Though clearly human, the three bodies that pant and stretch and slap their limbs to ground are strangely surreal, clad from head to toe in rustling blue coveralls. Even their bare hands seem alien, moving like coral polyps in changing sea currents. A squeaking, thudding music is created by the squirming figures as they move – recognisable as dancers one minute, and morphing into puffy pseudo-larvae the next. Suspended between the tangible and the uncertain, Tim Darbyshire’s new work takes what’s ‘concrete’ and twists it into shapes both recognisable and deeply unfamiliar…
More or Less Concrete’s creator Tim Darbyshire says his choreography for the work derives initially from everyday movement, collected from life – gestures that most of us have some experience of. “Like walking and sleeping and sitting and swimming, playing in the sand,” he says.
“So we take a lot of those common movements and then subvert them and create something ‘other’. And it’s the same with the sound – the sound is most of the time derivative of what we’re doing; we’re trying to capture the sound of natural movement.”
But nevertheless, the outcome is quite surreal, says Darbyshire.
“We’re flipping between a reality that’s quite easily identifiable and that we can all recognise in our daily patterns in life, to something that’s a lot more ambiguous and twisted and quite bizarre.”
More or Less Concrete uses ‘found sounds’ as well as ‘found gestures’. What the audience hears, says Darbyshire, is received via “a specific set-up that aims to capture the intimate sound in a way you may not have experienced before…”. Drawing on elements of the mid-20th-century French music movement, Musique Concrète, Darbyshire wanted the work to raise the question: “is what you see what you get, or is it something else?”
“[In Musique Concrète] they took a lot of found sounds, and sourced sounds from natural sound rather than traditional instruments, and so I approached the dance in a similar way. The dance doesn’t draw from a traditional dance vocabulary, but from a found vocabulary of life and experience.”
The separation of sound from visual input is also of interest to Darbyshire.
“‘Acousmatics’ is one of the terms that they talked about a lot [in Musique Concrète], which is making a sound without identifying its source. There’s an example of Pythagoras’s teaching where he would give lectures from behind a wall, so you know that he’s behind the wall teaching but you can’t see him. So the visual representation of sound is removed.”
“[We’re interested in] processing sound in ways to subvert the original source, to make it something other than it is, or to mask it completely, or to defy your expectation about what you’re seeing.”
Darbyshire’s interest in the music made by dancers’ bodies stems, he says, from his earliest dance training.
“As a child I did a lot of tap dancing and had a lot of fun making noise – making percussive music with dance. And then I stopped doing that and started to learn contemporary dance and classical ballet and other dance forms, which most of the time were doing the opposite thing: trying to remove the thuds and thumps of movement and silence them, and make it elegant in a different way. So I kind of missed that acoustic language that came with tap dance and I guess, down the track, it didn’t go away.”
The ‘concrete’ in More or Less Concrete is not only a reference to the music movement, but literal as well, pointing to the beginning of Darbyshire’s journey back towards diegetic sound in dance.
“[As an adult] I found myself studying dance in France – but at the time I didn’t know the French language, so the language I would hear in the streets would be an abstract one. So all of that noise information was abstract or musical, which then reinspired me to pursue this project.”
“In that town it was also largely concrete pavements and cathedrals and stones, so there was a bit of an echo and resonance of sounds, and from that point on – that was 2007 – it became pretty clear that I had to keep following that through and make a work out of these things.”
Darbyshire says that in many ways, his previous works have all led to More or Less Concrete:
“In the last three or four years I’ve made some smaller works, solo works, and more informal showings, and all these works have really been researches into this larger work. I suppose this is like the full book, and they were like chapters.”
With reviews of Darbyshire’s previous work describing its capacity for ‘hair-raisingly gruesome transformation’, More or Less Concrete promises to be compellingly visceral and unsettling. Darbyshire describes dancers bathed in eerie blue light that works ephemerally against the ‘concrete’ to wash away what seems real – as well as the work’s form-blurring, sculptural costumes, specially lined to themselves become “musical instruments”.
“There’s something monstrous about it,” Darbyshire says, “ – about blurring the lines with reality.”
“We try to transform between human to animal to monster to machine to something even more futuristic than that…”
More or Less Concrete’s world premiere is at North Melbourne Town Hall on Wednesday 18 April.
MORE OR LESS CONCRETE,
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Wed 18 – Sun 22 Apr 2012
(03) 9322 3713