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Short and sweat

SOLO – Festival of Dance

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 420 Brunswick Street

7.5/10 – individual shows ranged between 5/10 and 9/10

Yep, we stooped to a pun headline. Like prostitution or porn, the pun headline is generally a mutually degrading experience. This is relevant when you consider that to enjoy this rather good show, you’re paying around a dollar a minute and it’s all over just as you start to enjoy it. With just seven solo dances on a standard ticket, each quite brief, a festival it ain’t.

With the time issue aside, I can tell you straight up that this is going to be a novel experience for you if you’re not into dance normally, and that alone might justify coughing up the $25-45 for a ticket. The fact that it focuses on solo dance exclusively makes this particularly good as a way of getting your head into this medium. At least, it worked for me – this was my first experience of modern dance in years, and it opened my eyes a lot.

My first real moment of revelation, in the midst of the first act, was that dance is a bit like food or music or ‘gallery’ art:  dance can convey thigns beyond just the ballet cliches of ‘pretty’ and ‘sweet’.  ‘Strange” and ‘violent’ and ‘painful’ all feature in this show, but in interesting ways. Like the spectrum of tastes or sounds, SOLO gives the viewer a decent selection of the things that can be conveyed through physical movement. Unlike the worst kinds of annoying contemporary art, dancers cannot rely on a litany of fap-tastic essays to justify weak performance – it’s visceral stuff and each piece will either work for you or not, and relating to it that way is probably OK. The lack of a binding narrative or story to keep things together makes it even more this way – each act must stand on its merits in five(ish) minutes, then be over and move to the next thing.

The show starts with what I felt might’ve been the most exciting and creative act – a dance that gave an unsettling sense of a man crazed by boredom. This is not a pretty dance, but its intensity draws you in and the gimmick is brilliant but probably slipped by a lot of viewers – this dancer is making his own music. By striking, slapping and kicking various things on stage (and himself), the dancer generated noises which were recorded and looped using a little pedal he had discreetly on stage. These sounds gradually built up into layers and layers of cleverly crafted rhythm – the only music in this piece. It’s enough to leave you with a grin and a shudder at the same time.

The next couple of pieces exemplify the idea that a variety show is going to have a variety of appeal- both on the upside and downside. One guy faffed and flailed around with some goggles to very pretentious music for five minutes, then a dude who could’ve fathered any of the other performers (imagine a compact John Malkovich type) saunters onto stage in his jammies and says a couple of utterly cryptic things before dancing arthritically to music and the sounds of bubbles, evoking what I think might’ve been drowning. This was possibly the least graceful piece of the lot, but it gave me a smile for the first minute: the performer’s dance was very tame but he could not hide the sheer joy of dancing. You could see it in his eyes and at the corners of his mouth. That alone gave me all kinds of vicarious joy until he finally got his poker face on and focused on being a drowning man.

Dancing alone on stage and staying interesting must be tough, and the next few acts offered a couple of very contrasting approaches that I wish I could show you – two performers went for props, two went for really intense dancing. The props guys were both pretty odd- one set up a pair of balloons with clever lighting, so one looked like an eclipse. The other had four whiskey tumblers which he intensely rearranged in order to support weird, almost contortionist positions. Balloon guy danced with his second balloon in the light of his eclipse, leaving us wonder what the point was. Tumbler guy was bizarre, but in a great way – he paused on a couple of occassions to give some super-intense, super-dramatic stares at the audience. He had a sleazoid peroxide look going and you could almost imagine him busting out some Prince in those tense moments. Instead, he brought out the most bizarre prop of the night: I didn’t get a shot but imagine a skilled dancer suddenly just standing in front of the crowd looking like this…

OK, so having danced for you a bit, I'll now put on my wolf mask and just stare y'all down for a while. Yeah.

By contrast, the guys that ditched props and went for pure dancing were at times harder to focus on but easier to respect- both acts had a kind of violent intensity to them. One guy’s dance largely focused on the writhing of his heavily muscled shoulder-blades, which gave me a kind of squick feeling like when one sees those nightmare parasite clips of large writhing grubs being extracted from unhappy farm animals/tribal kids. Still, he made it work and both of these pieces were rippingly skilled dance and terrifyingly physical.

You’ll note that my experience of SOLO involved seven men. Apparently there are fifteen performers all up, so you might not have so much of a sausagefest if you opt to attend. Aside from the really interesting range of dancing happening here, any lady or gay dude who appreciates incredibly fit bodies would probably enjoy added benefits from this show – clearly dancing makes you brutally muscular, but unlike rugby or protien shakes gives you grace as well.

Check it out while it lasts – the show wraps up Saturday 7th.

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