Arts / Waltzing up (and down) City Hill

Ashlee Bye and Patrick “Paddy” Meessman… will perform their autumnal work, “Deciduous Waltz”, on City Hill.

WHEN it comes to site-specific art, the raison d’etre of the coming festival “You Are Here”, there’s nowhere much more site-specific than City Hill.

That’s where dancer-choreographers Ashlee Bye and Patrick “Paddy” Meessman will perform their autumnal work, “Deciduous Waltz”, to the scratchy recorded accompaniment of old swing-style music, snatches of old-time waltz and the natural sounds of birds, the wind and passing traffic.

Bye and Meessman are both graduates of the Victorian College of the Arts. Each comes from a youth dance background in Canberra and the far coast of NSW respectively, but now work together in Melbourne, where they’ve been teaching dance to young people at Penleigh and Essendon Grammars while also experimenting with the use of newer media such as Skype in dance.

Bye is no stranger to Canberra audiences. A former member of the Quantum Leap dance company, she worked on QL2’s long-distance dance project “Far Flung” for You Are Here in 2015.

Since last year, the pair have been collaborating and they headed to the Dandenongs last autumn to begin a version of “Deciduous Waltz”, now being expanded for Canberra.

Describing the Canberra show as “a second coming”, they explain how they looked for a site with a sloping angle.

“I drive past City Hill all the time, but hadn’t thought of it at first,” Bye says.

“Our dancing is in response to the site, we are running and exhausting ourselves, but also we want to make an image that will last in the viewer’s eye,” Meessman adds.

“We’ve got to make our own work,” Bye tells “CityNews. It’s a familiar refrain from independent dancers and the pair have been keen to create site-specific work that, as Meessman sees it, “gives the audience a very particular feeling of light and clouds and smells, a full sensory experience”.

So, what will happen?

“We circle the absurd and trip up the tricky terrain,” they say. As well, like Jack and Jill, they’ll come tumbling down the hill at Vernon Circle.

You Are Here co-producer Rochelle Whyte.

“Deciduous Waltz” won’t be the only site-specific work for You Are Here, one of the event’s three producers, Rochelle Whyte, says. In fact, the five-day showcase of independent arts features many other events located in familiar and unfamiliar spots.

Choreographer Alison Plevey’s Australian Dance Party, for instance, will brighten up a “mystery” urban car park with a revved-up dance called “Autonomous” that will weave in and around cars to comment on social disconnect, laziness and the carbonisation of our environment that she says fogs up the window screens.

Then there’s “Racquet Racket Duel Dual”, where musicians Tina Havelock Stevens and Liberty Kerr create a “wrestle-spectacle” in the Senate Rose Garden tennis courts. There are also performances in a Dickson house where stories are acted out in the lounge and the bedroom, with supper thrown in afterwards – that’s one of the few ticketed events and when you book, you’ll get the address.

Above all, there’s the reclamation of an old pub space in the Sydney Building that will be used as the Festival Hub and for a range of interactive installations, comedy shows and experimental performances. And when you get there, you’ll know “you are here”.

You Are Here festival, around Canberra CBD, April 5-9. Program details at youareherecanberra.com.au

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