Make Like A Rhinoceros

Monday, November 21, 2011

Aside from the Bower Bird discovery, another incident that impressed the Bundanon dance lab participants during the Tuesday afternoon walk was the herd of cattle that didn’t seem keen on allowing us to cross the paddock and when the bull, in all its majesty, looked straight at us suspiciously, and some of us started to panic quite audibly, Leigh Warren put his arms up in front of his head and said, “Quick, make like a rhinoceros!!” This obviously did not deter the cows and bull, nor did it make them want to charge, but it did disperse the nature nerves as we cracked up in laughter.

In honor of Leigh, Vicki rounded up the Bundanon educational exchange program schoolkids and got them to do some site specific movement with her. She brought them to a nice wooded area beside the bower bird nests (both real and Latai’s) and asked them to stand behind a tree, like hiding. At her signal, the kids should start jumping up and down (like some of our favorite animals in the paddock – not the cows) but from behind the tree. Then, when they got tired, or just felt like it, to “Make like a rhinoceros.” She asked one boy to wear the yellow gloves from her kitchen.

The kids, all visual arts students, were all quite game, but most likely not aware that they just did a “Leigh Warren choreography right there,” as Cat put it. And despite herself, Vicki finally got to orchestrate a collaboration of her initiative.

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Make Like A Rhinoceros from Critical Path on Vimeo.


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Bundanon Song (Connection)

This is a song I wrote about Bundanon and it was inspired by the activities and experiments we explored here in the past week or so. Some of the things we got up were extremely of their moment (LOL) and to explain them too much I think would b unkind to the bubble-like magic that buoyed us along. This was recorded in one of the artist’s studio spaces. Enjoy!


Bundanon Song (Connection)

Footsteps whisper along the trail
Fingers pulling on threads of red
Dance across the green
To the river to fall
Like trees

Tiny symbols on the ground
Turn to face the lens
Of so many eyes
Visiting, wandering
Looking for a sign

When we are gone from Bundanon
With some kind of phenomenon
Tracing our practices
In intersecting lines
Connection, connection

Bodies melting into the ice
Build a bower from the colour of
Blue summer skies
Crystalising in a memory
Of clouds

Brace yourself against the architecture
Of the land
Put a white face on
And stare down your history
Connection, connection

Here come the traffic
Here come the bull
Here come the plastic
Sense of what’s true

Here come the questions
Written in sand
Here come the drumming
Fingers of a man

Here come the wombat
Here come the poo
And light from a projector
Turning into you

And here come a song

Walking with torches to the sound
Of a language we don’t understand
Now that we’re bound
Across space and time
And spirit lines

Someday we’ll dream of Bundanon
Of Arthur and Yvonne
Painting the landscape
With energy
Connection, connection

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Bower Envy

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On the first Tuesday that we were here, after much discussion in the studio, everyone was excited to take a walk around Bundanon and make our way to the river. We went up the amphitheatre and down again, and crossed a few paddocks before deciding to leave the river to be found another day.

(See photos of the walk here
See photos of the river here and here)

A few meters down from amphitheatre, we found a bower bird’s bower, and most of us were quite flabbergasted to see it because we had never actually seen a bower bird’s bower before. It was just as I read in those nature books in our grade school library – the circular reshaping of the grass, the soft bed in the center, the scattering of blue objects in the center. In this bower, there were a couple of blue feathers, some blue paper and a bottle top.


Latai had been bringing around a blue tarpaulin, basically playing around with it, creating images with the imposed object in the space. When she saw the bower bird, she decided to create her own bower with her tarp, hoping to make the bower bird envious.

On Sunday morning, Latai set up her bower beside the bower bird’s nest and included a lot of “found objects” around the house – including a chair Simon found by the river, a couple of mugs, a tea towel and a canister from the kitchen, Doris’ bathing suit and Alfira’s bikini top, which, when reported missing, Vicki responded with a straight face, “Your swimmers are missing? Since when?” Leigh also sacrificed his Prostate Cancer Awareness bangle to the bower bird, and the next day, they found that the bower bird had taken that and placed it in his own bower, as well as a washing peg and bits of paper, in effect fulfilling Latai’s intention to make the bower bird jealous. That Sunday before he left for Adelaide, they recorded Leigh doing a David Attenborough commentary on this special breed of bower bird.

Latai took the bower down on Monday, after showing it to the students engaged in the Bundanon education program, who were scheduled to visit on Monday at 1pm. They kept bits of blue paper and disposable objects in case the bower bird would like them. When Helen checked on the bower bird the next day, she was happy to report that the bower bird had indeed taken all the othe objects from the bower and placed into his own.

Latai talking about her bower to the Bundanon educational exchange students

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The Gift of Movement

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While a lot of the experiments have been visually driven, there is some movement happening here at the Bundanon Dance Lab. On Friday afternoon, Leigh got all the participants to pair up for a movement exercise. The idea was for each person to come up with a movement gesture or phrase and “gift” it to their partner, who then receives the movement into their body, sort of doing it over and over until they’ve completely “accepted” the “gift.” And then, once part of their body vocabulary, to transform it into something that appeal to them.

Doris, Fu Kuen and Jerome gamely joined this exercise (while I, the dancer among the facilitators, did not), and partnered up with Ly Ly, Simon and Vicki respectively. Doris and Ly Ly didn’t quite understand the exercise and were passing imaginary objects to each other, on the subject of “gifting.” It was like watching them play catch with unknown energies and it was actually really fun to watch, though Leigh had to reinform them of what the exercise was really about. Doubtful though if the others did get the real purpose of the exercise as both Fu Kuen and Simon, and Vicki and Jerome were mirroring each other and not really “gifting.” Cat and Rhiannon also seemed to be finding some sort of movement, though it was not clear where the movement began and where it became reprocessing. Fortunately, this was addressed with better explanation from Leigh the next day.

Interesting movement exchange did happen on Friday, with Latai and Fitri, to the point where Latai had danced away from Ly Ly, in her pursuit of reprocessing Fitri’s movement into her own body and coming up with something new.

On Saturday morning, Leigh gave a nice warm up that mobilized several points of the body, making sure that the body was ready for movement for that day, and asked the group to pair up with somebody new. Before I could disappear, Vicki was beside me like a kangaroo. At the end of the exchange, Leigh asked each pair to present what they came up with.

Leigh and Ly Ly started the presentation, with Leigh showing us the movement Ly Ly gifted him and then the movement it turned into. You could see the difference of styles with the juxtaposition of original movement with transformed movement, and how each were very Leigh and very Ly Ly.

Vicki and I went next. I gave a simple weaving of the arms around my crown, my eyes, my chest and waist, to which Vicki applied her whole body, incorporating rhythms and jumps. She taught me an interesting opposition exercise which was meant for Fitri, and I slowed down and speeded up the movements, and gave it different directions, though I think the original was eons better. Alfira was supposed to join us, but time had run out for us to receive her movement phrase.

Cat and Latai performed their transformed movements together, and they seemed to be doing the same movement, but with different qualities: Latai’s was softer, with an almost melting into herself effect, while Cat’s was strong and aggressive. The contrast was quite awesome.

Rhiannon and Jerome did a mirroring exercise with their hands, and it was interesting how each “understood” the movement that they shared.

Fitri and Simon were “Two turtles who fall in love.” They stood far away from each other at opposite sides of the room and slowly made their way to the floor and crawled towards each other, waiting for “What’s next?” before Fitri gave a loud laugh and scramble to standing position, signaling the end of the exercise.

The next day, after Leigh warmed us up for the last time, new pairings were formed and performed. Simon and Latai were this time gecko and turtle, respectively – Latai has been gifting the same movement to all her movement partners to see how they receive them. It is based on a gecko, which Latai has adopted as her symbol (or as far as how I understand it) with a head accent that is traditionally an improvisational gesture in Tongan dance. In return, Simon taught Latai the turtle movement and they looked sweetly like two animals making their way to dry land, and away from the rising sea levels.

Rhiannon and Ly Ly exploded in their own spaces, sharing very volatile bursts of movement with each other. Jerome and Cat played around with similar movements that grew away from each other then pulled together when you least expected it.

Fitri and Vicki both shared very similar movements as well and made a little skit of walking “same” (same arm same leg moving together) and “different” (arms and legs in opposition). Vicki had a running commentary all the while she and Fitri moved through the space with their different strides.

This piqued everyone’s interest so much that all started to move same and different strides, and would even attempt it randomly for the rest of the day.

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Empathy For Those Under the Ice

Thursday, November 17, 2011

After the initial ice experiment under the trees by the Writer’s cottage, the participants regrouped and discussed impressions and concerns.

Vicki says that she was pretending to be an oppressor and “really enjoyed my role, I must admit.” She notes that Latai’s position (with her hands bound behind her back with rope) was “loaded. The other positions were like science experiments.” She also talks about how when Cat was sitting in the chair, her head was not fully supported and Fitri had to move her arms at some point.

Latai says that when the ice was swinging, there were moments of recovery. “On the same spot, it’s relentless. But the music was soothing.”

Latai is primarily concerned with the effects of the experiment on the participants. “Is it necessary to push that boundary of the person?” she asks. “Is it necessary to make you feel like you’re losing your mind?”

Leigh agrees that there is some involvement in the part that you play, and maybe this kind of boundary pushing is indeed necessary. He says actors can get too involved with the work, and mentions how Doris Day does mostly comedy because she can really get carried away with the role
“What you want to convey doesn’t have to have the same danger,” he warns.

Rhiannon asked what the people would be wearing. From her own experience, she thinks that if there was more bare skin, “you’d have more multiple points of contact.” Latai has been thinking of using the naked body and using binding techniques. Though having seen Cat and Rhiannon in the heavy clothing caught her interest also.

Leigh has a list of observations made during the experiment and promises to send this list to Latai.

Simon admits that he tried his head first and couldn’t go on with it, that he couldn’t cope with the sense of loss of control. Later he tried his feet, which he felt had more to do with Latai’s bigger picture of the sea rising.

Doris suggests the idea of the audience getting their feet wet as well, so that they can also feel that discomfort. She also asks Latai if she intends to go on with the bonding, given that it can look perversely disturbing.

Latai says she’s seduced by some ideas concerning bondage. Leigh affirms that the binding had a somewhat religious aspect to it.

Latai also discusses how she wishes to impact the audience in another way. “I mean, would they see what their choices do to other people. Did anybody have empathy with anybody?” Vicki says she didn’t, and how it would be difficult to empathize with anyone presenting themselves as a spectacle. Leigh comments that needing to pay someone to go under the ice changes it, and Vicki half jokes that they’ll have to be paid, “Because nobody in their right mind would do this voluntarily… Except us…”

To this, Latai agrees and says she feels as if the stakes have to be dangerously high. She asks if this will create more feeling for the subject or just serve to demonize the audience?

Leigh tells her it’s good that we should discuss what happened today, but not expect to solve the problems of the performance yet.

Doris shares how her father underwent water torture which furthers interest in Latai, because the point is how the body is shaped under these conditions.

Fitri shares that she was quite comfortable until Ron started asking if she was feeling all right. Suddenly started feeeling the oppression of the ice. With her eyes open, she could see what she was dealing with, but still easier to see what she was dealing with.

Vicki poses, what if everyone did it everyday? She adds that in performance, if wetting the feet is out of the question, Latai could “offer the people an ice cube to hold.”

Fitri contributes that there is a sinister idea that ice blocks are suspended from a tree, as that’s usually where people are hanged. Rhiannon reiterates that there is something odd about having ice on the landscape.

Vicki suggestd that it could also be helpful to discover the everyday tasks that can be done alternatively to address the situation, an everyday mundane event. Simon pitches in about using objects that are washed up and not organic from the sea. Jerome shares an experience where his home was flooded, prompting Vicki to suggest an “alternate task is to take stock what’s in your house floating around.”

Saturday, November 19, 2011

There were new rules for the ice experiment on the evening of Saturday. There will be silence (broken sometimes by people walking in late), addressing the concern that it should feel like there aren’t people around, and an external voice changed the experience of being under the ice. Latai was going to bind people, and Cat offered to do the experiment topless.

Doris helped Latai string up the blocks of ice on the beams over the welcome platform outside the Dorothy Potter dance studio. Inside the studio, Doris set up the projector to produce the only light in the area while Jerome set up some very ambient music. In contrast to the contrapuntal music that he played earlier, this was more of a drone of sound, serving the eerieness and creepiness of the moment.

Ly Ly and Cat started out under the ice, both lying supine. The ice hit Ly Ly’s forehead, while Cat was receiving her cold drops on her bare chest. Cat’s hands were bound in front of her while Latai bound Ly Ly’s feet. They were joined by Rhiannon, who lay down on her stomach, exposing her back. She pushed the top of her dress down to feel the impact of the ice on more bare skin. Her arms were tied behind her.

Fitri sat down under a block of ice, crouched forward so that the ice hit the nape of her neck. Later, she would lie on her back to receive the ice full on in her face. Latai tied her own hands behind her back and sat in a similar way beside Fitri, but topless. When Cat got up, Latai moved to her block of ice and lay on her side, to receive the drops on her neck.

Everyone agreed that the darkness, the music and the new setting changed the situation of the experiment, there were more allusions to torture and pain, and definitely more, much more empathy (Maybe except from Margie who stood over each participant and, devoid of emotion, snapped photos, more concerned with the shots she took than with the bodies at her feet). Leigh Warren called them “Very brave girls.”

At one point, Latai would look up from her position on her side, and she must have just been checking on everyone, but the visual image she gave off was as if she were in a desperate amount of pain.

Ly Ly, who stayed there the longest, and didn’t get up even after people would ask her if she were okay (because she was shivering like crazy) likened the experience to having an operation. The first time she had an operation, she was very brave, but the second time, she was scared to go under the knife because she knew what to expect. In this instance, she probably would think twice about going under the ice again.

Although it was indeed very cold, while they were under the ice, it became less about the cold and more about “being in a vulnerable state.” Fitri wasn’t bound, but it she felt very afraid of being under the ice this time around, whereas she was “a superhuman” (Vicki Van Hout 2011) the other day.

I took several photos but have decided not to post them all, and sent them to Latai for her use. If any of the participants in the experiment would like copies of these photos, please just let me know.

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This morning, after a warm up care of Rhiannon, the participants file into the visual arts studio for Ly Ly’s traffic experiment. Interestingly, it is raining outside, as if the sky said, “Oh, you’ll be indoors today, I can do my laundry.”

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Cat and Latai – Lady of the Manor (experiment 2)

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