1. Shelley Lasica is a choreographer like a bird like a butterfly, someone I do not understand, not even love. Someone who runs away from me, rather. The first time I saw her work, last year, you may remember I wrote: “Dance, for me, is the sea, is falling, is motion sickness.” I didn't know, I didn't understand, I had thought, but not the right thoughts, just thoughts.
2. Shelley's mother Margaret Lasica was a pivotal figure in the development of contemporary dance in Australia, a member of the Modern Ballet Group in the 1950s, and the founder of the Modern Dance Ensemble in 1967. She was also an influential teacher: one of her students was Lloyd Newson, who later established DV8. And of course, Shelley, who has been making dance for 25 years, here and everywhere.
3. From Anna Schwartz Gallery press release:
Lasica has always demonstrated a rigorous commitment to the choreographic development of her work. Compositions are interrogated and the informed critical responses of others become part of the working process. For the same reasons Lasica's work is grounded in a discourse that seeks to engage dance with other visual and temporal art forms. To this end she has worked with Artists Tony Clark, Callum Morton, Kathy Temin and Gail Hastings; Architect Roger Wood; Composer François Tétaz; Video-makers Margie Medlin and Ben Speth and Designers Martin Grant, Kara Baker and Richard Nylon.
For Vianne, Lasica has brought together American-born Ben Speth, innovative and internationally acclaimed film maker and creator of theatrical environments; Robyn McKenzie, writer, visual arts curator and Art Historian; Milo Kossowski, musician and composer and band member of The Emergency; Anne-Marie May, Melbourne-based visual artist, and Ben Cobham, production designer/director for visually based companies. Together they will devise the set, sound score, lighting, costume design, projection and text. Vianne's dancers are Deanne Butterworth, Joanna Lloyd, Tim Harvey, Bonnie Paskas and Lee Serle.
4. This is all true. Vianne, currently playing at fortyfivedownstairs, is indescribable, and as review-proof as all of the above suggests.
5. Ah that's a cop-out, you'll say! And you'll be right. Isn't that why a person writes on dance?
Colleague Boyd has confided that Lasica is known for commissioning librettos for her dances. And damn, does one not wish that the dancers spoke! There is so much in Vianne, just like there was so much in Play in a Room, but it's buried so deep within that for once, just for once, you wish the dancers explained themselves verbally.
There is no attempt at atmosphere, no attempt at jokes, no attempt at emotion and no attempt at narrative. There is no attempt at being obscure either, which may sound strange. It is, simply, a sort of private experiment on stage, you and me and anyone else there just to be observed while observing, feeling like we've been given lollies to taste for a market researcher. Everyone, including ourselves, in anticipation over what our reaction will be. Sunstruck, while similarly Spartan in sign-posting terms, was a wealth of images and associations in comparison. Vianne is centreless, heartless.
The dancers, disfigured in astonishingly ugly, hooded glittery tracksuits, all brown-orange except Deanne Butterworth's peach, bodies unclear, hidden, are paired up with Milo Kossowski and Morgan McWaters’s space electronica. Ben Cobham's sparse light, similarly, disperses rather than rounding attention, and the orderly geometry of the set is consistently broken down by the asymmetry of dancing figures: a duet centre-stage and a duet on the far right, or conflicting solos. Dancers standing by the walls, calmly observing. Some of it can be easily assembled into meaning: Jo Lloyd and Lee Serle's didactic dance, Lloyd trying to teach Serle a sequence, repeating it over and over in chunks at different moments during the 55-minute performance; the stretching and feeling of space, silent whispers we cannot hear, exchanged smiles. A lot of the time, a movement spectrum ranging from batting of fake golden eyelashes to complex group phrasing has no obvious attention hooks. The dancers, Sphinx smiles all of them, interact, respond to one another's movement. The dancers are splendid, each in their own way (this is a rare dance where singling out would need to be negative, and unnecessarily mean). There are repetitions, progressions, break-offs, obstinance and harmony, a range of gentle or aggressive relationships subtly enacted, a kind of molecular order that makes sense to me in one way, to the person next to me in another, just like the chaos of a foreign city could give me something, my travelling companion something else. Perhaps this is one of the keys to the play, Vianne an anagram of Vienna, Margaret Lasica's hometown that Shelley visited.
6. Says Lasica:
“That's not a matter of abdicating responsibility for the things I'm interested in putting out there. I'm interested in setting up a situation where the viewer negotiates their path through it too.”
“I am pleasantly surprised when some audience members who maybe haven't seen very much dance speak with great eloquence about what they found in it and what they liked about it because they just let themselves go, they just let themselves be there and apprehend it and read it as they wanted to.”
7. Yes, however. Were the choreography not so boldly original, so well bloody crafted, one could easily drift in and out. As it is, one’s train of thought is constantly interrupted by pure surprise at the extra-aesthetic, the craft. You did what just then?! moments, one after another. What will you now oh my yes NO!? moments.
8. Outsmarted. Defeated by dance. There is not a cupcake in the entire 55 minutes. It is brilliant, subtle, complex, and not even difficult. But it is there for you to taste yourself.
Vianne. Choreographer and director: Shelley Lasica. Music: Milo Kossowski and Morgan McWaters for PEACE OUT!. Set and objects: Anne-Marie May. Costumes: Shelley Lasica and Kara Baker for PROJECT. Light and Design Consultant: Bluebottle / Ben Cobham. Dancers: Deanne Butterworth, Timothy Harvey, Jo Lloyd, Bonnie Paskas, Lee Serle. Curatorium: Ben Cobham, Milo Kossowski, Robyn McKenzie, Anne-Marie May, Ben Speth. At fortyfivedownstairs, December 3 – 14 2008.