Bodies bear place and place comes to life in Animate Loading

Animate Loading

by Riana Head-Toussaint

24 February 2022, a rooftop in Parramatta

Concrete dips and swirls like the surface of open water in the sea. A welcome to Country first in Language then in English blares through a sound system hushing a sparsely seated collection of seated spectators. The whir of traffic and chirping birds accompany the voice ‘always think of ways of giving back…’

A blond young man (Tom Kentta) wanders out of the lift followed by a young woman, another man, then a fourth figure, a fifth, a sixth and a seventh all dressed in various clothing, green, blue, red and purple. They wander back, as if tourists visiting an attraction. A family on a veranda in the background watches on from their balcony. Incidental spectators.

Photo by Anna Hay.

The man returns from behind me now through a door and Parcours down the ramp emerging only seconds later with a skateboard and ball. A woman with pigtails follows too. They seem to be looking for something. Another woman comes from another door and yet another from the original door. Everyone walks around, holding an arm out to each other as they pass. Then dividing into two groups they reverse backwards down the ramps.

Riana Head-Toussaint’s ‘Animate Loading’ is a curious choreographic work where structure takes centrestage with and beside an eclectic bunch of moving bodies. The work, made in collaboration with seven dancers and Imogen Yang as Outside Eye, achieves its artistic intentions to be ‘anti-extractive’, access-centered and fully and freely collaborative. The notion of extracting or coaxing content from collaborators is an increasing concern in the arts and so the objective to negate and avoid this is, in a word, visionary. The work’s site-specific nature and its focus on spatial dynamics, weight distribution and ‘dancing with’ accents the interrelatedness of things, what Tanya Titchkosky might call an ‘orientation to the world’ where negotiations of access come to the fore. The piece’s title further recalls Mel Y. Chen’s concept of animacy, a concept to do with affect, mobility and aliveness.

Standing high on the roof of one entrance to the rooftop, a man raises his arm, signaling the start, the start, a start…of something. The group bursts not into dance but into site-specific percussion, animating the carpark’s presence. Slow techno, also created by Head-Toussaint, feeds into it and performers too begin to dance, climbing high on platforms and using bars and poles as their stage design.

Photo by Anna Hay.

Music ends and the group has a water break. They reposition from leaning and perched on a railing to splaying their bodies on the ground, against each other and around a light pole of the car park. An ambulance siren sounds in the backdrop and they begin to undulate, executing a choreographic sequence that materialises like bodies underwater. The ground becomes their partner. Something intimate arises in the string instrument of the music that resonates with these bodies rolling, somersaulting, stretching, twisting and traveling across the concrete, a harsh surface, a surface that is maybe a metaphor for harder days. A plane’s takeoff overhead complements the rolling up of a body in the foreground. 

A train whistles past as a dancers’ fingers pitter-patter on the ground and then against his body. Another moment of meditative repetition comes when a young woman (Natalie Tso) longingly stretches her body, her leg in retiré, before doing a corrupted entrechat over and over again, before other arms and torsos and legs echo the sequence in spirit or shape. The bodies in peaceful motion here emerge in stark contrast to the chaos of another siren, interrupting the soundscape of this scene. 

As I sit in the front of two rows on one side of the rectangular carpark in an arrangement that mirrors the other half of the audience opposite, I ask myself, what is unfolding? Accessing this unraveling work, being a part of it, I reflect. Orienting myself to this world, Titchkosky advises considering less the why and more the how. Of access, she writes, ‘Moving from ‘why?’ to ‘how?’ invites a politics open to wonder – a wondering about that which organizes bodies and social spaces and their worlds of meaning’. She suggests this requires we trouble what we presume to be certain.

It is darker now and the performers seem to move more slowly. Each takes turns as the centrepiece of a circle. Impressively, the blond man (Kentta) winds his body upside down with a basketball unmoving clenched between his back left calf and thigh. It inspires a knee canon in the foreground of my vision by another. Basketball tricks – upon his face, in time with sudden beats of a rising tempo in the music – preempt the jungle-like drum rhythms of a soundscape that fills this space now lit with electric street lamps. Bats fly overhead and for a moment, I dwell on the mutual interference of place with bodies, bodies with place. The loud music pulses and the urban jungle of bodies throbs to it in the twilight.

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