Dance Massive review: Punishing work pushes dancers to break point


Atlanta Eke: The Tennis Piece ★★★ 1/2

Collingwood Town Hall

March 19-21

Atlanta Eke is an intuitive choreographer. Although her works are always visually striking, they never appear created for effect. Rather, the stage images seem to be reflections of a personal imagination of great significance.

Case in point, the unusual images in The Tennis Piece look like something someone would dream of if they had, as a child, been forced to practise both tennis and ballet. There are a lot of pirouettes and plies while dodging tennis balls spat out of a ball machine.

There is no narrative as such, just sequences of young women (no men in the four-strong cast) interchangeably moving from a game of tennis into ballet and then 16th-century court dancing, all to an exceptionally eerie soundtrack of robotic lute, and those whizzing tennis balls.

Atlanta Eke’s physically punishing work, The Tennis Piece.Credit:Gregory Lorenzutti

Rigid technical vocabularies are endlessly reproduced on female bodies; initially elegant, then increasingly wearying. The enduring image is that of punishing physical exertion for no good reason.

Eke's previous works often looked at how the human body is distorted and made grotesque by systems of physical training and representation: beauty contests, visual art, the objectification of the female form. The Tennis Piece does the same by drawing out the historical threads that connect tennis, a medieval game associated with aristocratic elegance, and ballet, a dance that formalised court etiquette into a system.

It is a hermetic piece, though. The images are unrefined and the meaning often left rather ambiguous. For those who know tennis well, there are sly references to its history (I was delighted by Eke's use of the theatre within a historical town hall, considering the importance of the tennis court in the French Revolution, and the continuing civic role sport plays).

For those who don't know anything about tennis, however, it might all be a bit tedious.

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