DANCEHOUSE: Two years in development, Luke George’s second major dance work NOW NOW NOW is lean, polished and with unexpected emotional gravitas -
Two years in development- lean, polished and with unexpected emotional gravitas- Luke George’s second major dance work NOW NOW NOW left a capacity audience tingling with internal animation knowing they had just experienced something as innovative as it was authentic.
NOW NOW NOW is a strikingly creative dance work that stems from the following conceptual proposition: “In the presence of an audience, three performers will attempt to be physically and mentally in the moment – NOW NOW NOW!”
Those three performers were Kristy Ayre, remarkable for her nuances; an angst ridden Timothy Harvey and Rennie McDougall who seamlessly stood in for an injured Luke George. Each of these dancers lived in the work creating a stage presence that was hypnotic and, given the technical demands of the choreography, impressive in dramatic range and sheer physical stamina.
The mood of the work is established before the performance starts as the audience is asked to remove their shoes before entering the performance space. There is a subtext of meditative reflection here, not quite Zen, but aligned with transcendental concepts of Mindfulness - a state of full awareness of existence.
Black curtains enclose a squared off space with two large black speakers set at rear left of stage, and a television is at front right turned away from the audience’s view. A white soft textile floor matting covers both the dance space and seating section, unifying performance and viewing area. Three large shallow rectangular lights covered in white Japanese fibrous paper extend down the central axis of the ceiling, creating a sense of soft, slightly sensuous minimalism.
The artists are already on stage removed from one another. They gesture slightly and awkwardly, gazing in a preoccupied, even vacuous manner at momentary distractions – the work seems to commence, ambiguously, on first encounter. We are so close to the dancers you can see their eyelashes.
In the opening sequence, the dancers, dressed in furs, hoods, strapped-on protective plates or loose over-garments, individually approach a stack of neatly folded brightly coloured cloths on the floor. They select shirts and dance pants and exchange their cloths as if stepping into the performance to test its central proposition transitioning out from a very personal almost dreamy space.
And the work unfolds.
At first the performers’ gazes are transfixed by the screen. They have no discernable interaction with each other. Rather, they ape movements and gestures as if copying a screen prototype. (Later a cooperative audience member is wired into an MP3 player, brought onto the stage and seems to be moving specifically to instructions delivered through it). There is an immediate sense that the dancers represent atomised exemplars of bland stereotypes.
Over the hour of the dance, we experience three states of being through an almost ontological investigation. There's a definitely-not-in-the-moment-but-nowhere-in-particular, mostly isolated and often angst laden state; there's also an unrealisable state attempting to experience the NOW in full consciousness; and, there yet another state of rushing-forward-towards-something-urgently-but-we-don’t-know-what-it-is.
In a demanding sequence the dancers perform an extended tightly controlled dance movement, extending and bending arms and legs in a repetative motion. It is a serial element repeated for what seems like minutes as it thuds out a muffled rhythm, like a heart beat, that becomes overlayed with the urgent sounds of increasingly laboured breathing. The impression of isolated elements introduced earlier now strongly reinforces an almost existential strain.
This makes the tension build inexorably.
When the artists do interact it is often in contorted, even deformed sequences of bodies angularly transitioning across space. The Spannung (voltage, tension, stress, excitement, suspense, strain, tightness) makes it impossible for the audience not to laugh. But the laughter is not at anything particularly funny, it is the necessary psychological laughter that relieves pent up tension, a circuit breaker. And at that point you realise the performance has drawn you very deeply into its analysis.
In the passages where the interaction between the dancers is fluid, it is also always mediated. By mediated I mean the artist’s more comfortable interaction is overtly enabled by a technology or an artifice (the same way we prefer to text rather than speak to people). The clearest example is when the artists cover their faces with costume artifice, (black mop-top wigs), and are able to melt into fluid disco-nuanced Glass Candy ensemble work in a particularly powerful scene.
The climactic sequence has the dancers running around and after each other almost frantically naming elements, physical or experienced, in their immediate environment- trying to secure the instant, the NOW NOW NOW. Their shouted crescendo solution- as they come together is “standing standing Standing Standing STANDING”. They are smiling but we realise the goal is futile and the proposition unresolvable, negated by the act of performance.
The framing of the proposition that inspired the development of NOW NOW NOW is almost like an artist’s statement for a New York-style ‘Happening’ in the 60’s or for a contemporary environmental ‘intervention’. And this may be no coincidence. NOW NOW NOW is a highly intelligent work and at various stages there seem to be echoes of John Cage and references to conceptual or minimalist art practises in the use of serial repetitions and spoke words, (but not in the manner of grand aphorism or tired slogans/truisms as in the practices of Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer, rather as simple spoke elements from ordinary mundane mass culture speech and words that name the elements in the artists immediate experience (the NOW)) .
But don’t get the wrong impression NOW NOW NOW is definitely not trying shove it’s cleverness and cerebral energy in your face. The real cleverness of this work is that it subsumes its formative intelligence and concepts entirely in pure dance. That is probably why it reads as such an honest and authentic work.
We “pruned and pruned” Luke George said after the performance.
Critical theorists have proposed that the possibility of Authentic Life, the one where we are truly aware, ended with television in the 1960s and the rise of the all subsuming culture industry. Like a Speculum vitae humanae, a mirror of the world, NOW NOW NOW has exactly pinned the conditions of our current existence (at least in Melbourne in 2010). Distraction ridden, it’s not exactly a pleasant reality but neither is it hopeless.
And with such articulate creativity at work, it is (at least) a great period for contemporary dance in this city.
NOW NOW NOW
Choreographer: Luke George
Performers: Kristy Ayre, Timothy Harvey and Luke George (understudy Rennie McDougall)
Design and Production: Bluebottle
Dramaturge: Martyn Coutts
Commissioned by Lucy Guerin Inc, and supported by the Keir Foundation, the Besen Family Foundation and the Ausdance Victoria and the Australia Council for the Arts.