Choreographer and dancer Yahna Fookes’ Suspended is a work that freefalls without any fear of vertigo. The rooftop dance project departs from Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece, an influential dance performance first performed on New York City’s rooftops in 1971. A phrase often used by dance writers to describe the latter is “semaphore-like”, referring to the way the 12 dancers mimicked each other in a succession of telegraphic movements across the SoHo skyline.
In Suspended, virtual meets the real in a display of interacting forces. A pre-recorded, “dream-like” dance film is an integral part of the live performance, with dancers responding to that footage, creating a doppelganger effect.
Conceptually, the work delves into the effects of gravity using finite detail. “I started playing with this idea of what it feels like to be in an open space, what it feels like to be in a heightened state on the roof,” Fookes explains. “We played with ideas of gravity, falling and being suspended and then opposing ideas to that - how it feels to have no gravity in the body.”
Fookes points to the key role collaboration played in realising Suspended. Contributors include fellow performers Jessica Wong and James Shannon, cinematographer Rudi Siira, post-producer Ana Jimenez, dark synth lord Matthew Brown and menswear label From Britten, making its first foray into dance costume design. All are young Melbourne-trained artists, instilling the performance with a local identity that further reinforces its site-specific nature. “I feel like the Melbourne art scene has a very distinct vocabulary that crosses the line no matter whether it’s dance, design, photography or fashion,” says Fookes, who trained at the Victorian College of the Arts.
The collaboration extended to the editing of the film, reflecting Fookes’ ongoing interest in the relationship between visual arts and dance. Taking Fookes’ ideas on how the film should be sequenced as a starting point, Ana Jimenez introduced a whole new dynamic to the work. “Ana’s experience with film is very narrative and drama-based,” Fookes says of the editor who recently worked on The Rocket. “She created these amazing characters out of the choreography, developing a very emotional timeline for them.”
The dancers’ movement vocabulary responds to elements specific to the site, offering new ways of looking at dance and engaging with audiences. The piece was initially developed in the studio, before rehearsals moved to the rooftop; a physical setting that impacted directly on the dancers’ expression. “Bringing the work out to this open space changed the feel and perspective,” says Fookes. “You’ve got all the environmental elements – wind blowing, the sound of the city, massive air conditioning vents blowing in your face. We’re trying to be an open platform to respond to that.”
The result will be a performance that is un-tethered from the confines of a concert stage. “My main incentive was to make a work that was not dance-specific and that stepped out of that traditional trajectory of amphitheatre and staged audience,” says Fookes. “That’s what really inspired me about her [Brown’s] work. It was so unconventional: it broke that boundary that dance needs to be ticketed with performances happening here and the audiences sitting there - that whole idea of going to the theatre.”
Suspended is showing at Rooftop Bar from Tuesday 1 October to Thursday 3 October 2013 as part of City of Melbourne’s 2013 Arts Program. For tickets, click here.