Common Ground markets itself as a choreographic game of chess, establishing an expectation of a specific kind of performed interaction between the two dancers. We expect their movements to take turns. We expect their costumes to be the inverse of the other. We expect an embodiment of the spatial constraints placed on the movement of chess pieces. We expect a certain kind of relationship to space. Common Ground takes a lateral approach to these ideas, playing with the conventions and ideas implicit in chess without enacting them in a straightforward way. This creates a dynamic tension in the work, as in its costuming, its use of space and its movement it resists the conventional form of a chess game and thus opens up the work to a more nuanced reflection on how power, history, and connection are intertwined within the body and performed again and again in different instances of interaction.
Dancers Richard Cilli and Tara Jade Samaya move together in a complex interplay of connection, control, competition and mimicry. The intersection of their bodies is at once a space of grace and chaos, symbiosis and cruelty. Through their movements they play out the complexities of being in competition while being on the same ‘side’, exploring how tensions can erupt within notions of sameness and in instances of attempted collaboration. In the sharing of weight and in sustained moments of shifting physical connection they explore contradictory notions present within interactions. Their bodies in balance are suspended in opposition. When they move in competition they are most connected.
Inherent in the work are notions of ‘missing’—bids for connection are mistimed, sequences of silliness and formal precision are performed at odds with each other. In the work, Cilli and Samaya constantly grapple with the struggle and miscommunication that is an attempt to create a shared practise and a shared language.
Jethro Woodward’s sound design is a collision of the past with the present, spanning and collapsing histories and concepts of ballet and contemporary dance in conversation with the movement of the performers. Sound in the piece establishes and undercuts motifs and images that reflect the dancers’ relationship with classical dance vocabulary and a deconstructed present.
Marg Horwell’s set design is positioned in striking and active relation to the performers’ subjectivity, at times rendering the setting in control of the dancers, while elsewhere transfiguring it as an extension of the performers’ bodies. Lighting is bold and dynamic. Paul Jackson’s design expands and collapses the space, transforming the bare and vast set in startling ways. It draws on the warmth of the wooden room and the coldness of the floor, delving into an exploration of the extent to which this tonal duality can impact the bodies in the space.
Common Ground presents us with a multitude of questions and reflections on individual subjectivity in our current socio-political landscape. How are multiplicities and dualities contained within the same body? What possibilities and responsibilities are engendered by the deconstruction of established orders? What does it mean when new ways to understand one’s relationship to space are being constantly discovered and how does an understanding of self shift in this changing landscape? How is the weight of social and political history carried by the body?
It leaves us in a space of confusion and complexity. It leaves us questioning what it means to create an understanding of the self in relation to others, in relation to history and in relation to social positionality. It leaves us with an image that speaks to the idea that even in our nakedness, perhaps at our most fundamental, we are embroiled in a constant negotiation of shared weight, a dance of surrender and control, surrender and control.