Lee Serle: Time Portrait

The-Substation-Time-Portrait-photo-by-Gregory-LorenzuttiWe sit in the industrial hall of The Substation in Newport, late Spring evening light pouring through the tall windows, the cherry red velvet curtains framing them, waiting.

Waiting for a signal that the performance has started, the choreographer Lee Serle himself enters, back to the audience, turning to repeat a flowing phrase.

Waiting and time are central to the piece, which was devised as a site-specific piece during Serle’s residency at Clothing Store Studios at Carriageworks in Sydney in 2019 and has finally come to fruition after the last few years of pandemic disruption.

After Serle’s solo and exit, the dancers enter from unexpected angles, walking down the long corridor adjacent to the hall, entering from each tall door, marching with intention, conviction, to the centre where they position themselves apart and together, flowing into and out of lit framings.

The music score, by Gail Priest, is a surreal landscape of distorted noises; chimes, breath into the microphone, drums and cymbals that rise and fall with the movement phrases.

At times, the score appears structured, like a metronome, and the dancers echo this with sequential movements, repeated ‘tics’. At other times, it flows like rolling waves and the dancers embrace and sway in slow motion, like a viscous liquid, the way glass moves minutely down a pane.

The costumes, designed by Anna Cordingly, are flowing dip dyed silk, swishing with the dancers’ movement. According to Serle, each of the artists had autonomy over their role and could position themselves as choreographer/performer/audience.

Benjamin Hurley advances gracefully forwards and backwards with strides, flicking his hands and shaking his head or focusing on a distant point, a picture of consternation and anxiety in turns.

He dances with Rebecca Jensen, as they stretch over each other, turning and falling into each other’s arms and pacing up and down towards the windows, drawn towards them like moths to a storm light. They lean towards each other and pull away, Jensen tombéing out into swinging high kicks and Hurley crumbling towards the floor with his hands over his eyes.

All of the dancers are playing with time and tempo, using slow motion and reverse effects in their seemingly improvised phrases. As the sun sets, the curtains are drawn around each of the windows and Benjamin Hurley and Jo Lloyd embrace as they pull the sweeping curtain at the top of the hall, with the river view, closed. Eerie blue lighting descends, kudos to John Collopy, who echoes the passage of time elegantly with lighting effects.

Jo Lloyd shimmies across the stage with her characteristic toe-walking and head flicking, darting looks behind her. Melanie Lane curls and extends her feet and hands artfully like a viper, meandering her head, meditatively.

The final scene sees Serle ascend to the high back room behind the audience, light pours down on the performance area from here casting shadows as he moves slowly to the enraptured performers below, mirroring his movements.

It invokes the omnipotence of a god, all seeing, all being. A striking way to end the performance and perhaps a nudge at the absurd and unstable concept of time, which moves quickly and slowly as we fill it with our own meaning.

Time Portrait
The Substation, 1 Market Street, Newport
Performance: Friday 28 October 2022
Season: 26 – 29 October 2022 (ended)
Information: www.thesubstation.org.au

Image: Time Portrait (2022) by Lee Serle – photo by Gregory Lorenzutti

Review: Leila Lois