On View. Live Portraits. Sue Healey

22 July 2015, Performance Space, Carriageworks, Eveleigh (Sydney)

The printed program for Sue Healey’s latest work, On View. Live Portraits, contains a short essay by Christopher Chapman, senior curator at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. Writing of screen-based digital portraits, or video portraits, he says: like any portrait, the genre should succeed when it communicates a compelling sense of person-hood, or identity, or individual being. This is exactly what Healey’s work does, even though it is so much more than an exercise in digital or video portraiture. It communicates a strong sense that we are watching the very separate identities of five extraordinary individuals—Martin del Amo, Shona Erskine, Benjamin Hancock, Raghav Handa and Nalina Wait.

Dancers in Sue Healey's 'On View. Live Portraits', 2015. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
Dancers in Sue Healey’s On View. Live Portraits, 2015. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

On entering the darkened Bay 20 of Carriageworks, the venue for On View, it took several seconds for our eyes to adjust. But when they did we were confronted by those five individuals scattered, seemingly randomly, in one half of the cavernous space. The performers were all moving, if sometimes just slightly, and were involved in some way with a moving image as background or projection. But in essence they represented an image that, although clearly live, we could interpret as a portrait in a relatively traditional sense.

The movements were interesting enough, but it was only later that their significance emerged. In this opening segment, Shona Erskine, for example, sat quietly in a corner twitching slightly on occasions and adjusting a red item of clothing that partly covered the upper section of her body. A fox fur, complete with head, tail, and feet, was spread on the floor beside her and, with the moody lighting in which she was shrouded, the image had the quality of a Baroque portrait. Later, Erskine danced a solo with the fox fur, wrapping it around her, wearing its head on her head, and otherwise utilising it as an addition to her solo. That initial portrait had come to life and the slight twitches we noticed earlier had turned into more obvious fox-like movements.

After a few minutes spent absorbing this introduction, we were ushered to the other end of the bay and invited to sit down. Five screens confronted us now and each had three digital portraits of the five dancers, with one screen for each performer. Slowly the portraits began to move and it was quite a remarkable experience to watch how costume affected the dancerly image. Raghav Handa, for example, wore three different costumes in his three portraits—white, loose, Indian-style trousers (no top) in one, a casually elegant shirt and trousers in another, and a suit in the last. He executed the same, quite simple bending movement in each of his three on screen portraits, but it looked quite different in each case. I found myself unable to do anything but favour the movement when Handa was wearing his Indian outfit. It was his dance costume, which I knew, and the power of that knowledge coloured my perception.

As the piece progressed the dancers appeared live, dancing around the screens as well as appearing on them. The interaction between film footage and live performance grew stronger.

Shona foreground
Shona Erskine (centre), Nalina Wait (centre screen) Benjamin Hancock (background left), Martin del Amo (background right). On View. Live Portraits, 2015. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Particularly affecting were a series of solos where the dancers seemed to take on the attributes of a creature from the natural world. Handa was seen on screen handling a horse as if breaking it in, while at the same time he performed live with the fluid quality that marks his dancing, and with something of the freedom and wild abandon of the horse. An extraordinary performance by Benjamin Hancock was the highlight of this section. His acrobatic style of movement, punctured by a vocabulary that often looked quite balletic, along with the film footage on the screens of a praying mantis, was mesmerising.

Benjamin Hancock and praying mantis, On View 2015. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti
Benjamin Hancock and praying mantis, On View. Live Portraits, 2015. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Later, Martin del Amo was seen in a cemetery moving solemnly. A stone bird perched on one of the headstones seemed to loom over him.

There were segments when the dancers performed together, or when they came forward and stared at the audience. The gaze of Nalina Wait was especially powerful and, in one filmed section, her expressions told an entire story. Her dancing was incredibly lyrical and an absolute joy to watch, especially her solo where she appropriated the fluidity of a fish, which we saw on screen as Wait performed on stage. And there were  some exceptional moments when she danced with Handa and del Amo, who adjusted her long hair and circular skirt, manipulating the image we received.

Nalina Wait, Martin del Amo and Raghav Handa in 'On View. Live Portraits', 2015. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti
Nalina Wait, Martin del Amo and Raghav Handa in On View. Live Portraits, 2015. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

On View. Live Portraits had so many layers of meaning at every turn. It was absolutely exhilarating to watch and is a major work that deserves wide exposure. While Healey as choreographer and film maker, and her director of photography, Judd Overton, have worked strongly together before, with On View they have taken their collaboration to new heights. The links between live performance and the high quality moving image material, rather than being frustrating as they sometimes are when dance and film aim to coexist, were absolutely fluid and illuminating of each other. The show was enhanced by lighting from Karen Norris and an original sound score from Darrin Verhagen and Justin Ashworth. Definitely a five star experience, which can be savoured post show by some wonderful photographic images by Gregory Lorenzutti.

Michelle Potter, 23 July 2015

Featured image: Martin del Amo in On View. Live Portraits, 2015. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Raghav Handa in Tukre'. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti

Raghav Handa’s Tukre’. Dance Bites 2015

1 May 2015 (matinee), Lennox Theatre Riverside, Parramatta

Tukre’ means ‘pieces’ in Hindi and Raghav Handa’s solo show was a series of moments from his life—memories, thoughts, recollections. These intimate pieces from his life as an Australian of Indian heritage were spread across about 50 minutes of dance, conversation and projections.

Raghav Handa in Tukre'. Photo © Gregory Lorenzutti
Raghav Handa in Tukre’. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Handa is a beautiful mover and his qualities as a dancer were obvious from the first moments of Tukre’. In semi-darkness Handa bent over a small candle and acted out the faceting techniques of his Indian forbears, who were jewellery makers. Every movement was precise and clearly articulated. And from then on, while the movements became more expansive, and changed in dynamics, there was always the same precision of movement. Throughout the performance his clearly defined musculature allowed us to see his exceptional capacity to isolate movement in individual parts of the body.

There were references in his choreography to his background in Kathak dance, especially when he changed into a long garment, with a full skirt and finely detailed top, and began to turn with the skirt swirling around his body. There were also Indian references in the electronic score from composer Lachlan Bostock, which maintained beautifully the Indian/Western links apparent throughout Tukre’.

At times Handa stopped dancing and picked up a microphone to talk to us about his life. He told us of how his Australian life interacted with his Indian heritage and we were privy to a conversation with his mother, via a film clip projected onto a scrim hanging in the performance space. At first this halt to the movement was a little jarring, but slowly it became clear that this was the structure of Tukre’. We were seeing Handa as a multi-faceted person and artist. There were some particularly affecting moments in his conversation with his mother as they discussed his sexual orientation and the passing on to him of a family heirloom. In addition there was footage of his mother meticulously folding a sari, which was also affecting as it reflected the precision that marked Handa’s choreography. As the work closed we saw Handa wearing the heirloom, an ornate, bejewelled necklace.

I found Tukre’ quite fascinating as a work that set out to cross boundaries between cultures. It didn’t always flow as smoothly as it might have, and I continued to feel a sense of annoyance whenever Handa picked up a microphone and changed the mood of the piece so abruptly. But I look forward to seeing more of Handa’s work, which seems to me to be quite unique on the current dance scene.

Michelle Potter, 3 May 2015

Featured image: Raghav Handa in Tukre’. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Raghav Handa in Tukre'. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti