A thing is never just a thing
It is never enough to be youreself
You've got to represent
Comissioned by Lucy Guerin Inc for Pieces for Small Spaces 2013
Sarah Aiken: Concept, performance and choreography
Daniel Arnott: Sound design
Jen Hector: Lighting design and operation
Image: Gregory Lorenzutti
Duration: 15 minutes
Lucy Guerin Inc. Pieces for Small Spaces , Melbourne. 2013
Expression Solo Festival of Dance, QPAC, Brisbane. 2014
From ‘Written Responses to Piece’s for Small Spaces’
SET. Sarah Aiken
Sarah Aiken’s Set was particularly impressive for the thoroughness of the investigation which she shaped into a well-structured piece offering both serious conceptualism and gentle humour. With her arms and legs sheathed in large cardboard tubes tripling their length, at first it seemed a self- conscious and awkward premise (with a distinct waft of Bauhaus earnestness). However Aiken’s exploration of the movement possibilities with these appendages, the pendulous sway of limbs rendered indistinguishable in mesmeric formations, rapidly transformed the awkward to elegant.
This elegant modernism continued in the second section of the piece with Aiken working with weight-bearing and angular relations so that dancer and tubes became part of the architecture of the studio. (I was reminded of Guerin’s Structure and Sadness, but here Aiken made it very much her own.) With the introduction of sound in the third section (hidden speakers in the tubes creating dopplering effects, designed by Daniel Arnott) the form of the piece began to loosen up as the performer’s focus shifted outward.
The final parts of the performance continued this expansion and change in tone by including the audience as new player in this game with body, object and space. Pushing this to its ultimate conclusion, Aiken escaped into the outside world (audience member literally in tow) making the city another integral player. Set was a satisfying piece on multiple levels, showing complexity in structure, deft tonal development and clever audience engagement.
In her delightful and entertaining eighteen-minute solo ‘Set’, Sarah Aiken is a little like Gregor in Kafka’s Metamorphosis. But instead of waking up a beetle, on her back, she’s more like a giraffe. Or else she’s morphed into a piece of futuristic 1950s furniture. As surreal and dreamlike as the experience is, it’s certainly not a nightmare for her. It’s more like a case of “oh, look, I have new limbs. I wonder how they work.” And then “look what I can do!”
The occasional frozen moments (in which Aiken’s limbs form a SS lightning flash insignia, then an elongated Z and other shapes) invite interpretation, or perhaps just appreciation. We marvel at Aiken’s core strength and control as much as we light up at her bizarre imagination.
For me, the most interesting work of the evening was Sarah Aiken’s. In Set she wore large, roughly two metre long, open ended cardboard canisters on each of her limbs, moving her body into and out of simple positions that cartoonishly accentuated the lines of her figure. The canisters became the conduit that revealed her dancing body in both familiar and new ways. The work gradually evolved with the audience first paying attention to the body in relationship to itself, then the body in relationship to the space, then the body in relation to the audience before finally the body in relation to the world outside of the performing space. Many of her choices were delightfully comic.
Set by Sarah Aiken. There is a film, Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives which begins with a long unedited shot of a cow slowly walking out of his enclosed paddock and into the forest. The scene is so uncontrivedly beautiful, that as an observer I feel no one is directing my experience; that the scene unfolds in front of me. You can imagine the filmmaker setting up the camera and leaving for hours just to wait for the cow to “perform”. Sarah Aiken begins lying on the floor, fleshly-beige, this performance will wait until she is ready. She has distorted her body, to both comically exaggerated and banal ends, she has cardboard-piping limbs. She is plainly in front of us, but not entirely revealed - she is still in disguise, or should I say camouflage. She heaves her heavy limbs into a dance, making lines with her body, like dancers do. Point this way, spread arms wide, gesture on diagonal, plainly geometric, and impeded by cardboard embellishment. There is a suggestion of comedy – of slapstick exaggeration – but Sarah lets the bodily suggestion speak for itself. Otherwise the performance is a matter of fact, no nudges or winks. I wonder what Sarah thinks of my watching her? I feel drawn into this strange performance, but more as a secret voyeur, very delicately invited. And she is so preoccupied with her actions that her responsibility to audience is relieved, which in turn allows me to start seeing for myself. When Sarah eventually approaches the audience, the relationship is both a genuine connection and an admitted fabrication, or at least I imagined that. Is she gently letting us in on it, aware of the dilemma that the performer can never be completely naïve, like the cow from the film?