With A Bullet: The Album Project. Curated by Natalie Cursio. Artshouse, North Melbourne Town Hall, until July 1.
Set and lighting design by Matt Delbridge, costumes designed by Paula Levis and constructed by Naomi Van Dyck.
“In 1983, English Band Yes released their twelfth album titled 90125, the same year I started ballet lessons. One of my older sisters and I found my brother’s copy of the album, we pushed the furniture in the lounge room aside and made a dance to Owner of a Lonely Heart. This dance was the first of many that were performed in front of the Lloyd family...” (Jo Lloyd, choreographer, dancer)
This is such a brilliant, populist, entertaining idea for an evening of dance, it’s hard to believe Gideon Obarzanek didn’t come up with it first! As it is, Gideon’s company, Chunky Move, is “maximising” the project. I assume that means providing cash and/or resources and taking on the role of co-producer.
The idea -- and it is Natalie Cursio’s idea -- is this: ask a group of choreographers to pick the music they first choreographed to, and to re-use it anew. In any way they like. It doesn’t have to be a recreation or a homage to the past or even, necessarily, nostalgic.
Nat calls the eight short works in With A Bullet “dance singles.”
It’s a fun idea, obviously. And virtually guaranteed to bring together poppy, hi-energy music which will bring out the joy and euphoria -- the freeing, heart-busting creativity -- associated with finding a voice... or, rather, the physical equivalent of a voice.
Musically, it’s a fairly even split between “oh my god, how embarrassing!” (the worst of Vangelis and Yes) and “yay, what a great song” (the best of Cyndi Lauper and The Who). What’s more interesting, though, is how the choreographers deal -- and occasionally fail to deal -- with the baggage the music carries.
At the end of the first piece, Simon Ellis’s Tight (danced to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’), I scribbled in my notepad: Music 1, Dance Nil. Bravely, Ellis tried to resist the music. He imposed an orderly little story about an infatuation with a scooter-riding man on a rampantly energetic and anarchic song. Shannon Bott and Natalie Cursio executed some skippily well-drilled make-up routines... preparation for a hot date in front of tiny mirrors. Okay, okay, we get the point: dating this guy is a fun-ending, girlhood-ending choice... but audiences just wanna have fun too!
Using the done-to-death music from Chariots of Fire, Luke Hockley has created a piece -- Sensation Hunting -- that presents the moment in his life when his interest in athletics and gymnastics became something more ‘artistic’ (shall we say). Three men (Simon Ellis, Jacob Lehrer and Gerard Van Dyck) warm-up with soft-kicking handstands and then easy cartwheels. They’re joined by Bott and Cursio. They sprint to-and-fro, randomly breaking ranks. Hockley’s piece works on a number of levels. It reminds us of the physical joy of fitness and exertion and, inevitably, it reminds us of the competition and cameraderie in Chariots of Fire.
Van Dyck also uses film music for his piece, The Magnificent Something. He takes a section from Ghostbusters and, like Hockley, gives us a (tricksy, cartoon-like) piece that trades on the film’s content but also gives its audience a sly wink. There are skeleton costumes, mock murders and conjuring tricks.
The fourth piece -- Shannon Bott’s Won’t : Might : Does -- is the first to break the spell of the music. It does so with an inspired bit of dramaturgy. Bott takes a song by Dave Warner -- yep, that’s Dave Warner “from the suburbs” -- about persuading a girl that “no” might mean “maybe” or even, gasp, “yes!” and she enacts it (if you like) in the back seat of a car.
It’s all very minimal, to begin with. The movement is restrained, gestural, tiny. And the sound is deliberately tinny, piped through 1980-style car speakers mounted (no pun intended) on an little esky, upstage.
As the passion starts to burn, the fidelity of the music peaks. Bott and Van Dyck leap off the bench seat and execute a riotously funny routine in which they are joined at the lips, like a pair of kissing gourami, the Thai goldfish. Bott reminds us, though, that she made this dance when she was in Grade 4! So the reality is a bit of hand-holding.
I can hardly bring myself to describe Phillip Gleeson’s piece, ‘on’ Jacob Lehrer. Er... I don’t want to spoil the surprise. It’s probably enough if I say it includes butt-shrugging, winking and clenching. It’s very indulgent, very weird and, at times, almost painfully funny.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Natalie Cursio’s own piece is the killer app of the night. If I had an idea this good, I’d want to curate an evening of works allowing me to show it off too! Mild Things is a perfectly-formed mini-movie. Cursio puts a frame around a Leif Garrett song. It’s more than a frame, really. It whacks the song on an easel as well. Like Tight, Mild Things has an extended spoken word introduction. It is a recording of a reading by a psychic or an astrologer, warning a woman to be wary of another woman in her life who might not have her best interests at heart.
Meanwhile, Bott, Ellis and Jo Lloyd take turns at posing each other, moving each other like mannequins, showing us the complexity of their professional/personal triangle. Once the music kicks in, things get really interesting visually. Cursio actually uses an empty frame as a framing device. It’s something that’s been done recently in music videos. I’m thinking Arcade Fire, but I know that’s not right band. Someone of that ilk tho. Ultra modern, technologically. (Which Arcade Fire clips, patently, are not!)
But in narrative terms, Cursio’s “video” is pure 1980s. Like one of those extended clips that Cyndi Lauper did for the Goonies movie, all adventure and melodrama. Yes. ‘Melodrama’ is exactly right. A little, soapy operetta. It’s quite brilliant. Dazzlingly witty and fun.
If anyone could follow this impossible act, it would be Michelle Heaven. Or Jo Lloyd.
Heaven gives us ballet rebellion. Within the confines of a rectangle of light, her dancer (Gerard Van Dyke) uses his learning -- his learned technique -- for evil not good. A fur-wearing, drink-swilling, chain-smoking teacher (?) looks on... or, rather, fails to look on.
Though the photograph doesn’t quite capture the colours, the jumpsuits in Jo Lloyd’s piece, simply entitled Yes, are the most gorgeous pastels. They look like fruit tingles.
The dancers toss and spin each other around; they bang into one another like whirling coloured pencils. Cursio, Lehrer, Lloyd herself and Van Dyck remind us of where we are, in history, with some high-kicking “genre” dance I guess you’d call it. We’re post-Hot Gossip and, maybe post New Romancer. Maybe early Simple Minds? Intense, energetic, kinda grown-up... but definitely still clubby.
Here we have a one-all draw. A perfect outcome.
This show had its first night audience buzzing, trading stories about Cat Stevens and Billy Idol, liturgical dance and karaoke. It was a welcome reminder that mod and po-mo aren't all that far apart...
N.B. All of the images are medium-to-high res, and can be enlarged by clicking on them. Main photograph by Pete Brundle.