It’s tempting to think of Liesel Zink’s A Collection of Various Selves as the culmination of her artistic practice so far. Encompassing aspects of devised work, contemporary dance, theatre and visual installation, the production brings together several creative threads the Brisbane choreographer has been exploring separately over the past handful of years and compresses them into a single artistic statement.
It’s easy to detect traces of Daniel Santangeli’s Room 328 (which featured both Zink’s choreography and the work of Various Selves’ lighting and sound design team of Scott Barton and Mike Wilmett) in the work’s collagist exploration of identity. The movement vocabulary employed in the work’s more overtly choreographed sectors is observably of a piece with previous Zink choreographic pieces for the likes of Expressions Dance Company or the 4C Arts Collective.
The production’s use of dramatic pathos and dialogue, meanwhile – largely alien to Zink’s work until this year – was foreshadowed by her work with Dave Sleswick on Motherboard Productions’ La Voix Humaine or her LaBoite Scratch showing Fifteen. Jacob Livermore’s amorphous and evolutionary set design seems an obvious development of the more installation and immersive work the choreographer showcased with Phluxus2’s Boiling Point.
Still, viewed as a culmination, Various Selves doesn’t really work. It doesn’t feel like a fully realised production. While created with the explicit intention of exploring how identity and interpersonal connections function in a technologically-mediated society, the work nevertheless seems to lack a firm ideological focus to ground its creative explorations. Structurally, it exists as a collage of vaguely correlated moments and ideas as opposed to a studied investigation of a theme.
This approach is not without its rewards. There are a number of compelling and beautiful moments to engage the audience throughout the piece. Giema Contini’s monologue on connection (intriguingly, assembled from months of Facebook discussions of identity) is beautifully realised and stunningly affecting. The introduction to the piece’s performers – a series of fractured fact-based monologues delivered through quirky, specific choreography – is clever and endearing.
That said – as a result of this, Various Selves doesn’t really do what it says on the box. It doesn’t really interrogate identity and connection in regards to technology or media at all. Rather, it gives you a portrait of each of the performers involved in the piece. The audience doesn’t find itself contemplating issues so much as simply connecting and empathising with the individuals performing before them. Again, this is not necessarily a negative development.
Ironically, it’s actually what makes A Collection of Various Selves arguably Zink’s most rewarding work to date. As a culmination of Zink’s interests, Various Selves doesn’t function. The choreographer hasn’t so much as synthesised the contrasting facets of her output as gathered them together. It’s obvious on a level as simple as casting that what the audience is seeing is not a hybrid but a collage – dancer Alex Bryce failing to match performer Ron Seeto as an actor and vice versa.
However, rather than proving frustrating or dissatisfying, the disconnected and collagist nature of the work proves both engaging and exciting – and it’s because of the unexpected honesty and humanity in the piece. Zink’s greatest weakness as an artist until now has arguably been her tendency to provide work that is more aesthetic and intellectually rewarding than emotionally provocative. Various Selves marks the point where the ratio flips for the young choreographer.
As such, while A Collection of Various Selves may seem to resemble a culmination of her work, it actually succeeds far more impressively as a new foundation for Zink’s creative output. With A Collection of Various Selves, the choreographer has brought all her interests together with a newfound level of emotional expression to sketch out a blueprint for a new form of dance theatre – a highly personal and expressive voice that is both experimental and deeply evocative.
The blueprint in question is, of course, in need of some refinement – but, for now, it’s a joy in and of itself to watch Zink guide it through its beautifully earnest and gloriously messy infancy.
Metro Arts and Liesel Zink & Nicholas Paine present
A Collection of Various Selves
Choreographer Liesel Zink
Venue: Sue Benner Theatre
Dates: 10 – 27 August, 2011
Times: Tuesdays to Saturdays, 7.30pm / Friday 19 & Saturday 20 August, 9pm (only)
Tickets: $12 – $20
Bookings: www.metroarts.com.au | 07 3002 7100