Tuesday, April 2, 2013

We Have Been There (Cloud In Hand) - Reflections from Cat Ruka

We Have Been There - (Cloud In Hand)
Lisa Densem - Footnote Forte Series 2013
Q Theatre, 27 and 28 March 

As part of Footnote Dance Company's most recent Forte Series, Berlin-based New Zealand born choreographer Lisa Densem presents her newly commissioned work We Have Been There (Cloud In Hand). I receive this work as a complex movement study that for all its cerebral epiphanies still somehow manages to anchor itself into something very down to earth and primal. Through a simple and timeless approach to structure and an intuitive understanding of the relationship between ritual and presence, I am able to experience this intellectually enlightening work as also being spiritually moving - a combination I imagine to be challenging to achieve. 

The spatial and social structure of the work is simply a journey of individuals who are first established in isolation to each other and eventually come together through a series of groupings. As the audience enters, the dancers are already on stage, making small shifts of dissonant movement that investigate the internal dimensions of their unique and idiosyncratic worlds. They are distant from each other and pre-occupied with their own physical speech, though somehow seem to be tentatively connected to the audience. 

As the work progresses, the dancers appear to be seeking out or declaring movement statements that they inscribe through refreshingly unusual configurations of bones and muscles. Never quite relaxing in a finished place but then again, never too far away from comfort, we see contortions, contractions, disruptions, inter-lacings and weavings that are approached by the choreographer from what seems like a genuinely innovative perspective. Eventually the dancers gravitate to one another, sometimes momentum is found, sometimes it is uneasy for the individuals to find a sense of place within the group, but somehow it is always gentle. This gentleness and the delicate wonderment the dancers seem to posses at their own movement manifestations gives a powerful sense of intrigue that permeates the work from start to finish. 

The unusualness of the language is never alienating for me - I somehow find it very accessible and at times upsettingly true and profound. Though the choreographer has no intention to explore a theme or idea, the work still manages to invite me into thinking about a particular sense of being. The distortive, ill-fittingness of the movement seems to perfectly echo the way in which I think about how we in the West struggle to relate back to our real bodies as technology beckons us to leave them behind or extend beyond the real space they occupy. I see the dancers grapple with the parameters of their bodies, and a desire to arrive at a new location where Self sits slightly outside of the skin becomes apparent. The Westernized body as we know it today, or perhaps its state of being, is somehow placed under an intense scrutiny in this work, but not in a way that is invasive or direct or polemic. 

As it all subtly unfolds within a patient and sacred on-going moment, I am left with a sensation that is similar to that which is present after witnessing a vulnerable chick hatch from its egg, take its first breath and adjust to its new space and time. And the space and time of the work altogether feels beautifully and achingly contemporary - a triumph that may have been aided by the choreographer's rigorous research into hyper-attention and presence. The piece confronts me with the here and now - I am hyper-aware not only of the presence of the dancers who occupy this black, barren and empty void of a stage, but also of myself, a viewer, a participant in the exchange. The acutely-aware arena allows the 'statements of moving body' to penetrate quietly and sharply as tiny cracks in thin glass. 

We Have Been There is not a highly sensationalized, immediately gratifying work of spectacle and entertainment, and there are one or two moments that I am not entirely in my role as viewer. I have taken off momentarily into side-thoughts spurred on by the underlying textures of the work. But I am thankful for being given permission to do this, to drop away or 'sign out' from my viewer-role and return to it with ease much like I would as a passive participant of a community ritual. I am so thankful to Lisa and to Footnote for creating this sophisticated work and sharing it with New Zealand audiences, and I look forward to seeing the ways in which it influences our artistic landscapes.