De Quincey Co.’s Run might have sat better with me had I seen it after a few cups of coffee. I greatly enjoyed De Quincey’s Triptych, her last work and the only I had seen until now, but even then one could observe the heavy burden of Friday evening fatigue. That Friday, I was perky and alert to the fine-grained, yet plunging, choreography of this Body Weather company, its careful investigation of movement in context (of sound, of space, of other movement), the weaving of invisible lines of energy, such intangibles. I was riveted; yet many around me struggled to stay awake.
This Friday, it was my turn to struggle. Run is presented as a “6-ton dramaturgy”, “an exploration of time and motion”, constructed “physical ecology”. Pieces of CarriageWorks, adding up to the said 6 tons, are suspended at different heights on the spacious stage, while four dancers mingle around them, interacting with the hanging steel. It would be easy to simplify what goes on: the combination of body and rusting steel, complemented with monochrome video and the most stupenduous sound (on which more later), is always as intriguing as impossible to explain properly: the interest is in the visual composition, and in the contrast between movement (stuttered, fluid or iterative) and stillness. It has definite moments of conjunction with Wayne McGregor’s Entity: both were interested in the mathematics of motion, and both drew on Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic work. Both are intellectual, rather than felt, dances.
The problem with Run, as I have hinted at earlier, is that it appears to have no heart. While each point of interest is valid in itself, Run is a game of contrasts and echos, not of building blocks. Every element looks and feels like a decoration to another, and this cycle of adjectives never settles on a noun. After two cups of coffee, I imagine I might have indulged in observing the invisible lines of energy, friction between the overwhelming steel and the fragile body, and other details that kept me enthralled during Triptych. Slightly worn out after a long week, my attention wandered wildly. Probably the most engaging element was the sound, and also the best-defined: sitting on the floor downstage, a man (I presume Jim Denley, the sound designer, himself) makes scratchy, echoey noises out of paper, magnets, a couple of microphones on string, and an odd assortment of rubbish. His precarious aural constructions are built in the same spirit as the rest of the performance, out of friction and contrast, but it is the thickest, densest part. The rest of Run is an infinitely subtle, often shapeless construct, something like origami made with toilet paper, which in itself, however, doesn’t necessarily hold all 6 tons of dramaturgy together.
It is notable that such a subtle piece would manage to create a couple of greatly irritating moments: the use of voice (mashing up Wittgenstein and Anne Carson into gibberish), which reminded me of Chris Boyd’s assertion that nine out of ten dance pieces will be ruined by the employment of words. We’ve always disagreed on that point (I like my dancers as speaking, thinking beings), but this evening I honestly hoped they would just shut up. I believe, sadly, that the key point is in ‘thinking’. The other happened incrementally, halfway through the performance, when it suddenly became clear that the steel pieces of CarriageWorks on stage were an object of endless fascination, rather than a starting point to the discussion. There is, Freud would tell you, something irritating about listening to other people’s dreams. While we can talk about our own endlessly, other people’s dreams are unpleasant, boring things. Why is that so? Because dreams are woven out of sheer, pure narcissism, a self turned on itself and revelling. Run at points looked like a child who had never seen a piece of steel before; and when people call things ‘indulgent’ or ‘pretentious’, what they mean, I imagine, is this very feeling of irritation at a work of art that has no interest in the dreams of the audience. (I would suspect that, for a work of art to be considered very good, a process of seduction needs to occur, a sweet-talking of the audience into fascinations and compulsions explored, until it mistakes them for its own.) After a good half-hour in the CarriageWorks foyer, the most exciting architectural thing in Sydney (many times more of a lived, exploding space than the Opera House), all brilliantly brutal industrial design and voids, pockets of air, so big you almost feel them poking the god in the eye, it is a dramaturgical mistake of unseemly proportions to suspend a few tons of steel in a smaller pocket and expect the audience to wonder ad infinitum, even the artist honestly does.
Muybridge or not, pretty monochromes or not, I had not been sweet-talked. I was, instead, looking at another person’s dream and growing ever more bored. By which I mean, naricissistically wounded, as Freud would probably say.
Run, by De Quincey Co. DIRECTION/CHOREOGRAPHY: Tess de Quincey PERFORMERS: Tom Davies, Peter Fraser, Victoria Hunt, Linda Luke MEDIA INSTALLATION: John Tonkin SCULPTURAL INSTALLATION: Garnett Brownbill LIGHTING DESIGN: Travis Hodgson SOUND: Jim Denley VIDEO ARTIST: Emmanuela Prigioni PRODUCTION MANAGER: Bernie Regan. PERFORMANCE SPACE, 20 – 29 August.