Angela Goh’s solo exploration into the void is a gem. It doesn’t have the glamorous bling factor of diamonds, being worlds away from that kind of display, but is a precious object nevertheless. Let’s call it a black opal. Sky Blue Mythic first emerged as a 20-minute work seen as one of the 2020 finalists in the extremely prestigious and extremely valuable Keir Choreographic Award. It was no surprise to see it emerge as the winner. The question a bit over a year later was whether Sky Blue Mythic could bear the weight of being expanded to three times its original length while retaining the ethereal, other-worldly atmosphere that made it so strange and fascinating. Yes, it could.
Angela Goh in Sky Blue Mythic. Photograph © Prudence Upton
I was sorry to see that the description of Sky Blue Mythic on the Sydney Opera House website fails entirely to match that given at the time of the Keir finals at Carriageworks because the earlier statement of intent is so delicious. This is what I wrote about that statement then: Curtains open, it starts. (There is no curtain.) There is no dance being performed on the stage. (This is true at the beginning.) The dance that is not being performed is a ballet, Giselle. (This is also true.) Magic.
Now Sky Blue Mythic is described as presenting dance “as a presence unhinged from the body” and “troubling the boundaries of what we know as dance and what we know as human”. I would argue that Goh’s piece does exactly the opposite, but then that is part of the beauty of dance, and contemporary dance in particular. There can be as many meanings as audience members (and choreographers). I would also argue the original statement is still perfectly valid.
Sky Blue Mythic is a meditative piece that proceeds at an exquisitely measured pace. It’s not the almost imperceptible progress of butoh but there is something of that feel in Goh’s extraordinary control. Not a single action feels unnecessary and she moves with a silken quality that defies the forces of gravity and friction. She falls to the floor noiselessly and just that bit more slowly than you would expect, for instance, and swivels on one knee as if propelled by a small unseen revolve. That she can do these things without any sense of effort or show is essential to the meaning of Sky Blue Mythic. To this audience member Goh is exploring precisely the boundaries of what the body can do and what it means to be human in an alien environment. The body and the humanity are one.
Even though Sydney Opera House staff offer ear plugs as one enters the theatre and even though Corin Ileto’s brilliant score is played at a fairly high volume as it punctuates frequent silences, Sky Blue Mythic is fundamentally whisper-quiet. It requires from its viewers a state of surrender to its delicacies and mysteries. Its view of time allows and requires that attention be paid to the detail – the outstretching of hands, the turn of Goh’s head as she gazes at the audience, the expression that is both impassive and far-seeing, the way she blinks and when she blinks, the sudden and never repeated balletic bourées to one corner (Giselle!), the gorgeous (and Swan Lake-like) arm and hand gestures, the amoeba-like contortions on the floor, the exploratory steps taken one lunge at a time.
And on it goes, this sense of a person alone in a potentially hostile universe facing it with courage, intelligence, inquiry and fortitude. Wonderful.
Sky Blue Mythic plays at The Studio, Sydney Opera House, until 29 May