Shows by Australian Dance Theatre tend to be more cerebral than most dance performances, at least under the mantle of artistic director Garry Stewart. The last ADT show The Age Of Unbeauty was on one level a history of incarceration and torture in movement, while Birdbrain was nothing less than a danced remix of Swan Lake. Dramaturgical assistance and showings of the work in progress are hallmarks of Stewart’s process.

Not this time. Held is based on one simple theatrical premise: dancers throw themselves across the stage and are photographed, and then the frozen image is immediately projected onto a screen behind them.

We decided to really go for it and take it to a point of fruition as much as we could in that rehearsal period, Stewart said. I wasn’t absolutely sure if the nature of the work would hold interest. But it actually does work.

The critics agreed, and the premiere of the show as part of the 2004 Adelaide Festival earned the company five 2004 Helpmann Award nominations, including best choreography and best dance work.

Not bad, considering Stewart freely admitted it wasn’t his idea. That honour goes to renowned dance photographer Lois Greenfield, the woman behind the live shots. She told me that that’s an endlessly fascinating process to watch, so I was just trusting her on that, Stewart said.

The idea sounds simple but the execution was complex and, it turns out, expensive.

It was kind of out of our league in terms of cost, because it’s very specialised technology, he said. And in many ways the show was very, very challenging for us because of the technology involved.

Donations of free equipment, much of it supported by Greenfield’s reputation, meant Held could fly. Sydney will see almost the same show -“ as Stewart admits to some of his traditional tweaking and reworking. A little digging also uncovers Stewart went deeper than simply presenting a show with dance and photography.

The subject matter is the nature of photography and dance together. So I did a lot of reading on photography and the chemistry and the physics of photography as well as the philosophical writings on photography -“ the obvious stuff like Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag’s On Photography, Stewart said.

It’s not Barthes: The Ballet, but it does continue Stewart’s philosophy for the company -“ to present entirely different work each time they hit the stage. Held has a dance vocabulary as ballistic as The Age Of Unbeauty, to use Stewart’s turn of phrase, but in a sense it’s faster than ever. Hurtling bodies, airborne before us, captured at 1/2000th of a second.

Held is showing at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, from 10 to 22 August as part of the Far Flung season of contemporary dance. Phone 9250 7777.

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