Martin Del Amo is an interesting man. Commissioned by WAAPA a few years back to create a work for its graduate dance company LINK, he chose to investigate the difference, and distance, between walking and dancing. It’s interesting as an idea and, perhaps, counter-intuitively, also works on the floor, even if it could be a little tighter.
Along with the above piece, Mountains Never Meet, reinvented for this all-too-brief WSDA season, is Duel, also conceived and directed by Del Amo. In this he’s collaborated with footballer (soccer player, I take it, in case the code is important to you), Ahilan Ratnamohan and martial artist, Connor Van Vuuren; the last two performing the work. Each brings his particular athletic discipline to bear, in what’s essentially a sporting face-off between two bendy, young men.
Both works are still more interesting for the fact they, for mine, straddle the boundaries between visual installation art and performance. Indeed, the difference between the two, and often jealously guarded distinctions, seem not to matter here. Both are distinguished, too, by a disarming simplicity, in all respects. For example, Clytie Smith’s lighting design for Duel consists of but a couple of overhead spots, creating a square of light on the floor which echoes the stadium, arena, ring, or other site of metaphorical gladiatorial contest. It’s dead effective.
Within this veritable box, the two non-dancers (this is yet another bold, distinguishing characteristic of these two dance works) twist, leap and show off a divergent set of movements, which are, typically, held, as if posing for a still. In this way, it’s like a series of vignettes, much as one might observe slomo replays, or a wall of commemorative, historical photos in a club. Helping to keep us in the moment is a slowly unfurling soundscape by Cat Hope, which begins with a grinding, scraping aural collage that put my old bones in mind of cold starts to exercise, but which evolved into the reverberant cacophony one readily associates with courts and crowds.
Clare Britton has also done a wonderful job in allowing these men their casual attire, while apparently insisting on a layering of bold colours, which flatters Smith’s lighting with a depth of texture and vibrant energy.
While the ‘dancers’ don’t necessarily have the particular form or precision to create truly ‘ooh-ah!’ moments, they do succeed in selling the work as an innovative, thought-provoking concept of quite some aesthetic merit to boot.
But the main event is Mountains Never Meet, originally featuring an all-girl cast; a facet Del Amo has turned on its head by reversing the gender polarity. Stylistically, there’s a similar feel, inasmuch as Smith’s lighting, this time, consists ostensibly of a couple of spots fixed low in the wings, affording a slightly more sombre mood. Into this shadowy space walks one of the nine dancers. He walks back and forth, across the stage and, sure ‘nough, it quickly becomes apparent there’s grace, poise, rhythm and even ‘melody’ in the movement, making it veritably inseparable from the act of dancing. Here is a kind of fundamental, everyday dancing; almost certainly the most natural of all human movements. Gradually, the stage is populated with other walkers, entering at different times and levels, so as to stagger, confound and bewilder the symmetry and please the eye. Surley this is the food of visual art.
The work, choreographed by Del Amo but in which Ratnamohan has also collaborated, begins with a simple, haunting, time-suspending whistled tune, rendered live by Hope. Progressively, the movement jumpcuts to a pogoing lineup, with dancers bounding into the air at different times and rates; some facing forwards, some backwards; twisting and stopping at different points. It’s strangely engaging and amusing and you’d be surprised how edifying it is to watch minutes of this simple notion of motion. In between, there are breakout sequences of buzzy randomness, in which growing, or grown, men dart about the stage like crazed atomic particles or, perhaps, spermatazooa; as if to mimic and mock the testosterone involved. To contrast this dynamic blitzkrieg, there are other points at which all, as if commanded robotically, scream to a stage-left corner and gather, prostrate, on the floor, coloured-in by Britton’s brilliant costume hues, so as to still retain some semblance of movement, even while still. Finally, they scurry around, risking collision, gradually departing the stage until such time as the original walker is left.
It mightn’t sound like much and, I s’pose, that’s just the point. If ever there was a work, or works, that prove less is more, in choreography too, this, or these, are it, or they. As I said, interesting. And quite funny, also; with the final beauty being that, in gathering men of all shapes, sizes, colours and ethnic backgrounds on one stage, there’s no sense of the mindbending machismo that pervades so many sporting teams and which wreaks so much havoc on and damage to unsuspecting young females, among others. Thus, in the end, it’s a poignant and timely reminder that men of diverse origins can participate, collaborate, cooperate and even compete without surrendering to mindless violence or oneupmanship. Maybe there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with men, after all. If not, what’s the problem in sport?
The details: Mountains Never Meet played the Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, on August 17-20.