I don't think I could be accused of sensationalism for suggesting that 24 HRS may spell the end of art as we know it. The brief is simple: four choreographers and some dancers have 24 hours to create a new dance work from scratch. But like most catalysts of the apocalypse (germs, asteroids, Hey Hey) it is this apparent simplicity that masks the real threat. Because really: if this godless experiment results in something truly dazzling, where will that leave all of the dance works that take weeks, months, years to gestate? And more importantly, where will it leave all the funding that goes towards those lengthy development periods that we all know involve staring moodily out of gabled windows while keeping a roaring fire fuelled by the wads of cash handed out by government bodies? (I don't mean that literally – plastic Australian money doesn't burn at all well and most artists are forced to spend it on easily-flammable first editions of rare books to throw in the hearth).
The first two instalments of 24 HRS have already been released upon the public and they haven't proven the end of art at all. They've both been provocative experiments, though, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. Taken as a whole, the project is turning out to be most rewarding as an insight into the creative process itself or, more accurately, into the differing processes employed by a range of artists and the way that our reception of these doesn't necessarily reflect the intentions of their makers.
Natalie Cursio was up first and went at it with vigour: a wasteland of recycled refuse was the staging ground for a series of intimate scenes between three dancers (with occasional solos and duets). It was clear that the choreographer hadn't tried to create a strict sequence of steps for the dancers to follow but had set up situations instead, and this gave the performers some interpretative space within which to play. What made it most effective for me was that Cursio's work appeared to have focused on particular dynamics or relationships between the dancers, so there were palpable moments of connection, rejection, interruption and release. It wasn't expressive dance, per se, but there was a level of humanism involved that allowed a really strong entry point into the work.
For me, anyway. In fact, I got it wrong in some respects. Early on in the piece there was a moment where I thought “hang on a bit, this is all about babies!” Not babies as such, but infancy and reliance and the particular ways that dependency can actually be a source of destructive power. But I don't think that was there in the piece at all. Not speaking with some of the cast afterwards, anyway. Others found more of interest in the notion of waste embodied by the work, which I hadn't paid much attention to. It all drove home the fact that you can't say a piece of contemporary dance is necessarily 'about' anything; or, perhaps, it's like saying a beach is about swimming or a hat is about a head.
Week two was Shelley Lasica's turn and I didn't find this as enjoyable a piece: it was probably more sophisticated, technically, but cooler, too; I was more distant. Another three-hander (or footer – is there a term in dance?), the work offered no sense of connection between the performers on stage who could have been in separate rooms for all I could see. The set and costumes seemed arbitrary, the progression of phrases equally so, and I wonder if there were chance elements involved in the work (it did seem a bit reminiscent of Merce Cunningham). The soundtrack was quite ace – like a stormy early 80s track by Tangerine Dream – but this to me felt like dance for dancemakers, and it's obvious that I'm not one. I didn't get to stick around for the post-show discussions, so I remain unenlightened.
The lab atmosphere surrounding the whole project is really its biggest plus: you can watch snippets of the development process online during the 24 hours and there's a twitter feed discussing what you see along the way. Tonight Philip Adams will be setting the timer and next week it's Luke George; I've heard great (and sometimes scary) things about both of their plans.
Performances at Dancehouse tomorrow and next Friday.