James Batchelor’s ‘Deepspace’

Image credit Charles Tammbiah

Before I get into the extent of the review of James Batchelor and Collaborators’ Deepspace, I feel the need to state here: I am not a dancer, I am very much a contemporary dance virgin and therefore the insights and perspectives of this review come from the standpoint of someone who is looking into a new culture they have never experienced before. I feel this does not make my opinions any less valid, though – I believe that any art form is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes we need fresh and naive perspectives to start new conversations. I would highly recommend reading James’s essay on his piece, as well as the ABC’s and the Canberra Times’s articles on his work to get different perspectives from the creator himself and various media outlets that may be quite eye-opening for a dance piece that is, I believe, very open to interpretation. That’s what makes contemporary art so interesting – you find your own meaning in it.

When I think of the concept of deep space, I think of emptyness, vastness – a complete vacuum of utter darkness. Deepspace explores that vastness, that freedom, within confines. It might seem contradictory, but one of the genius bits about this performance is the seemingly chaotic nature of it – the two performers together with the audience on stage, making trails through the crowd, requiring the vigilance of the audience to help move them away and around the dancers – contrasted with the tension and limitation of both the physical surroundings and the body. The performance is confined by the edge of the stage, the floor, the furthest walls, ropes, the dips and bulges of the human body, the gravity and movement and orbit of the dancers around each other, mirrored by the orbiting of two balls. The piece explores, even in situations that seem to replicate complete freedom, there is always a tension of forces acting upon each object, each person. From wild movements through the audience, to small, extremely intimate moments, Deepspace is totally enthralling.

I took my grandmother to her ‘first contemporary dance piece in, oh my, it must be 30 years, at least!’, a bit worried that she had mixed up contemporary dance with classical ballet and would be disappointed and confused to find this was no Romeo and Juliet. When we were taken through, single file, to mingle up on stage, with no chairs in sight, I was even more apprehensive about her experience of the Canberra Theatre. As relieved as she was to finally sit down in the car after the hour-long performance, her reaction completely surprised me. ‘I actually really liked it,’ was her response, and we both conceded that the apprehension about standing for an hour in heels on stage whilst watching Deepspace wasn’t really justified. Neither of us had felt the time going past – once you entered the world of Deepspace you were captivated. Even if neither of us had anything to compare it to, both found the hour extremely visually stimulating and physically engaging. The audience was required to move to see each moment in its intricacy or to move out of the way of bodies or ropes or balls. I found myself watching the faces of two primary school age children, sat on the floor, completely entranced by the movements and intensities of the performance. Despite initially feeling completely out of place, a what-are-you-doing-here sort of imposter syndrome, I enjoyed it immensely.

I think what I’m getting at here is that this a piece to see, no matter your experience with contemporary dance. Unfortunately for us in Canberra, James’s performance was a once-off, but Brisbane will have the pleasure of hosting his next stop on 23 Feb (you can find out more HERE). I very much look forward to experiencing his choreography whenever Canberra gets him next.

*Disclaimer: I attended Deepspace as a guest of the Canberra Theatre Centre, however, all opinions are my own. You can check out my disclosure policy HERE.