Byron Perry & Frontier Danceland’s
One Show Only
By Urszula Dawkins
There’s a beauty in patterns. In watching things fall into place. Even in watching things evolve away from an ordered state, into something else. We tend to think of the natural world as a realm of patterns and chaos, and ourselves as separate. But we’re all part of the ever-unfolding ‘One Show Only’ of nature – an unrepeatable performance with no beginning and no end.
What might a continuously evolving choreographic performance look like, then? This was the starting point for choreographer Byron Perry and members of Singapore’s Frontier Danceland, challenging their own habitual patterns by working together to create One Show Only, premiering at Arts House on 9 May before heading to Singapore for its opening there the following week. The conscious aim, says Perry, was to move away from the notion of ‘scenes’ or ‘sections’ towards the idea of a constant process. “In essence a choreographic study,” he says – a logical starting point “given the relentless and ongoing nature of cosmic and biological systems.”
Perry admits an enduring fascination with the processes of the natural world: “whether on a cosmic scale, that of animals and insects, entomology and zoology, or on a cellular level – in fact anything to do with biology and evolution.”
He describes seeing a video animation that showed the functions of a living cell: computer-rendered as though viewed from inside the cell itself.
“I was blown away by the machinations of this wild-looking environment, its rhythms and what looked like oceans of sophisticated coordination. A building-sized shimmering water-balloon with tiny chameleon feet makes his way along an ectoplasmic tightrope, while sucking down selections from protein-chain fly-bys. The mechanics looked somehow so rudimentary…but when viewed at this level and all at once the overall effect was of this incredible symphony of precision and elegance.”
By choosing to strip back the notion of ‘theatricality’ to focus on movement and continuity, Perry created a performance environment where the ‘precision and elegance’ of the dancers evolved through an alternative logic of structures and rules: “for instance, by letting one group of actions, sounds or rhythms be templates for other groups of actions”.
“We generated material by giving the dancers each a number of small objects with rules and objectives about how these objects can or can’t be passed from one person to the next. Once we had a long-enough, repeatable section as a collective, I removed the objects and began to pull apart the structure and then recombine it based on new rules – for example where similarities occurred in timing or shape.”
Just as the raw computational logic of fractals and Fibonacci numbers translates to the alluring aesthetics of nature – from sea-shells to snowflakes – Perry’s application of rules results in movement sequences that both resonate and fascinate; and the allure of their ever-changing logic is amplified by Luke Smiles’s stripped-back and seductive soundtrack.
The use of what Perry calls “counting structures”, which simultaneously allowed space for improvisation, also contributes to what Perry describes as a ‘plastic’ sense of time, which shifts “between the geological, electro-chemical, the celestial, and also something very much like our own.”
Without synchronisation there is no form, but without room for error, there is no evolution. “Glitches, pauses and mistakes” encountered during the work’s development became essential elements in the final shape of One Show Only, says Perry.
“I asked the dancers to pair these [glitches] together in their own way and insert them anywhere they wanted between specific points in time. This was so that within long sequences of movement the timing could shift in a very random way.”
“Certain sections have remain improvised in order to create the immediacy and dynamics necessary, and others have through repetition crystallised into something much more concrete. Sometimes the timing is the only set thing, sometimes the style or texture is, and sometimes the only thing set will be the individual rules each dancer has been given to respond with.”
A characteristic of Perry’s previous work has been his ability to replicate filmic impressions such as the close-up or zoom through the use of performer-operated lighting – as in his 2011 work Double Think. While One Show Only employs only minimal use of this technique, the idea of the close-up/zoom continues to resonate.
“On stage you can’t really zoom in and out…but you have other filters to apply to movement in an overall or global fashion, which can very quickly change the way it is being read.”
“I’ve tried to play with this idea to get an onstage – albeit still very abstract – idea of the feeling you get when you see something like the movements of a huge crowd of people from a great height; or when you have seen footage of a city sped up, and it begins to resemble something else entirely.”
Simplicity and complexity in the end co-define One Show Only, along with the qualities of a cross-cultural collaboration between a choreographer and dancers with very different training and aesthetics.
“My main concern with the work was ‘emergence’…I was trying to allow the repetition and accumulation of simple actions to give rise to something more sophisticated than the original input might have indicated. This idea of simple rules that en masse can create something altogether more complex seemed very practical to me.”
ONE SHOW ONLY
Byron Perry & Frontier Danceland (Singapore)
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Wed 9 – Sun 13 May 2012
(03) 9322 3713
One Show Only opens at the Singapore School of Art on 18 May 2012