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[The Australian] Dance Massive’s ‘Motion Picture’ and ‘Kingdom’ less than moving

EAMONN KELLY

Lilian Steiner, front, with Stephanie Lake and Kyle Page in Motion Picture. Picture: Sara

NOW its sixth year, the biennial Dance Massive festival is Australia’s leading showcase for contemporary dance.

In its second week, industry stalwarts Lucy Guerin and Phillip Adams presented starkly different works that, nonetheless, were similarly preoccupied with modes of communication and dance as translation. Emerging from collaborative workshops, each was a loosely edited pastiche, with consequential diminutions in clarity, narrative integrity and conceptual refinement.

Motion Picture was inspired by the cinematic and narrative techniques of film noir. Ninety minutes of movement accompanied an offstage screening (behind the audience) of DOA , the 1950 genre classic about a man investigating his own impending death after ingesting a poisoned drink. This served as the auditory track and the dancers’ visual prompt.

Initially the translation was literal, with dancers lip-synching the dialogue and mimicking the actors’ movements. Cinematic details such as camera angles and edits were transformed into movement shifts. For example, tracking shots were represented by dancers running on the spot, against projected monochromatic backdrops.

Slickly executed, this mode of delivery transformed dated material into witty contemporary form, amplifying cultural differences in gender identity, perceptions of villainy, and what constitutes a cracking party.

Gradually, the choreography became an abstract physical counterpoint to the film’s melodramatic score, dialogue, gunfights and escalating danger. The transition was not entirely successful, and audience members turned frequently to see what was happening on screen.

Kingdom presented queer perspectives on the intersection of its dancers’ desires “with art, life and sexuality”. Populated with threads explored in Adams’s previous works — action as ritual, tribal ceremony, nude male forms as sculptural devices and sensory conduits — Kingdom was a melange of art forms that oscillated between tedious self-indulgence and metamorphic fantasy.

In an extended, unaccompanied prologue, the dancers engaged in ritual banality, studiously shifting and manipulating cardboard mats, planks, tubes, foil sheeting and strips of plastic and fabric. Euphoric skipping, jumping and running ensued, as they gradually dispensed with clothing.

Coalescing into a tribe, they executed ­sequences of spoken and ­sung gibberish, conversational snippets mingling with rhythmic vocalisations.

In a nod towards tribal ceremony in Adams’s childhood home, Papua New Guinea, he introduced garishly decorated penis gourds and huge decorative headdresses that would have set Marie Antoinette’s pulse racing.

A medley of interlocking, thrusting and panting bodies in barely abstracted sexual simulation was the tiresome finale.

Motion Picture. Lucy Guerin Inc. Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, March 17.

Kingdom. Phillip Adams BalletLab. Arts House, Meat Market, Melbourne, March 18.

Dance Massive continues until Sunday.