tried to connect with him in that way. As sad and beautiful as that is, he then reveals she had Parkinsons. For a person so embodied with the need to dance this is a tragedy almost to great to imagine. Le Frère's story was so poignant it really did bring a tear to my eyes.

The evening ended with Norman reading us the first 700 words of the first chapter of her new book 'Codex Extasis' which explores "The ecstatic body and the radical potentials". As Norman says, "I write because my body must be heard." She believes any movement a body makes can rightfully be called dance and that all dance is a potential for revolt. For Norman "Dancing bodies are the great library..." of human experience and that there is no first dance and there is no last. I admit, I can't wait to read the book when it is published.

I really loved the format and curation of First Dance and hope this is something which will continue across the Arts House programming. Because there are no long speeches and no MC (the performers just jump on stage one after the other) it feels short and sharp and the approaches in practice and ideas is exciting. The diversity of the content matched the diversity of the artists and it is one of those rare moments in public arenas when we really do get to see who actually lives in Australia, what their lived experiences are, and where current thinking lies.

4.5 Stars

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