Breaking boundaries

AIR bends its way into the subconscious

“It’s time” they chant.

“It’s time. It’s time.”

“It’s time.”

The sound of each word chanted alongside each movement bounces off the studio’s walls and echoes throughout the dancers’ dreams at night. And why shouldn’t it? These performers have lived and breathed the dance for the past eight weeks. Pushing themselves to the limit and shattering the boundaries of both sound and movement until their muscles ache or tremble through lurid dreams of the dance.

That’s what each of the two dances in AIR from Dancers’ Studio West have in common. They play with the limits of possibility and expectation: be it emotional physical or psychological. One is a creation of veteran choreographer Melanie Kloetzel From Terazin to M31 (part of a larger work called the Alice Odyssey) that explores the divide between tenderness and cruelty in a child’s fragile psyche. The other a creation of emerging choreographer Alison Bryan is a striking exploration of the body and the limits of movement.

“I’ve definitely gone outside my boundaries as a dancer in terms of speaking and using voice” says Liisa Hohn a dancer since the age of three and a performer in Kloetzel’s creation. The dance which is accompanied by the high-pitched imaginative ramblings of childhood is loosely based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and is just as peculiar as the late writer’s eccentric work.

“There’s something about how a child can act very serious or morbid but do it in a lighthearted way so that the emotions get very twisted from what we expect” says Kloetzel. She challenges her dancers to push the limits of their vocal range and delve into childhood memories to play with the diverse emotions and vivid imagination of a young child. The result is an eerily fragile balance between innocence and malice. The beloved childhood games and imaginative stories whispered throughout the dance at first harmless become troubled and aggressive as dance and words intertwine.

The work both psychologically disturbing and emotionally and physically demanding has taken a toll on the dancers seeping into their lives in interesting ways. “I don’t notice it in my day-to-day life but it’s found its way into my subconscious” says Caileen Bennett who has also been dancing most of her life. She has woken up trembling from nightmares directly related to the dance.

Alison Bryan says the performers in her dance Into Sight have felt the toll not necessarily on their psyche or in their dreams but on their sore aching muscles. “It’s quite physical” she says. “I’ve asked my dancers to put themselves in positions that aren’t very comfortable and dance from there. They are talented so now it looks like it’s easy and that’s where they are supposed to be even though it’s very hard on their neck and shoulders.”

Though this is not her first brush with choreography it is the longest. Inspired by a series of photographs by Cara Bryan the work is an exploration of perspective and movement. She compels each dancer to move laboriously and through the use of fragmented mirrors forces us to question what we see and the range of movement we would have believed possible — even from the most agile of dancers.

“Davida Monk my mentor really encouraged me to dive into all my ideas about movement and not be satisfied with my first choice to keep exploring until I can try all possibilities” says Bryan.