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"What is it like for me to watch someone else feel something?"

19 March 2015 | 10:59 pm | Paul Ransom

The Sensual Experience Of Dance

As writers and critics we love to dissect and analyse the artists we are called upon to scribble about. However, if we are honest, we must accept the possibility that a good percentage of what we read into our subjects says more about ourselves that it does about them.

Case in point: Atlanta Eke, Melbourne-based choreographer and creator of apparently tortured and intensely personal works like 2012’s Monster Body and last year’s Keir Award-winning Body Of Work. Is this slight young woman the ocean of borderline psychosis of my critical imagining or…?

The truth, as much as it can ever ascertained, is somewhat more nuanced. “It’s usually from the outside,” Eke says plainly when asked about the wellspring of her idiosyncratic style. “It’s me responding to the context, responding to the invitation or the commission, or responding to the parameters. But then, I guess, in the creative act, all you have is what comes out. I spend so much time thinking about it that the moment that something appears spontaneously out of play it is nearly always from within.” That said, she provides at least some comfort for the bewildered scribe. “I know that people are affected emotionally by what I do … so yeah, I get a bit of that,” she adds with a grin.

Rather than being fuelled by raging internal fires, Eke’s compulsion to create work is underpinned by more abstract but nonetheless elemental considerations. For her, the notion of resistance is pivotal. “I’m not an activist or interested in politics but I am interested in the politics of what it means to have people look at something in a theatre,” she explains. “It’s looking at the world and then thinking structurally within the context of theatre about how I can affect change here. Y’know, if there’s another way to be here, maybe there are other ways to be in other spaces.”

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With Body Of Work this ‘other way’ revolves around notions of time, contemporaneity and the way in which live performance and video can interact and inform one another. Indeed, the specially created free-standing screens and direct engagement with the onstage camera are notable features of the work. “With this piece it’s not clear what’s producing what,” Eke elaborates. “Am I moving for the screen or is the screen moving for me? The choreographic shift inside the work creates that question for the audience, and that’s part of the point.”

Merging the many two-dimensional Atlantas with the three-dimensional one is one of the key creative challenges of the work. “It makes you think more generally about time and even about contemporary dance. Why do we name it as such? A renaissance painter wouldn’t call themselves ‘renaissance’ they would just call themselves a painter.”

Though ready to admit that there is something inescapably narcissistic about dancing with multiple versions of herself, Eke is ever aware of the audience. “Dancing is such a sensual experience, so when I’m watching someone dance I’m always asking what is it like for me to watch someone else feel something?” This question, no doubt, also applies to us.