|Chloe Chignell and James Batchelor in "Shortcuts to Familiar Places".
by James Batchelor
James Batchelor, Chloe Chignell and Morgan Hickinbotham.
Theatre Centre Playhouse. 29th April 2023.
|Ruth Osborne - Chloe Chignall - James Batchelor in "Shortcuts to Familiar Places"
dancer and choreographer, James Batchelor, has been quietly honing an
impressive career in Europe. Between
overseas commissions, Batchelor returns to his home town to create works for
QL2 Dance as well as research and develop new projects. The seeds for
“Shortcuts to Familiar Places” were sown in a paddock in Gungahlin on a wet
Saturday afternoon in 2021.
of seeing a work inspired by the teachings of modern dance pioneer, Gertrud
Bodenwieser, as well as Batchelor’s own teacher and mentor, Ruth Osborne, was a
powerful attractor to your intrepid dance critic seeking dance enlightenment.
Batchelor bravely pranced around the paddock in the rain, these influences were
not particularly obvious to your critic at that time.
after two years of research, experimentation and development, that initial
performance has flowered into a beautifully wrought dance work in which those
influences are crystal clear as the starting point rather than the destination.
three distinct sections, separated by film of his mentors and research
contributors, “Shortcuts to Familiar Places” opens with a film of Batchelor’s
mentor, Artistic Director of QL2 Dance, Ruth Osborne, describing and
demonstrating elements of the Bodenwieser technique.
authenticity and accuracy of Osborne’s recollections created a lightbulb moment
for this observer sparking a faint but indelible memory of a performance by the
Bodenwieser Dance Company experienced when Bodenwieser herself still headed the
|James Batchelor in "Shortcuts to Familiar Places"
As the film
faded, Batchelor was revealed in silhouette, alone on the stage except for instrumentalist
Morgan Hickinbotham, almost invisible to one side. A long-time collaborator with Batchelor, Hickinbotham
accompanied the entire performance creating a haunting soundscape on a guitar
which he bowed at times or incorporated looping pedals to create techno
patterns and syncopations.
Very slowly Batchelor began to move. Just his
hands at first, in movements similar, but not imitating those demonstrated by
Osborne. Slow, repetitive, sensuous upper-body movements, superbly lit to
reveal the musculature of his body as he repeated each small movement over and over
before moving on to the next slight variation. The effect was mesmerising
something akin to watching a sculpture slowly coming to life.
short film sequence followed this time featuring acclaimed centenarian dancer,
Eileen Kramer, patiently teaching Batchelor and dance film-maker, Sue Healey,
her favourite Bodenwieser choreography remembered from her days working with Bodenwieser’s
company in the 1940’s.
|Chloe Chignell and James Batchelor.
took the stage, this time accompanied by another long-time collaborator, dancer
Chloe Chignell and together they performed a long exquisite sequence, parts of
which conjured up visions of oriental deity sculptures.
filmed sequence featured Batchelor, Osborne and Head of Dance at Victoria
College of the Arts, Carol Brown, recreating fragments of Bodenwieser
choreography interspersed with archival film of Brown’s teacher and former Bodenwieser
dancer, Shona Dunlop MacTavish.
and Chignell then performed their final mesmerising duet in which they
gracefully mirrored each other’s movements. As Hickinbotham’s accompaniment
became more urgent, they broke into joyous running and skipping, adding layers
of the intricate, repetitious detail that marks Bachelor’s own trademark choreographic
style, ultimately leaving both breathless and their appreciative audience
|James Batchelor and Chloe Chignell in hthe closing moments of "Shortcuts to Familiar Places"
foyer-talk which followed the performance, dance doyen, Elizabeth Cameron
Dalman, remarked on the importance of “looking back to move forward” when
commenting on the value of examining dance heritage.
latest brilliant creation, which takes as its starting point and inspiration
the work of an Australian contemporary dance pioneer, is a superbly satisfying demonstration
of just how exciting such an approach can be.
Images by Lorna Sim
This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 1st May 2023.