MODIFIED to include more photos, September 16, 2013, 10.15am.
By KIERAN FINNANE
It must rank among the best things the Alice Desert Festival has put on in its 13 years, for its key idea of enlivening our central public spaces after dark, erasing their normally anxious, shuttered and desolate state with sensual exuberance, open-hearted humour and welcome.
The event was Dance Jam After Dark. It began at the entrance to the Fan Arcade. Page 27 café creates a busy ambience here during the day but at night the security grille goes down, joining the other shuttered shopfronts. At the start of the 7pm performance last night a crowd of 50 or so spectators gathered round, most of them buying tickets.
MC Kelly-lee Hickey, almost unrecognisable as ‘a cat lady’, wondered out in slippers and housecoat, calling for her pussies. They slunk forward and together lady and cats provided the narrative thread to lead the crowd through the performance at nine different locations.
The cabaret and burlesque styles of an earlier era (pre-WWII) are an enduring source of inspiration for the Dusty Feet Dance Collective, evidenced by the first number, Meet me at the Moonlight Carousel (right), and three more to follow. The performers do it well, revelling in the seductive costumes, the strutting, the jiving, the voluptuous posing. The narrow space of the Fan Arcade, whose built fabric still preserves enough of its past to suggest that there is a past, suited the ‘late night in the city’ feel of the piece. A bit of lighting and a smoke machine did the rest.
Turning around to the irredeemably contemporary and banal bit of urban landscaping in front of the arcade – mound, rocks, bark chips – the atmosphere changed. By now the crowd looked to have doubled, picking up passers-by who probably couldn’t believe their luck. (Ticket holders, feel pleased that you subsidised their memorable experience!)
The piece was called Night Crawlers. Its tag line suggested insects at play under the glow of street lights but the very physical, tough style of dance also served as metaphor for a street culture that makes the good burghers of everywhere nervous. Do we really need to be so afraid?
Transition: I can’t recall what took my eye from street level to the second storey of the Heenan Building but once there – delight! There is not much activity in Alice Springs above street level; you rarely look up except for the birds. There’s also not much activity inside buildings that can be seen from the street, especially not at night. I’ve always loved the experience of looking in at a lighted interior from the outside. We were treated to this with Voyeuristic Dreams.
Re-imagining the CBD
The dancer, Ilse Pickerd, was framed in the lit second storey French doors (left) , open onto the awning – part lost in sensual reverie, part acting out an erotic display for an invisible lover (the low guttural half-singing, half-talking of Tom Waits, with “Watch Her Disappear”, filled that part). Pickerd’s languid, dreamy movements were captivating enough but my eye also wondered around and over the grace of this building’s façade, the lovely proportions of the French doors and the windows on either side, the lightness of the cantilevered awning, the pleasure of the simple decorative motifs. There’s not much architectural loveliness in the Alice CBD. I thank Dusty Feet for drawing attention to this valued example and their imaginative interpretation of some of its features.
Next stop, the unprepossessing rear wall of the shops on the northern side Reg Harris lane, with a utilitarian staircase ascending to an anonymous door at second storey level. The crowd was more numerous by the minute. Aerosol art was projected onto the wall. The light was kept low but caught the sparkle off the dancers’ hoodies. They were Breaking Curfew (good title). It began with some lounging on the bench, others lined up on the staircase, then beats, break-dancing, whoops and cheers from the crowd. A show of moves from a young Aboriginal hip-hopper, Levon. More cheering and clapping. The excitement of youth culture.
Then around to the back of Flynn Church where two of the young women from the group, Angela Santos and Min Jeong Park, put on a committed display (right) – trying to step out from the shadows to gain the attention of the good-looking young man leaning with arrogant nonchalance against a tree. He was played by Dante Basford who has a striking physicality even when standing still!
Location change, mood change, the sound of a cello. A sombre, slow moving piece, In the Quiet Hours, enacted along the verandah of Adelaide House. Glamour eschewed. This was about daily-ness, labour of the humble kind, the hewn stone of the building the perfect backdrop. The crowd by now had picked up lots of Aboriginal children and teens. They watched with rapt attention, with a bit of whispering and giggling too.
Across the mall, the crowd was hardly able to fit into the space around the bottom of the stairs of the Cummings Plaza. A behind-the-scenes view of labour of the glamorous kind, the showgirls at the end of their Hard Day’s Night, jaded, drunk, plain worn out (below). Even so they were gorgeously lascivious and there were quite a few eyes on stalks. The dancers’ characterisation was matched by choreography that told the story, taking excellent advantage of the staircase and the mood of Bryan Ferry’s “Back to Black”.
By now we’d had seven different numbers at seven different locations. How would the collective keep up the pace, the novelty? No worries. The cats claimed centre stage across the way, a light throwing their shadows against the Story Wall, used from time to time for film projections. It was great to see it pressed into service for live theatre, with the cats’ moves doubled in giant shadow-play across its surface (bottom).
And finally, a grand finale of course, The Midnight Masquerade, a return to glamour, dancers in dazzling costumes, mysterious masks, and from their midst a darker, powerful force erupting. Forbidden perhaps? Not in this “devil’s lair”.
A slight misgiving about the way the production worked with the location here. All along they had used the character of the built environment as it presented, with the dance re-imagining it. On this last occasion, the building forming the backdrop (the one that houses the NAB) had been masked out with black fabric. The action started on the mound in front of Talapi gallery and then mainly took advantage of the open space to its south. Despite the high energy of the performance I felt something of a disconnect at this stage, a shame after the sustained excellence of the whole until then.
All credit to the Dusty Feet Dance Collective and Red Hot Arts Central Australia for this event. Dusty Feet have been around since at least 2010 and with this production they continue to raise the bar for local performing arts, in terms of skills, energy and creative ideas. In keeping with the dance troupe’s name, there seems to have been no one artistic director. Seven individuals get choreography credits, all bar one of them also performing. They are: Kirsty Wissing, Dante Basford, Sila Crosley, Ilse Pickerd, Min Jeong Park, Angela Santos, and Hayley Michener. If there were any technical hiccups along the way, they were imperceptible and the fine-tuned coordination of the backstage crew deserves special mention.
One hour later they all did it all over again. I wasn’t there but I’m full of admiration even at the thought of it.