Friday, September 5, 2008

From the archive: Quiet Listening Exercises

Julia Robinson and Phoebe Robinson

Bus Gallery, 117 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne

25 May, 2004

In a novel take on the intimate performance experience, dancer/choreographers Julia and Phoebe Robinson have created Quiet Listening Exercises, a dance piece wherein viewers listen to the score via headphones while the performance proceeds in silence.

Transmitting the sound through headphones allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in the work, removing the distraction of outside sounds. While gaining an intimate connection to the sound score, some of the personal connection with the dancers is lost, as though they are performing behind a glass wall. Their gaze is faraway throughout, increasing the divide. The feeling of separation is magnified in a moment of darkness, the audience isolated by their headphones with only the haziest square of light illuminating the space. Are the women moving or are our eyes playing tricks?

The choreography is almost completely abstracted, leaving only the vaguest reminders of the fairytales that it apparently developed from. It is rather in the delicate tracery and other-worldly manner of the movement that we see the influence of the mythical tales. It seems that the strength of this work lies in its ambiguity, allowing the viewer to project their own imaginations onto the scenario rather than following a prescribed narrative.

Quietly beautiful, the dancers refrain from virtuosic movement and yet imbibe the work with precise shifts in dynamic. In one section they subside into the ground, their languorous poses soon to be contrasted against tense snatches of phrase that dart in and out from behind a wall. The women lightly shunt along the floor, adding to the intrigue as their hands weave intricate patterns in the air.

The sophisticated sound score by Felicity Mangan evokes a tinkling, ethereal landscape whilst retaining an air of abstraction and ambiguity. Intermittent blue and orange globes are strung along the walls like tangled thorn bushes, the only adornment to the small, bare space. Childishly simple yet finely textured costuming by Jamie Hurst Nelson is suitably indeterminate in its intention, mixing adult flourishes with juvenile forms.

Quiet Listening Exercises is tantalising in its brevity, a finely tuned performance infused with mystery throughout.

(Originally published in The Age newspaper)

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