Australian choreographer Aimee Smith voyaged to the high arctic region in late 2010. In response to this experience, Smith created the dance performance Wintering, which played at the Albany Town hall on Friday evening.
Performed by two dancers upon a white tarkett to a musical score by Craig McElhinney, Wintering examines the individuals’ emotional landscape and serves to reflect the environmental dilemma with which our contemporary world is ensconced.
A solitary hooded explorer stands in the space, sharply focused upon the hauntingly eerie, yet comforting music he creates. From the outset of this show, we are immersed in an uncluttered arctic landscape, an audience participating in an expedition to the furthest corner of our world.
Kynan Tan’s initial triptych of video imagery and digital visuals, reveal the beauty and serenity of the Arctic and for the first third of Wintering we are immersed in this world of sound and video alone.
Tan’s imagery abstractly captures the movement of water, land and fleeting marine life with various dynamics. Moving from exquisitely beautiful arctic mountains, still waters and ice drifts, to exploration of the tangible qualities and movement inherent in the Arctic’s icy depths. He demonstrates an astute ability to direct our gaze along an intended trajectory, giving power to his composition. A change in perspective and the cold grid like mapping of mining’s relentless search for resources emerges, chaos ensues as beauty disintegrates into a mass of frenetic scribbles.
In this space, the collaboration between Tan’s visual imagery and McElhinney’s performance and sounds become performance art in their own right.
Upon the conclusion of the visual imagery a single dancer arrives in the space, she is joined by another. They gradually remove us from our arms length viewing of this landscape, plunging us feet first into the human experience of the arctic as both a geographical landscape and a way of understanding our own emotional landscape in a modern world.
These dancers are not ethereal other worldly beings but grounded humans, authentically imprinting the space with their experience, quietly translating raw emotion into movement, it is evident the message they communicate with their dance is one they wholeheartedly subscribe to. Their disheveled hair, unflattering tight thermal pants (resembling those worn by many an intrepid explorer ) and thick wooly vests serve to further our experience of the practicalities necessitated by this wild unbridled place.
At times this work is staggering in its beauty. A meditation ensues as the dancers mindfully roll through the space in unison, sometimes experiencing joy, during other moments urgently teetering on the edge, moving from desperation to melancholy, inevitably accepting their disposition and finally discovering hope. The phrasing and dynamics of the choreography are assured, delivering on their promised intent.
Smith’s choreography clearly put the performers through their paces. Reaching a climatic peak in a duet of desperation. Here, appropriately awkward choreography leaves the dancers bodies bargaining with a myriad of perceived threats. To their credit, the urgent floor bound phrases are executed effortlessly by Wintering’s skilled performers; Rhiannon Newton and Jenni Large. Equally so, during moments of fragility, the dancers crack and crumble while attempting to stand strong, stoically holding out in an effort to maintain their substance and unique character.
There is a butoh like quality to Wintering, a meditation that draws us in to the performance, releasing us into our own mind and then returning us to the action unfolding onstage. I strayed into the recesses of my own mind at times, but just as I began to indulge a thought, choreographic contrast would catch my attention, gently reeling me back to the dancers journey. With each new tangent transversed, another element of the human psyche was revealed . Furthermore, I couldn’t help but make an association between this performance and Kubler Ross’s five stages of grieving.
The decision to separate the video performance from the dance is to be applauded. So often collaboration between the two results in fierce competition for the audience’s attention and so much material is lost in that process. Wintering successfully negotiates this collaboration honouring both expressive forms. By the time a dancer appears on the white tarkett, we have already arrived in the arctic landscape visually and emotionally.
While this is an abstract work, both the video and choreography appear to follow a similar thematic narrative that I suspect has elevated the understanding of this dance performance for those audience members who are largely unfamiliar with interpreting abstract contemporary dance and perhaps tend to be more accepting of abstract video material, as a natural consequence of regular popularist exposure to this medium.
The power of Wintering is in its continued resonance after the conclusion of its viewing. This work may not be uplifting, however it does not depress the human spirit. Wintering is more reflective in its nature and is certainly an inspired creation that leaves its audience understanding at a very personal level, the tone of a journey to the unique and remote arctic wilderness. In remembering Wintering’s visual imagery, musical score and choreography, I have found myself pausing to really consider the impact of climate change on our world and the flow on effect this knowledge has on the emotional well- being of the world citizen.
Wintering was performed at the Albany Town Hall, Friday 21st June 2013.
The comments made herein only represent my personal interpretation of and personal opinions about the performance. They should not be mistaken for an expression of artistic statement by the artists mentioned. My intention in discussing art and performance within this blog is to open a broader community conversation, beyond the limiting discussions of what is deemed “good” and “bad”, instead focusing the conversation upon how art is seen and interpreted, representing various points of view.