– by Georgia Kartas
Last weekend the inside of the Canberra Museum and Gallery’s (CMAG) Gallery 4 housed Beyond Exhaustion, a three-woman dance performance exploring the notion of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Created by Courtney Scheu, Ashlee Bye, Kelly Beneforti and Hannah Wong, the Canberra show was performed by the former three, all of whom were brought together by QL2 Dance’s Softer Landing program here in Canberra.
From the onset we are hypnotised, voyeurs peering in, as one of the dancers crawls along the inside of the four glass walls. Her journey is achingly sluggish, yet paced against a Bladerunner-esque soundtrack mixed by Hannah Wong. The other two join her in this fishbowl arena and begin a systematic duet that’s all legwork, indifferent to their crawling companion, arms pinned to their sides. Combined with their blue-collar clothing and the industrial setting, it seems to mimic daily transit between home and public transport, desk to photocopy room, work back to home – the obligatory fulfilment of routine.
When wide, sweeping arm movements are introduced into the choreography, the dancers share panicked confusion as they realise that they’re trapped by their routine; literally embodied by the walls as one of them runs back and forth frantically. We feel how bound their pathways are – how limited their trajectory. Round and round they go, unable to break out.
Violent, thrashing movements and haunting expressions are thrown at one another like physical translations of hurtful words between desperately unhappy people. There’s great intimacy between the changing personas of each dancer – in some moments they’re sisterly, others like lovers – but there’s also an interaction of hatred, disgust and apathy toward one another’s weaknesses and lethargy.
A short film clip starts playing as a backdrop. Behind the dancers we see shots of traffic, supermarket aisles, apartment blocks, various pills in the palm of a hand, and a lifeless woman face down on a bed, which weaves clear intimations of attempted suicide into this dreamscape narrative.
Exhaustion seems almost a contradictory concept to convey through dance, a medium normally associated with energy and stamina, but I found myself thinking of the ballet Gisele, where dancing to the point of death by exhaustion is used as punishment. Here, however, dancing to the point of death seems like the only way out of life’s confinements and unrelenting challenges. Beyond Exhaustion leaves its audience in a dream-like state, and self-reflective on the toll of allowing our own daily toils to get the better of us.
Georgia Kartas has been published in Spun, Burley and Us Folk, and blogs about fashion and shiny things at www.red-magpie.com.