Posted by: strugglesome | November 10, 2011

Birds Of A Feather: Subcircle’s Seed

Though it might surprise some people and outright astonish creationists, dinosaurs evolved from birds, not lizards. And while specimens like the Komodo dragon or the horned lizard might seem to belie that, you have only to look into the beady and primeval eyes of a sparrow, or watch The Birds, and you know. Birds are just tiny feathery dinosaurs, with the wisdom of the ages, and a keen eye for art. And I’m not just talking about the Lyrebird, an Australian variety (I swear that continent got all the cool stuff) that collects and arranges blue objects into extremely site specific art installations. Magpies steal shiny objects, ospreys feather their sea-side nests with pine cones and branches, birds take the objects of the world, the debris, the trash, and turn that into something carefully placed and meaningful, some whole that is greater than the some of its parts. After all, what else do artists actually do?

And so it is fitting that Subcircle’s latest carefully crafted creation, Seed, developed over the course of more than a year of cross-country cross continent exchanges between Niki Cousineau, Gin MacCallum, and New Zealand based choreographer Carol Brown, feels like a bird’s collection of objects, movements, text and music gathered from sources far and wide. The piece begins with the dissection of a bird, black and mangled with death. Cousineau neatly and efficiently slices into its sternum and removes objects from its abdomen, a ribbon, a piece of shell, bits and bobs. She lays them on the dissection table and writes a note beneath each one. The clinically precise actions of her rubber-clad hands are projected onto the wide rectangle set above the antique specimen cases and chairs that make up Jorge Cousineau’s warm toned set. As she draws out pieces of the bird’s final days, MacCallum, a bird herself with fragile limbs and constant motion, begins to get in her way, repossessing the items, flinging her body onto Cousineau’s, forcing her to join in the dance. As soon as she does, the piece begins to whirl.

Neatly bordered with titles projected above the dance space, the work becomes a series of vignettes, or sketches. Now it’s a tango between two “bird-women” in clompy heels and head scarves, scored in accordion with flourishes and sharp beats (original music by Rosie Langabeer, Russell Scoones and Jorge Cousineau). Then it’s a duet between a “man” and a woman, with each dancer trading roles and blazers. Then it’s a quietly tragic solo, with MacCallum as a squashed and naked baby-bird, exposed to the world and shadowed in Peter Escalada-Mastick’s lighting design. Each segment moves as an exploration, a thorough examination of space and time, and the other dancer in the room. The piece also serves to highlight the contrast between these two dancers. Both embody different aspects of “bird”, specifically tui or parson bird, whose sculptured image is provided by Michael Mullen.  But while MacCallum is frail, delicate, picking through the space with the agility of a sparrow, Cousineau is precise, powerful, a bird of prey intent upon her next meal. Together they swoop and spin around each other, crawling over chairs and a table, trapped within the specimen case, and at one point, with the ad of a stylish vintage coat suspended from the ceiling, Cousineau even gets to fly. The dancers are both magnificent, gorgeous in their harmony and their conflict, balanced in form and style, virtuosic and mesmerizing. Even when the piece feels beyond the grasp of the viewer, the dancers themselves are continually present, generous and strong. Cousineau is especially masterful in this piece, stunning in her power and her authority onstage.

Under Brown’s direction, this piece still bares the marks of Subcircle’s style, but with a distinctly different totality. Instead of a distinct narrative, the sense of a journey, this work feels more like images in a kaleidoscope, or the view from the window of the Maglev train in Shanghai, a series of moments strung together tenuously, luminous sections sandwiched between shifting transitions. What we are left with, then, is not an arrival at a destination, but a beautiful collection, unrelated, except by their proximity. Like the objects from the stomach of our avian friend we have gathered, or been given, little bits and pieces that are now ours to take home, lay out, and consider. Unless, of course, some bird comes along and steals them away.

Subcircle‘s Seed has finished its brief first run, but with any luck it will be performed again, soon, and it will grow and develop with each presentation, like a nest. Find out more about the piece and the company here.

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