In this new work from choreographer Narelle Benjamin, two solos, individually crafted for the amazing dancers Kristina Chan and Sara Black, are performed in the same space with separate but overlapping timelines. The audience sits in traverse, and a large floor projection accompanies the dance.

Nellie looked towards photos by the American photographer Francesca Woodman as one of her key inspirations – and I was excited by Woodman’s use of long exposures and the textures of her spaces and props to create smudges and blurs and other obfuscations within her frame. There are absolutely stunning, and haunting, images in her collection that show her body effaced in part by torn wallpaper or the movement of a piece of plastic. I was excited by these images because of the textural element they suggested and the way they engaged with the body.

Nellie’s choreography is a fast-moving, complex, highly dynamic language that references her training in yoga and Shaolin martial arts. There is a lot of floorwork; the dancers’ bodies require access to extremes of extension in their limbs and torsos. These are challenging mechanics to work with in costume design. But the specific physicality of her choreography also emphasises the expressiveness of certain parts of the body over others – the chest and ribs, shoulder sockets pulled open, hinges and folds of the hips… while faces remain withdrawn or obscured. Understanding her choreography on this level was also an important part of approaching the costume design: it is part of the challenge of designing for dance. You are dressing the body in movement – but not any old movement; movement which crafts specific ideas about what a body is and does. This, in the end, is what choreography is about.

The design incorporates layers of transparency, and uses lots of hand-dyed and painted silk/lycra, that could reveal small articulations of the spine, for example, and could register speed in its fluidity. Use of pleating helped provide structure while maintaining softness. There are some clear references to Woodman, also to the ribs of kung fu fans which are used in the piece, and which I felt often registered as extensions of the dancers’ bodies.

Winner 2015 Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography


Choreographer: Narelle Benjamin
Performers: Kristina Chan and Sara Black
Video projection: Samuel James
Music Composition: Huey Benjamin
Lighting Design: Karen Norris
Costume Design: Justine Shih Pearson
Fan Design: Victoria Brown

Hiding in Plain Sight was supported by Critical Path.

Pictures from the recent season at CarriageWorks Contemporary Art Centre, presented by Performance Space. http://performancespace.com.au/events/hiding/


Powerful and haunting. This is a most intriguing, fascinating and absorbing work. Artshub

Th[e] quality of effortless movement is extended through the versatility of the costumes: bodies covered but never lost. Together they deliver other patterns through dancing with fans: the art of not revealing. RealTime

It’s common in dance these days that costuming seems to be an afterthought or completely wrong for a piece. But Justine’s costumes were sensitive, coupling perfectly with the idea of memory and emotional emanations on stage. Clothes draped on the bodies like silken cauls, light enough for the dancers’ physical and psychological intent to emerge. The couture level in the making of the clothes really worked for a piece that was elegant and viewed close up. Charemaine Seet

And an interview with dancer Kristina Chan

photo by Sam James
photo by Heidrun Löhr
photo by Heidrun Löhr
photo by Heidrun Löhr
photo by Heidrun Löhr
photo by Heidrun Löhr
c Justine Shih Pearson
photo by Heidrun Löhr
c Justine Shih Pearson
photo by Heidrun Löhr
photo by Heidrun Löhr