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A monumental ode to the madness of modern life

Adelaide Festival

When a contemporary dance company called The Holy Body Tattoo shares the stage with a post-rock band named Godspeed You! Black Emperor, you know the result will be no Swan Lake.

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Hailing from Canada, both groups have a reputation for audacious performance.

The Holy Body Tattoo’s dancing has been described as “gruelling”, “ferocious” and “visceral”, while one arts writer wrote that watching Godspeed You! Black Emperor reach a crescendo during a live show was “not unlike facing a jet turbine”.

“They are really loud,” Holy Body Tattoo co-founder and choreographer Dana Gingras tells InDaily.

“They said maybe the dancers could wear earplugs, but I said, no way could they wear earplugs!”

Adelaide audiences will have the opportunity to witness the results of the collaboration for themselves when the show monumental has its Australian premiere during the Adelaide Festival next month.

Monumental explores the anxiety caused by urban culture, with nine dancers on pedestals representing a miniature city, a backdrop of projected images by LA cinematographer William Morrison, and a melancholic live score by Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Adelaide Festival director David Sefton first saw the dance in its original incarnation 10 years ago. It was performed with a recorded soundtrack because the band was taking a break from performing; then the dance company also went into hiatus.

Monumental is a show that has literally taken my entire tenure at the Adelaide Festival to realise,” he says.

“You will never have experienced anything quite like it in the Festival Theatre. It will be awesome.”

Speaking to InDaily before the remounted show premiered at Canada’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival last month, Gingras, who founded Holy Body Tattoo with fellow choreographer Noam Gagnon, agreed it would be “pretty intense”.

Gingras says the original inspiration for monumental came from a series of drawings called Men in the Cities by American artist Robert Longo, which show formally dressed men and women in writhing dancing motions.

The dance seeks to illustrate the pressure and angst caused by the noise and frenetic pace of modern city life, which is increased by our reliance on technology.

“It really started out as an investigation into the tension that’s created through homogenisation of culture, of trying to fit in, of trying to follow some kind of rank and file,” Gingras says.

“And in that there’s an erasing of individual subjectivity that creates a certain kind of existential angst.”

The choreography for monumental features structured, ridged movements. Individual dancers at times seem lost or overwhelmed, and there are attempts to break from the conformity.

It is based on everyday actions – things like bending over or reaching for something – which are then made more extreme.

“We asked the dancers to reveal some of their little tics and gestures, and they had a few rehearsals where they went out into the city and watched people moving and came back with different walks and gestures,” Gingras says.

She says the reason for remounting the work is that it can now be performed with a live score, with the soundtrack having been updated to include some of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s new music.

“When I first heard their first album, [I thought] it had a very allegorical sound … it was sombre and sad and massive at the same time, so it had this monumental feeling. It sort of builds and builds, but it has this sadness and melancholic feel to it, which was what we wanted with this work.

“We wanted it to feel powerful but also look at what are we losing in this progress and madness of what we call modern civilisation.”

In addition to the film projections by William Morrison – with imagery ranging from a large wind farm to a freeway overpass in Los Angeles – monumental also features text by conceptual artist Jenny Holzer which Gingras says adds to the disquieting effect of the work.

“I think it [the performance] has an ebb and flow, so you’ve got room to breathe and it’s not just a barrage.”

“But there’s this constant sense of building tension and then releasing it … I think maybe with the live music it will be more intense.”

Monumental will be performed at the Festival Theatre on March 4 and 5 as part of the 2016 Adelaide Festival.

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