WORK is a solo I first created in 2012 as a way to perform studio-based processes that have been utilised to create and perform endurnace dance works. I make reference to Julie Moss within my statement about the work, WORK. At the time I was particularly interested in the collaborative and artistic potential of dance, circus, sports and improvisation practices available to me in the moment of performance, and what that might mean for a solo dancing body. In 2013, my focus shifted through a developing understanding of the 'constraints-led' approach to motor learning. Shifting my focus, my attention was turned towards the function of the equipment in the work and its affect upon my body and the possibilities/potentialities it offers beyond my own physical body. My questions in 2012 were akin to what follows, however the questions regarding environment/conditions, tests and physical tasks were being further formed through a developing understanding of 'constraints-led' approaches.
What are the limits of the body? At what point is it necessary or do you stop or give up? What is possible? How many potential routes for action are available to me, and how do I make choices about them - how can I create conditions to test and challenge my choices to generate new potential pathways, new possibilities? I also considered how the equipment itself might be able to juxtapose or represent some of the condition of my body. How might textural qualities of my muscles, bodily sounds, fatigue all be realised in objects/equipment within the performance.
Artist Statement re: WORK
In 1982 Julie Moss competed in her first Ironman without ever completing the total distance before. What began as a lark became a struggle for survival and a test of human will.
Moss says that the ‘I quit’ was just her ‘ego trying to self-sabotage,’ but her real self was ‘that voice that said; “just keep moving forward.”’ ‘There is no limit.’
– Julie Moss in conversation on Radiolab WNYC’s program on Limits 2010, itunes podcast.
The solo WORK, created by Steph Hutchison, is a hybrid performance, interweaving dance, circus arts, improvisation, sports and theatre inspired by the physical journey of Julie Moss.
WORK is fuelled by an interest in pushing the body to its’ physical limit. Hutchison explores the notion of dance as extreme sport and emphatically engages her body in rigorous physical practices. Her attention is to muscularity and the performance of effort, work and labour to the point of physical exhaustion. The power, force and endurance of every muscle fibre is presented as a kind of equipment in and of itself.
Review of WORK (2013) by Grace Edwards
Steph Hutchison, WORK, Dancehouse, 9-10 November 2013
As part of Dancehouse’s first Tertiary Dance Week, Deakin University PhD candidate, Steph Hutchison showcased her solo, WORK, exploring the notion of dance as an extreme sport. WORK is inspired by the journey of Julie Moss who in 1982 competed in her first Ironman without having ever before completing the total distance. When Moss thought of quitting, she told herself it was her ‘ego trying to self-sabotage,’ but her real self was ‘that voice that said; “just keep moving forward. There is no limit.”’
This piece could have been performed by few but Hutchison — her remarkable physique and stamina, honed through years of circus and dance training enable her to reach beyond even most dancers’ powers of physical endurance. As the audience members find their seats, Hutchison is already hard at work skipping rope on the darkened stage. The performance begins at the point of physical exhaustion.
Over the course of the hour, Hutchison run through a seemingly endless series of rolls — forward rolls, drop rolls, handstands that collapse into rolls — down a strip of gymnastic mats, accompanied only by the sounds of her own panting. She subsequently isolates various parts of her body to put through tests of physical endurance including squats and planks, even climbing up and hanging from aerial tissue. In the process, she explores the emotional and sensual journey that accompanies her exhaustion. Improvised dance sequences take their initial cue from in-between moments — tying and untying hair, moving between pieces of equipment and feelings of anticipation.
In one section, Hutchison plays with a prominent red safety mat, picking it up and carefully placing it on its edge, rolling it along the stage and later lifting it on to her back. She holds it there for a few seconds, and begins to spin. She draws our attention to the hidden labours associated with moving the apparatus, so familiar to gymnasts and other elite physical performers; the weight and gravity which cause resistance in her arm muscles and the friction of skin on the mat. The acts of re-arranging mats, or checking the velcro securing them offer respite from the physically exhaustion of exercise, constituting the only source of comfort.
There are many well-timed moments of comedy in WORK. When Hutchison exchanges her all-in-one for a dress and walks into position for a spotlight, we can’t help but laugh at her exaggerated efforts to smile and cover her awkwardness. Her ‘duet’ with the tissue comprises the only part of the work in which music accompanies movement , and the song is carefully chosen. As Hutchison lovingly caresses and buries her face in the tissue, the lyrics speak of never being apart. Later pulling on a pair of platforms, she goes through earlier motions and ends up in a headstand, tapping her shoes together to comic effect.
In WORK, the preparation is the performance. The final moments of this piece see Hutchison don a heavy-looking bag as though ready to leave the studio. Instead, she begins to squat, over and over again as the stage fades to black. The journey continues. There is no limit.
WORK is a thought-provoking investigation into the experience of physical endurance — the pains, the reliefs, the comforts, the hidden efforts and emotions — through which Hutchison offers insight into what makes enduring the unendurable possible, even as she tires us out just watching her.