103 years.

Another 12 months has flown by and again, not a peep from me on this. I’m outraged at my torpidity. The truth is, there has been a lot of transition/moving/adjusting going on lately blahblahspew.  You know, I heard a great sentence recently after seeing UNSW’s final Moving On show (the very last UNSW dance performance, to mark the conclusion of the undergraduate dance course). It came from Su Goldfish, a prominent art maker and supporter who is the manager and producer at UNSW’s Creative Practice Lab – she said, “There’s always time for art. As artists, we make it a priority.” In other words, swallow your excuses about working your full-time gig and not having time/energy for making or watching art, if you love it, get yo ass out and do it.  To be honest, even though that comment wasn’t aimed at me, it kept me wide eyed and red faced so that I couldn’t sleep and gave me the kick up the butt to start this again. Luckily, I’ve had the chance to see a few incredible dance works and I have a few more lined up that will keep me talking and get this old blog plump again.

If you’re like me and need more momentum to get dancing or back in the arts scene, let me describe to you an amazing performance I had the utmost fortune to go and watch, guaranteed it will get you feeling inspired.

Eileen Kramer. 103 years of age and performing still, a dancer in Australia’s first modern dance company lead by the renowned Gertrude Bodenwieser, the Bodenwieser Ballet. Eileen is a dancer, choreographer, painter and costume designer, amongst many more things, all of which she continues practicing now as per her work “A Buddha’s Wife” which I saw last week down at the Drill Hall in Potts Point.

The night was divided into two performances and opened with a speech by Sue Healey who gave the audience a background into Eileen’s work. “When I first heard of Eileen, it was when I was much younger, and at the stage where I was experimenting with my own movement style, with the desire to have and perform my own unique dance quality. So when I was told that my movement was very much like the Bodenwieser modern dance style, I was taken aback.” I’m paraphrasing here, but Sue’s words were like gospel to me. As any young contemporary dancer, we look to find movement that is completely our own and without influence. It makes us different, and stand out amongst the factory of commercial training. Although of course, without the dance training that we had initially in our upbringing, it’s not easy to let that go. Any dancer would see that I am classically trained, although I’d hope to show that I’m purely contemporary. What Sue is bringing to light here, is that we have all been taught a style that represents a generation of movement, and we carry that generation, whether it is adapted or not, in our own movement style.  The first half of the performance was then, an exploration of Eileen’s movement style that had permeated in dance and film through Sue Healey’s work. I’ve gotta say, this was impressive. Healey first screened three similar films of Eileen’s graceful upper body actions across three canvases which were captured in slow motion, allowing the viewers to see the elegance and sophistication of each small detail. Performing these actions simultaneously was Eileen herself, making the installation a full visceral work. The variety of beautiful visual stimuli worked together as a whole, however I could have watched each aspect individually and still be totally immersed in it.  If those three films were projected onto three walls in a gallery, I would spend a few hours watching them. After the screening of the three films and Eileen’s performance, the two smaller canvases were ushered off stage and the larger main screen was flipped to reveal a mirror, matching another mirror, at the back of the stage. This is where Sue stepped into the space and positioned herself between the mirrors. Then, to a whispering, high percussive sound score, Sue began to dance.

While I’ve been able to learn Sue Healey’s choreography and take her classes, I’ve never had the chance to see her perform live. What makes it so captivating to watch Sue, is her extreme attention to detail. Every arm lengthen and contraction, shoulder roll, hip rotation and swing had a clear pathway that she carefully mapped out with her choice of controlled dynamics.  It was like watching smoke lingering in still air to then be swept up in the wind and spread out.  At the beginning of the year I was lucky to participate in a DirtyFeet Choreographic Lab with Sue Healey as a part of a University study conducted by dancer, choreographer and academic Maya Gavish. The project was to gather information and methods within the study of “The pragmatic nature of creativity” for Gavish’s PhD.  So within the two weeks of working with Sue and a few other Sydney Dance Company dancer’s, I was lucky to be taught the beginning of this very performance. At that point,  Healey was only beginning to explore the shapes and flow of Eileen’s movement as represented in hers, and while learning it, we only had an understanding of how to perform it through Sue’s visual teaching and cues, as opposed to also having a visual knowledge of Eileen’s characteristics and lineage. Now, after seeing Healey’s performance with a clear imprint of Eileen’s movement in my mind, I could easily draw the similarities between Healey and Kramer. Over the 15 minutes that Sue performed I was fully hooked, and again, similarly to her film, I could watch her for another 2 hours.

The second half of the show took a turn as we were thrown into the world of modern dance in Kramer’s “A Buddha’s Wife”, which was a multi-display of her talents. Kramer, like a one man orchestra, had choreographed, performed, drew illustrations for, and designed and made the costumes for this piece, all of which proves how driven and passionate she is still in the arts. The work was a representation of an ancient exotic world where Buddha’s, royalty, soothsayers and spirits lived, and told the story of a Princess (Eileen) and Prince (Raghav Handa) who were in love. It was a compelling storyline that was enjoyable to watch however, I tried to be objective while watching this piece, like I was viewing the work from 1950 and had an appreciation for romanticised, anecdotal, modern art. I can appreciate and respect Kramer’s piece, as it was a real, and impressive account of a style that I’m not particularly familiar with (or fond of), and I am very much in awe of Eileen.  What I also admire her for, is her courage, perseverance and ownership of her achievements. She took five bows at the end of the performance, and refused to leave the stage after the 4th bow.  What a woman.  I can only feel real gratitude and a sense of humbleness that she stayed and walked around to speak to everyone in the audience after the show.  Of course, when she came to speak to me and compliment me on my dress all I could say was “um.. err , uhmy god, thank you so much, you were beautifulcongratulations.” and then look away awkwardly like a stunned mullet. I hope in 80 years, heck even 10 years, I’ll have the same amount of energy and pizzazz that she has.


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