Tramway was one of the first venues to commission my work when I moved to Glasgow with Reader Performance Group, my first company. I have worked at the venue many times since then in a range of roles on many projects. At that time in the early 00s Tim programmed performance at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Glasgow. He invited Reader to take up a year-long Creative Lab residency at CCA as he liked our work. And so we have known each other ever since. It made sense for Tim and I to collaborate on this season of work as I had just moved to Australia, have an intimate knowledge of Tramway’s venues, and a share a passion for finding the most exciting new performance experiences.
The season was characterised by work that tests the borders of dance, theatre and media art. In addition to the eight shows we also ran a programme of Australian Screen Dance.
The works in this season are representative of the distinctive and sophisticated dance and performance being made in Australia at the moment. These artists combine fresh, urgent ideas with rigorous technique to create experiences that will fascinate, absorb, delight your senses and entertain you.
It is difficult for us to understand how big and how old Australia is. All of Europe could fit inside its landmass and yet the country’s population is one third that of the UK. But the continent is far from ‘empty’, as the first European settlers thought. Australia is the home of our planet’s oldest continuous living cultures, dating back at least 50,000 years. The map of indigenous language groups reveals hundreds of distinct nations in individual regions joined by trade routes. One look at this map will change the way you imagine Australia forever. As might Dalissa Pigram’s solo work Gudirr Gudirr which contains movements and language that could well have been performed for 1000 generations. Pigram draws on this living yet ancient culture and combines it with contemporary dance and multimedia to create a piece that speaks to contemporary issues affecting us all. What knowledge from our histories can help us survive the present and create the future? Where do our words and gestures come from? These are questions that all the works in the season ask.
Zoe Scoglio’s show Shifting Ground speaks to something even more ancient, the land itself, and the forces that forged it. Shifting Ground is beautiful because it moves our focus from human to geological timescales in a thoroughly absorbing way. As a performance it is unlike anything else, intimate, strange, gentle, sensorially stimulating and transfixing. Scoglio holds you in a series of states of wonder that seem to emerge from everyday things around her. You will never look at the materials that shape our environments in the same way again.
The question of understanding the population’s entangled roots is important for Australia, as it has been a multicultural continent for millennia. In the twenty first century its cities are emerging as some of the world’s most diversely vibrant. Though only a small percentage of the population can say that their family is from there, people from every country in the world now make their home in Australia.
A Small Prometheus by Stephanie Lake and Robin Fox takes up one of these roots in the form of the ancient Greek myth about the God’s gift of fire. The dancers respond sensually to the elemental qualities of the Prometheus; the spark of creativity, the kindling of flames, the moulding of bodies. This is a show for anyone who played with fire as a child (or as an adult), fascinated by the chemical magic of striking a match and the power it can bring.
Three shows in this season seem to speak to the here and now of contemporary life in a direct way. The first of these is Pin Drop by Tamara Saulwick. This piece starts in modern day suburbia with the question of how safe you feel in your own home. It uses the voices of interviewees mixed with Saulwick’s own voice, extraordinary surround sound and lighting to immerse you. Gradually the connection to the real world is uncoupled, and a voyage begins into the dark world of physical fear that lurks just under the surface of our everyday reality. The show moves from the question of how safe you feel at home, to whether you still feel safe in your own seat. Pin Drop, like Shifting Ground, uses the sensory power of live performance in a very sophisticated way that makes you feel the performance as much as watch it.
Lucy Guerin’s two shows in the season, Untrained and Conversation Piece both work in the here and now very directly. Untrained pits the bodies of two professional, highly-skilled dancers against two willing ‘everyday’ guys who have not trained all their lives. They all have to perform Guerin’s rigorous choreography. If you have ever watched dance or sports and wondered ‘how hard can it be?’ then this is your answer. Untrained is a simple, funny and delightful show that might make you see the beauty in our everyday, ‘normal’ bodies a little more clearly.
Conversation Piece is a crystallisation of the butterfly effect in dance. Three actors and three dancers take a spontaneous, improvised conversation and warp it into movement, arguments, wonder, beauty and violence. In a world where one tweet or Facebook status can cause eruptions, disputes, marriages and murder, Conversation Piece makes you consider how the things we say create ripples through our lives. The form of this work is so fascinating that many audience members in Melbourne visited it several times just to see how the initial conversation changes everything that follows.
Two show in the season are visions of the future and the post-human. Dual by Stephanie Lake is a duet performed by two virtuosic dancers. The show starts with two intensely detailed solos each with its own accompanying sound worlds. These then interlock to form a duet. Robin Fox’s extraordinary sound raises the stakes so that at turns we could be witnessing robots, intimate lovers, superheroes, and a gunslinger standoff. Lake’s choreography is the kind that gets your own body moving in your seat, twitching along with the shifting, morphing bodies in front of you.
Whereas much of the work in the season is about solid things like bodies and rocks, Robin Fox’s RGB Lazer Show is pure light and sound. Big lights and big sound. It is the phsychadelic, Close Encounters, bone shaking celebration of a sci-fi future in the middle of the festival. It is pure sensation.
This season of leading new work from Australia is a rare opportunity to engage so deeply with contemporary live culture from the other side of the planet. The work is visceral, smart, wry and sophisticated: a feast for the senses. I hope you enjoy it.
Robert Walton, Co-Curator