The Power of Nought

What is a dancer? This is a question that has long perplexed the mind of Adelaide-born dancer and choreographer Daniel Jaber.

What is a dancer? This is a question that has long perplexed the mind of Adelaide-born dancer and choreographer Daniel Jaber.

In new work, Nought, Jaber has a crack at answering it. Commissioned by the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), Nought takes us into the gallery space of the Samstag Museum of Art, and onto a journey of discovery, offering raw insight into the fragility of a dancer. “I suppose I’ve always struggled with who I am and identifying myself as a dancer,” Jaber explains. “In particular at the beginning of your career because there’s a lot of pressure to prove yourself and maintain a degree of professionalism and experience.” In Nought, the dancer is presented as an object or tool for the use of “a kind of higher power”. The work exposes contemporary dance in its purest form, with periods of silence mixed with atmospheric music and spoken words to emphasise the dancers’ vulnerabilities. “The dancers in the work begin as purely physical objects. Then as the piece travels through its journey, they break out and explore the potential for an emotional relationship in dance, and a higher texture for the human body.” Nought is the first full-length work by a dancer to be commissioned by the ADT and promoted under the company’s banner. The work features delicate costumes by local fashion designer Catherine Ziersch and sound by Swiss-born Thomas Jeker, and will be presented in an art gallery setting – a first for ADT under Garry Stewart’s 13-year directorship. The unique, non-theatre space provides an unusually intimate setting where there is no barrier between the audience and dancers, who are placed only a few feet away from one another. “In making a piece about a dancer as an object, it just seemed perfect that you would put them in a gallery space. Like you’d hang a painting and look at it, you’ve got dancers that you’re looking at and observing, in a kind of examination process.” Nought was first developed in 2010 for the Adelaide College of the Arts, where it was only 20 minutes long. It has since evolved into a full-length work, with the ADT dancers creating much of the material themselves. “Essentially what I’ve done is kept the structure of the whole thing, but all of the movement inside of it has been developed. I set the dancers a task, they go away and make stuff, and then come back and I decorate it and change it and edit it. In terms of the work’s evolution it’s been really easy and organic because I know what they’re interested in as dancers.” Jaber describes the style of dance as “highly technical and very clean”, with a classical quality. “Ballet is always evident in anything I make – it is always kind of an obsessive starting point for me. My greatest influence with Garry hasn’t been the really violent, aggressive physicality [of many of his works]. I was more inspired by works like Birdbrain and G, which really pushed classicism.” While Garry Stewart, the globally renowned Artistic Director of ADT, is no doubt a role model for Jaber, he describes the two of them as “very different people” who “work with dancers very differently”. Having joined ADT in 2004 at the age of 18, Jaber has had plenty of exposure to Stewart’s explosive style, performing in works such as HELD, Birdbrain and G. “His aesthetic is so completely different to mine. His works are quite energetic and colourful and mine are almost sedate, with tense environments. I think all of these things have been birthed from working with him and seeing how he does things, and me going: if I were to do it, I would probably do this. So it’s an equal kind of push and pull I suppose.” Jaber explains that his mentoring relationship with Stewart has been more about support and engagement than teaching. “He’s been great because he’s really given me breadth and time. He’s always there if I need him, but he’s very hands off and that’s quite exciting… that means so much more than a mentor that’s in the room with you every five minutes, because that means he trusts me to put this work on.” Nought Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia Wednesday, September 25 until Friday September 27 adt.org.au/nought Images © Chris Herzfeld  

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