Gesture and Stance: CDT dancers respond to sculptures by James Rogers

Jacqui Simmonds, Artistic Coordinator at Canberra Dance Theatre, writes for us about Gesture and Stance -

'Canberra Dance Theatre’s (CDT) recent relationship with our neighbour, the ANU Drill Hall Gallery, started mid last year when Pam Diver (Chair of the Board) and I visited the Gallery to see their beautiful space and to enquire if it might be possible to perform there. This led to CDT performance group REVEL responding to works by abstract painter Ildiko Kovaks for a Friends of the Gallery event, and to Unframed – an evening of dance, refreshments and socialising for CDT family and friends.

 

Like so many organisations, CDT had to suspend studio classes in late March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Missing the comaraderie of the studio, not to mention dancing in expansive spaces, I was delighted to receive an email in early April from Anne-Marie Jean at The Drill Hall. Also in lockdown, Gallery staff were exploring new ways of engaging with their Friends and audiences, especially in relation to Tunnelvision, their postponed retrospective for sculptor James Rogers. Anne-Marie described James’ sculptures as “gesticulating, curved steel ribbons [that] evoke bodily gesture and human stance”.

Leaping at this opportunity to continue our relationship with the Gallery and engage in a creative project, I invited some of CDT’s teachers and more experienced dancers to get involved. We got together, socially distanced of course, and discussed the elements of the project: the pictures of the sculptures, imagined sites for the sculptures if they were to be exhibited in the landscape, costumes, music, editing of the video.

 

Each dancer chose a sculpture to work with and how to respond to it, be that visualising interacting with it, or embodying its shapes and tensions, or sensing its inherent movement potential. Local composer Rob Kennedy (my partner) created music inspired by the human gestures he saw in the photos of the sculptures.

 

We decided to film our movement responses as much as possible in sites featuring aspects of nature. One of the challenges of working outside is that a site might change when least expected. This happened for us, so there was a last-minute change of plan from the Lyneham Wetlands, which were full one day and empty the next, to Sullivan’s Creek on the ANU campus. Our other site was opposite the dam at Lake Tuggeranong. We managed rain on the first day of filming and brilliant sun on the second.

 

As much as we reminded ourselves that the brief was an ekphrastic event between the sculptures and dance, i.e.: using dance to translate or illuminate features of the sculptures, inevitably and appropriately other elements also played a part in the creation and performance of our movement phrases – be that Rob’s music we listened to as we rehearsed, the sounds of the ducks on location, the uneven (and for some wet) ground we danced on, the play of light in the trees.

 

The Drill Hall Gallery reopened to the public on Thursday 30 July 2020, our first chance to actually see James Rogers’ sculptures. Gravitating to the sculpture I worked with, I was struck by how familiar yet different it looked. I could easily recognise the features that I’d worked with, but noticed so many others that I’d missed in the two-dimensional photo.'

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