Freelance writer – creative – media-maker
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.