Drawing inspiration from the exhibition, This Is My Place – currently on show at the National Portrait Gallery, choreographers Ruth Osborne and Olivia Fyfe, worked in close collaboration with seven recent tertiary dance graduates from VCA (Victorian College of the Arts), WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts), SDC (Sydney Dance Company Pre-Professional Year) to create an abstract response to three sections of the exhibition, variously entitled, My Country – My Place – My Studio.
A continuation of an excellent initiative by the National Portrait Gallery to enhance the exhibition experience by commissioning abstract dance works by professional dance companies, the works are meant to challenge the viewer to expand their perception beyond the actual artworks towards a deeper appreciation of the connection between the artists and their subjects.
This particular exhibition, This Is My Place is intended as a meditation on those intimate spaces we call our own, whether they be countries, towns or homes, represented in a collection of paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures spanning some 250 years.
I chose to watch the resultant dance work, My Place before viewing the exhibition. The performance began quietly in the Tim Fairfax Forecourt where the dancers, Amelia Vanzwol, Patricia Hayes-Cavanagh, Jason Pearce, Ryan Stone, Maddy Bowman, Gabriel Sinclair and Alison Tong, costumed attractively in individual muted earth-coloured costumes had unobtrusively gathered.
One by one each began to perform individual movement variations. Some quiet and introspective, others aggressively physical, each dancer engrossed in their own thoughts presumably inspired by various aspects of the exhibition though intriguingly not yet obvious to this viewer.
Eventually one dancer broke away and moved into the Gordon Darling Hall. Others dancers followed until only a single dancer remained. He too completed his movements then, trailed by his bemused audience, joined the others in the hall where an evocative musical soundtrack accompanied a series of gently choreographed, beautifully resolved groupings.
As the pace of the music quickened each dancer added an additional item of costume, a hat, a jacket, a cap, referencing the urban aspects of the exhibition, which they eventually discarded to bring the work to a slow lyrical and entirely satisfying conclusion.
As I wandered through the exhibition, my curiosity peaked by the performance, it was satisfying to recognise many of the references, cleverly executed in dance terms by the talented dancers performing My Place.
However I couldn’t help wondering what those unsuspecting visitors, who clearly had no idea what they had stumbled across as they entered the gallery, made of it. I’m sure they would have appreciated a pamphlet with a little information about the work, its purpose, together with the names of the creators and performers which would have allowed them to alert their friends to an additional pleasure they too might discover during at a future visit to the National Portrait Gallery.
National Portrait Gallery, King Edward Terrace, Parkes (Canberra)
Performance: Sunday 24 January 2021
Season: 21 – 24 January 2021
Image: My Place – photo by Lorna Sim
Review: Bill Stephens OAM