Meryl Tankard; two stories.

After the untimely death of the brilliant Tanja Liedtke, the just-announced artistic director of the Sydney Dance Company, the company commissioned work from three choreographers, ad hoc, to fill up 2008 while in transition. Meryl Tankard was one. Inuk2 was based on her 1997 Inuk, meaning 'human' in Inuit, a work I haven't seen. By a choreographer I don't know, performed by an ensemble that's just a group of strangers to me.


Meryl Tankard and Sydney Dance Company in rehearsal. Photo: Steven Siewert

The first is the key to the beauty of dance.

The key to the beauty of dance is half-unlocking for me through the way I always prefer to post photos of a dance moment, rather than video clips. The sheer beauty of the human body, of the movement congealed, arms and legs stuck in time, hanging off the layers of thick air. Can you see what I'm saying here? For the longest time I dreamed of being a theatre photographer. I would smuggle cameras into the auditorium and steal photos like kisses, of curtain calls, of bare feet, of midmotion and endmotion and premotion.

(I was hoping, one day, to take photos of rehearsals. A rehearsal is ontologically the other side of the construction of a shopping mall, or a suburb. Walking through Melbourne Central half-finished, once upon a time, I was observing the retreat of reality, of texture and meaning, in front of polished layers of the Gruen Transfer. A rehersal is a layering of truth, quite the opposite. Hence the opening photo.)

Meryl Tankard's Inuk2 was going to be my final splurge in this godforsaken land, a piece of Australia to take traveling with me. Was it? It was. After a stint at Next Wave (forthcoming) viewing 'indigenous' theatre that, to broadbrush, didn't seem to come from very deep, it felt almost aboriginal, unashamed, in the way it invoked this country, the experience of this country. It was a dance from the stomach, not the mind.

And it succeeds and it fails, of course. Just like Australia, it doesn't quite know whether it's gruesome drama or a gentle comedy. The first part, The Freeway, is exquisite: all 1930s or so, gentle, feminine, a pointe, with a beautiful girl dissolving into the ethereal immensity, say, of the road. Lost children, the engulfment of the wilderness. Beautiful lighting design. I thought, this is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on stage. The next moment, as we come through to the other side, suddenly we have feminist gymnastics. The Tribe is the longest, most repetitive and most philosophically dubious part: although it gave me some food for thought over politically engaged art, what if the feminist in me disagrees? What if women will never beat men in physical fight and what if that's not the point? So I suffered through. Perhaps it's my aversion to group sports.

The third part, The Party, after the interval, is another brutalist look at Australia: goddamn, there is something about that billboard of the blue sky. It was wiping the floor with the audience. Dancing, drinking, mating rituals, and a harrowing sequence that will be remembered as the Binge Drinking moment; all under this billboard. The rubbish! The crying! Balkan Beat Box in a dingy discotheque: we are a global tribe after all.

With the unruly and imprecise (not to mention aggressively laid-back), but so is Australia, The End out of the way, all four corners of this country were covered: a brush at sublime, the youthful energy, the unstructured dark night, and the final slapstick song&dance. No wonder one is confused about whether life here is happy or utterly miserable. It seemed so Australian that it almost made fun of my intention to keep Inuk2 in my heart during overseas travels; as if it said, this is how we do things here! When we're unsure of the message or the mood, we attach a lightweight coda.

Inuk2 is patchy, but gutsy. Convinced in ideas, but not in execution. It is very much the product of a company in transition working with a new choreographer. Not everyone comfortable in their roles, not everyone utilised best. The bold and beautiful Sarah-Jayne Howard visibly excels, but is also Tankard's frequent collaborator and not a member of SDC. The random succession of music, moods and styles was deliberate, and if it worked, it worked to the extent to which strong scenes rhythmically broke this mechanical rotation of scenes, this MTV drone. Again the photo quality of dance. Suspension of air and body. But there was a too-muchness: too many superfluous people on stage, too many disagreeing elements. Nina Simone!, Inuit singing!, r'n'b! The water extravaganza at the end was annoying, rather than adorable, and not everyone seemed convinced by their direction.

So, like tourists, we are left with a collection of beautiful images not quite giving us the answers. The lines in the airport tarmac. The blue sky billboard. The drunk woman. The tribal games. The rubbish. Oh the rubbish. And if that didn't remind me of one very early, muggy morning in Portugal, when newspapers and rubbish were rolling everywhere, taking over the streets (something about the street cleaning in Portugal was explained to me), and I felt cold, unhappily in love and disappointed in the state of humanity, and I'm sure many people had the same pangs of recognition in same intervals, I don't know if I would call it successful.

As it ended, though, with the beautiful images hung at regular intervals on the walls of this lunapark ride, it was puzzling and beautiful and rewarding.


Have a look.

Photo credits: Regis Lansac


The second is the theatre audience.

Sitting in the foyer of the Arts Centre at these un-indy shows, these big ballet shows with ballet audiences, always full of skinny (skim?) girls with long curled hairs and slight tweenager make-up and semi-high heels, and their mothers with plucked eyebrows and furs, you understand, all black and stylish, I used to feel like I used to feel in front of Europeans (we all have our Europeans, perhaps). I used to feel alone, and short-haired and perplexed in front of this teeming femininity, somehow untaught the rules of being a girl and, by extension, of being civilized: the rules and reasons to hair removal, to make-up, to the tricks of always smelling of expensive perfume, not dry sweat, and the entire cacophony of confusion over what women do in toilets.

The awareness of my grandmother, who may have read the entire Chekhov – reading is a cheap hobby, thank Lord for socialism and libraries – but has never been to ballet. The expensive good seats, the glossy programs with artistic pictures (quite unlike the little gold-coin-donation ones I am used to), it all combines into a feeling of not quite awkwardness, but, rather, of being completely alone.

I am sure there are those who don't like the idea of cheap seats, of matinées, of young immigrants speaking too loudly in their theatres, stepping on their feet or making out in opera. I'm sure there exist those willing to argue of the benefit of rules of conduct, dress codes, conversation etiquette. More so in Europe, or even North America, than in this convict colony. But they exist.

Later, when the show starts, it doesn't matter anymore. The questions of how many good eyebrows are raised over scenes of binge drinking don't even feature. We are all equals in front of art. But outside, in the foyer, I am as alone as in front of death. I am de-tribed.

Does that change our perspective of the play?

by Jana Perkovic

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One thought on “Meryl Tankard; two stories.

  1. […] I saw & wrote on Meryl's Inuk2 before seeing The Black Swan. A documentary on her life and work, it completely blew me […]

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