Sandra Parker is a choreographer who documents the space between actions - the empty space, the waiting space. This makes her work often minimal, subtle, filled with phrases of subliminal gesture and a sense of internalized, rather than extroverted action.
In the beautifully crafted Out of Light, Parker is concerned with a similar but different space – a behind-the-scenes theatrical space, both physical and emotional. This space is occupied by the dancer waiting to perform. It’s a space for training, marking steps, warming the body and even remembering old kinesthetic experiences. As Out of Light develops, this space eventually becomes the actual performing space, where actions must transition from the personal to the public.
Out of Light is performed entirely behind a scrim which projects designs by Rhian Hinkley, most of which consist of grand theatrical images - proscenium arches, stages, rippling curtains, falling roses and backstage walls. References to ballet are not explicit, but certainly suggested in the type of theatre images presented. These projections define a distinct scene – focused enough to ground the work in a tangible setting without being overworked.
The three eloquent and mature dancers - Carlee Mellow, Mia Hollingworth and Claire Peters, distance themselves, both physically and metaphorically, from their viewers. Not only are they behind the scrim (which works like a stage curtain, of sorts) but much of their action is upstage and the scrim is placed several metres from the audience. (Tuesday night’s tiny audience of about 12 people sat in the middle of the seating banks, leaving the first few rows empty and making this distance especially pronounced.) A large black, cavernous area separates the trio from their watchers. This could be a potentially disengaging set-up for audiences, but it works here and actually enhances and extends the overall theme.
In white underclothes, the dancers are in a state of preparation, appearing to mark out dance phrases, very balletic in nature – arabesques, long kicks, turns – freezing at moments, stopping and restarting and working in and out of a group dynamic. There’s an air of introspection to the self-driven practice and this continues through solos where movements reference stretching (both balletic and yogic), statuesque posing and larger scale movements that melt into minute shapes.
At other times one dancer works in counterpoint to the other two, doing her own movement phrase while the others duet in unison. There is a constant interplay of working as an ensemble, yet each dancer’s physical and mental experience seems unique and personal.
When Out of Light eventually builds to the “performance,” we watch it from behind – the dancers dance upstage and bright front lights shine into our faces. The dancers, who have added variations of skirts and tiaras to their undergarments, “perform” with outstretched arms and taut bodies. Yet their outwardly performance is done with their backs to us, suggesting that the negotiation between the internal and the external still exists in performance.
The work, as a whole, is reserved but not cold and is satisfying for its attention to detail, excellent dancing and Jenny Hector’s lighting design that supports, rather than fights with, the projected material. Out of Light builds a context - a “way in” for the viewer - by mixing the literal and the abstract and feels grounded in a time and place that are not exactly specific, but still familiar. This is something that I have not always gotten from Parker’s work but really appreciate here. Despite offering this context, Out of Light is still challenging work for its considered pace and uncompromising music by Steven Heather.
Out of Light will probably find its audiences mostly from the dance and performing arts communities (rather than the general public) and all interested viewers should get in now, as it closes on Saturday.
Out of Light
Venue: Gasworks Theatre
Dates: 26 February to 7 March 2009
Times: Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm
Bookings: 9699 3253