Tiny Dancer | TaffyworksSite-specific work melds dance, projection, concept and place

There is a patch of fake grass in front of the big screen, in the centre of the vague amphitheatre formed by the steps leading from the State Library across to Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. With the beginning of the piece, that patch of grass seems to form the stage for this outdoor work.

Stepping forward from behind the screen, three dancers move with the haunting music that comes over the large speakers of the Perth Cultural Centre. The steps of their moves become bigger, more directional, and they spread out across the paving and up and around the steps. Some people have picked up postcards strewn around the area, and have scanned the QR code into their smartphones. The white screens are held up to the dancers, who are attracted like moths to flames and dance for the flickering light of the screens, right where the people sit. The area is still a thoroughfare, and not everyone has their phones out, and the dancers improvise, shadowing groups of people passing through. A flickering catches the eye, and there, on the wall to the State Library, is a tiny dancer. A projected image of a single woman, turning, reaching, pointing. Looking back for the dancers, and they are solemnly sitting, walking, standing, immersed in their own glowing tablet screens held before them.

The dance plays out on the wall and across the big screen, as the dancers move amongst us, rapt in their own gaze into technology. People ride through on bikes, some passers-by stop and stare, before moving on again. The dance on the screens becomes more complex, other dancers joining in, video editing becoming more apparent. The three dancers move towards the stage in person, collapse on the fake grass and watch themselves, joining us in the gaze upon the screen.

Site-specific work is exciting for many reasons. Working with an idea, the choreographer needs to consider the space, facilities available and logistics like ambient lighting from nearby buildings and blaring music from the windows of local venues. Perth Cultural Centre is full of challenges, but also opportunities. By being in the open, sacrificing control over sound quality and lighting levels, also attracts the attention of a range of spectators who will not usually attend a contemporary dance work. Creator Kathleen Szalay makes the most of the huge screen, and Elise Reitze’s haunting soundtrack drifts from the widely spaced speakers to create a dream-like quality. The angles of light and constraints of projecting are dealt with in creative ways to maximise the impact of the piece on audience assembled there for the show and random spectators.

Louise Henshall essentially dances solo for much of the piece, albeit on the screens. Joined by Amy Wiseman and Tarryn Runkel in turn, the moves of each draw the eye, cleverly edited by Fionn Mulholland’s video work. The uptake of the QR Code idea was poor amongst the audience, and dancers could have worked more on improvising without the cue, even at the risk of compromising part of the concept. Saying that, the risk of using live performers only to sit, mesmerised by their own small screens, is a strong statement about the way that we find ourselves behaving in public spaces, the ways we don’t take the opportunity to create and interact.

An exciting opportunity to bring contemporary dance to a larger audience, as well as promoting the work of Drug Aware, Tiny Dancer is a thoughtful, cultural occupation of a public space.

A Taffyworks production, presented by Drug Aware
Tiny Dancer

Choreographer and Director Kathleen Szalay

Venue: Perth Cultural Centre
Dates: 20 – 23 October 2015

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