It’s blistering hot on QPAC’s Melbourne Street Green, but the towering cassia trees offer a group of people moving slowly and determinedly some respite. The ‘movers’ – dancers isn't apt – are participating in a week of creative development for Liesel Zink’s new work Us and All of This.
Zink has brought together movers of all different ages, professions, ethnicities, genders and body types for her latest site-specific work, which is a response to a world that has become increasingly defined by rising geopolitical tension, ecological mismanagement, deteriorating labour conditions and social isolation.
Over the course of the week, Zink and her core artists have workshopped her concept, and guided the movers through the choreography in small groups. Some of the core artists are trained dancers, some are performance artists and others actors; diversity is critical to the piece. Seeing all the movers together for the first time on the Green is powerful, and Zink is beaming from the sidelines.
An audible racket surrounds the group: the banging of bins, a caterwauling pedestrian, buses zooming past and the constant hum of construction. Composer Lawrence English’s pulsating soundtrack permeates the Green, absorbing the urban chaos.
The first sequence begins with everyone starting to breathe together. There’s an overwhelming vastness and the group look like they are floating in a giant bubble and are “unified, but not in unison,” as Zink says.
Aunty Rox, a descendant of the Mandandanjii and Darambal People and veteran actor, describes the experience as transformative.
“You’re so into [the movement], you’re so with the people around you that those sounds become obsolete… You become immersed and nothing can creep in.” Aunty Rox
A man sits down to watch while sipping on his frappe, and diners at the QPAC Cafe begin tuning into the lunchtime entertainment. A baby rolls past in a stroller, wide-eyed in wonder. Zink says the exposure of the Green has allowed new people to experience the arts.
“There’s a big power in public spaces that allow us to bring arts to unexpected audiences, or people who might not have expected to witness art on their way home or daily commute.” Liesel Zink
A few moments in, Aunty Rox sparks a movement that looks like seedlings breaking ground in slow motion.
Core artist and dancer Hsin-Ju Ely gushes over how Aunty Rox’s First Nations perspective adds a whole new layer of meaning to the work.
“As dancers, we tend to just do movement, but there’s no meaning… Aunty Rox will tell a whole story around one simple gesture.”
Zink’s choreographic vocabulary comes from her research into body language and how we communicate through our bodies every day. Each mover is referencing movements of being open, vulnerable and everything in between, which is incredibly meditative.
Just as it feels like space and time are slowing down, some of the movers begin vigorous rowing movements – an in-your-face reminder that unease and unrest are not too far away in our strange new world.
Zink’s hope for Us and All of This is that it will be presented as a large-scale public work with a hundred people moving to their own “version of togetherness”. She’s been reflecting on her role as an artist during the pandemic.
“One of the big things that came to mind is how valuable the creative process is in being able to process some of the challenges we’re experiencing in the world. To consider what it is to be together at this point in time and more broadly think about togetherness as a larger form of building collective resilience, resisting against other forces and thinking about how we might be able to change the world.”
And what have the movers taken away from the experience? Aunty Rox says it simply comes down to human connection.
“This being together. Being around bodies again. It’s just connecting back as human beings.” Aunty Rox
The en masse work is also about surrendering. Each mover must be mindful of their journey within the piece and trust the group and the surroundings to carry them. Ely says it's about taking it all in: the other movers, the audience, the disarray, the serenity, the commotion, the quiet.
“Everything, every element, just breathe in. This is us.” Hsin-Ju Ely
After half an hour, the performance ends and there’s a palpable exhale from the movers. Leaving the Melbourne Street Green feels like the slow awakening from Shavasana. The world seems to have shifted a little – perhaps it’s a bit sunnier.
Take a look at excerpts from Us and All of This below.
Us and All of This is produced by Performing Lines, commissioned by Arts Centre Melbourne, and has been developed with support from the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body, the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland, Ausdance Qld and Besen Family Foundation.
We pay our respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestors of this land, their spirits and their legacy. The foundations laid by these ancestors - our First Nations Peoples - gives strength, inspiration and courage to current and future generations, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, towards creating a better Queensland. Queensland Government’s RAP Acknowledgment of Country