No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Dance Reviews

Review: The Moon’s a Balloon


The propensity for children to believe in magic is marvelous. They watch theatre with a sense of wonderment, not trying to figure out the trickery or catch the misdirection, but content with a belief that what they’re watching is real. To create a sense of wonder and mysticism in The Moon’s a Balloon, though, Patch Theatre Company uses something better than magic: they use science.

In its most compelling scene, dancer Rob Griffin moves around a solitary balloon, with just enough helium that it lightly skims on the top of the ground. Griffin deftly moves his body around the balloon, and his manipulation of the air surrounding it causes the balloon to move and appear sentient, creating a enchanting duet.

With dancer Katrina Lazaroff, the pair play with balloons that have been weighted and would sit in the palm of your hand, and balloons that extend meters in diameter and softly repel against the ground before falling back to earth. They run with helium balloons, their strings pulled taught to appear solid. Strings are dislodged and balloons fly up into the rafters; weighted balloons fall back down to earth.

Firmly embedded in dance theatre, this textless physical work feels like significant new territory for the company, while still feeling very much of the repertoire. The work was collaboratively created by the dancers and the rest of the creative team, and Lazaroff has previously created dance work for children in Skip also being featured in this year’s Come Out Festival – and it’s exciting to see this audience for the form being engaged in Adelaide.

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Review: Opal Vapour


Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal performs Opal Vapour entirely on top of a rectangular plinth. Through playing with the layer of sand this is reveled to be a lightbox, glowing in tones of blue, purple and red. Through projection and lighting (lighting image and design by Paula van Beck) our eyes are drawn through the work to different images: to the physicality of Tyas Tunggal’s performance, to Ria Soemarjo’s deft fingers are work on the viola or a drum, to a shadowed projection lifting the image of Tyas Tunggal from above.

The work has a unique choreographic vocabulary, a meeting of contemporary dance and traditional practices, primarily from Indonesia. Throughout the work, Tyas Tunggal plays with a duality of images. Paired with the soft flow as the wrists circle and the fingers glide over unseen surfaces is a face held taut. Her eyes look out beyond the performance; out into some nether space that we can’t view. She often appears to be unavoidably responding to an external stimulus, not entirely in control of her own body.

In another scene, above the stage we see only her the shadow against a background of blue. In this space she seems to be floating weightless in water, her limbs only responding to the flow of the liquid: her body calm and relinquished into the quiet control of the sea. Look down at Tyas Tunggal as she lies on the block and performs these movements, though, you see the physical precision that this imagery demands. Her limbs, far from being weightless, are tense: muscles held in rigidity as she tightly controls their movement. We are simultaneously given images of the tranquil and the tense, a manufactured image and the effort gone in to create it.

Ria Soemarjo’s voice is haunting, it plays against the bowed and plucked strings of the viola in a way that doesn’t quite feel real: the music feels foreign but grounded in something innately comfortable. Perhaps it is the blending of the familiar viola, or the melding of this vocal style with English lyrics.

Over the course of the work the wooden floor of the Waterside Workers Hall is blanketed in a fine layer of sand. As Tyas Tunggal kicks and throws the sand off her platform with force, the small particles only go on to quietly fall back to earth in a soft cover.

From the audience, the work in many ways feels meditative. With only two performers, it is easy for your mind to wander and mine frequently did. But the work remains there open for you to come back in and seamlessly join back in. Tyas Tunggal’s choreography powerful and enticing, she swirls your mind up into worlds and images, before dropping you back to earth.

Opal Vapour has come to Adelaide through Performing Lines’ Mobile States tour, a national touring program that allows independent practitioners to be seen in capital cities and regional centres. These productions were previously shown in Adelaide at the Adelaide Festival Centre, but when they dropped the presentation arm of their inSPACE program not only did we lose a performance space for local practitioners, we also lost the tours of these works from interstate. Vitalstatistix has now taken over the program, and it isn’t without some oddities. A Table of Knowledge is being presented with Vitals and Country Arts SA’s arrangement with Performing Lines’ Road Work,  in Noarlunga but not in Port Adelaide (that’s twice as far away from the city, in the opposite direction); Jack Charles vs The Crown is also being presented in Noarlunga by Country Arts SA and Road Work, but not by Vitals in Port Adelaide.

This aside, however, it’s good to see this work back in Adelaide, and primarily being presented in a space that is much more flexible and responsive to the work that the AFC could be. Opal Vapour could have been swallowed by the Space Theatre. It’s critically important for Adelaide’s artists that these works are coming to our city: to both expand the types of performance they are seeing, but to build audiences that are also understanding of national trends and practitioners. Opal Vapour is only a drop in the hat of the national landscape; let’s all hope it leads to more.

Vitalstatistix and Mobile States presents Opal Vapour, directed, choreographed and performed by Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal. Live and recorded music composition / music performance Ria Soemardjo, light and image design / operation Paula van Beck, production manager / sound operator Amy Bagshaw. At Waterside Workers Hall until May 12. More information and tickets.

Then Perth, Hobart, Cairns, Mackay, Brisbane, Canberra and Blacktown. More information.

Art in a space/of a space, and AdlFringe Review: Cultural Isolation

I’ve long been arguing around Adelaide – although perhaps not on this blog – that the two types of art works that this city feels to be best at making as a response to the place itself are documentary films and street art.

Peter Drew, now based in Glasgow, created Adelaide’s Forgotten Outlaws street art pieces: paste-ups around the city of mug shots of 1920s Adelaide criminals. The project not only paired a current Adelaide against its past, but it also took residents to look more keenly at city walls and ally ways – looking out for another poster, comparing favourites.

2011 feature film Six on the Street [full film at link] was a remarkably assured debut from director Kieran Eliis-Jones and a collective of music lovers and filmmakers. At 100 minutes it runs quite long, but the insight the team give to Adelaide makes that length forgivable. It takes both a celebratory eye to the bands and the musicians, and a critical eye to the city and the current frameworks they have to exist in.

Six on the Street was produced by Sam Wright, who went on to produce the Moving Music tour, another work that throws a beautiful light upon this city. When I interviewed Wright about the work, he described wanting Moving Music to throw new light on the city. On the recent tour, we travelled from the bright afternoon sun on Rundle Street to the Torrens, up to North Adelaide, before ending up on night time Peel Street. Wright and design collective Fascination Street, working with local visual artists and musicians, built installations that existed only as long as the festival itself – had you wondered by the next day, they would have been gone. But what really made Moving Music was when it was able to integrate itself alongside the city: the vocals of Hurricanes’ Tara Lynch accompanied by birdsong in the Cross of Sacrifice Memorial Gardens; Naomi Keyte’s music augmented by the thumpthump of cars overhead and the tickticktickticktick of bikes being wheeled behind under City Bridge by the Torrens.

These pieces by Drew, Ellis-Jones, and Wright all work so well not only because they exist physically in the city, but because they are products of and responses to the places they find themselves in. Ellis-Jones records this world on film to be seen anywhere, Drew and Wright demand a presence to be most fully appreciated, but they all share a specificity to Adelaide at their core.

Arts SA and the City Council are trying to support more artistic works that occur specifically in the city, away from theatrical stages and gallery walls, through Unexpected City and Splash Adelaide, respectively, the latter of which supported Moving Music. For these projects to work to their fullest potential, both schemes must seek to support work that exists of this city, and not merely in it.

Unfortunately, this is where the Splash Adelaide supported Cultural Isolation falls down. The dance piece in this year’s Fringe directed and choreographed by Fiona Gardner sees its audience walking down North Terrace, stopping at various locations for short dance works, yet never truly integrates itself into the city spaces. We are left with a work that exists in exception to the city, rather than in response to it.

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Review: Pari Passu … touch

When we think of screens now so often we think of touch screens, of shiny veneers which respond directly to a swipe here, a pinch here. The trouble with this concept is it is a process which is almost entirely devoid of what touch can truly be: responsive, personal, instinctive to movement. The way we touch something is modulated through the response, the feel, the shape of the thing we are touching. A touch screen will always feel the same sleek surface. We’re touching them, yes. But it’s a faked touch. Harsh. Unemotional. Unconnected.

I found Leigh Warren’s Pari Passu … touch this same feeling. As soon as you place a word in a title (the beginning, Pari Passu, is Latin for “on equal footing”) of course there are parallels which an audience will place onto the work. So where I looked for touch, I saw very little. The four performers danced with near no emotion on their faces, concentrating on the technique to the loss of the touch.  Even as the dancers paired, the touch seemed lacking. They are physically touching each other, yes, but is this extending beyond the machinations of choreography?  A grab here, a lift there: but was there a feeling behind the touch? Or is that all we have now? The fakeness of a technological response; touching without being touched.

The singular exception was Lisa Griffiths in a solo bringing a slight but object joy as she looked out at the audience with a flittering smile on her face. These moments of the performance immediately elevated the work, bringing that connection which can be behind a touch to the work. Unfortunately, at the same time, it highlights the lack of emotion through the rest of the work.

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Review: Involuntary

In the ongoing spirit of “embeddedness“, I interviewed Lazaroff while she was in rehearsals for this work. You can read my interview with her here at RealTime.

Dancer Veronica Shum is a picture of intense concentration, a devotion to the exacting choreography. These movements aren’t involuntary: they are highly choreographed, highly controlled, highly trained, highly rehearsed.

And yet, as Shum raises her leg to the height of her extension, there is a soft, involuntary shudder which ripples through her strong leg muscles.

As she stretches her foot, her arch is raised, her toes point to their full extent and there is a shiver we can see move through the ligaments as they curl around her bones.

Here, at the peak of a highly rehearsed movement, there is the smallest hint of Shum’s involuntary reactions.

These small moments are just that: small. But in some ways, they are the strongest in Katrina Lazaroff’s Involuntary. Lazaroff’s work, part commentary, more humourous observations, draws parallels between physical reactions which we have no control over and a society which is increasingly regulated to the point where we have no choice but to scroll five pages down and click “I Agree.”

And it is interesting to speak about those things in a work which, as necessitated by its form, are highly structured and measured. While we may feel the pressure of the clocks ticking on our lives as we notice the weeks are getting shorter and the things to be done in them are getting bigger, these dancers have one hour of dance to do in one hour. The lighting will change when it needs to, the projection will shift on the right beat, the dancers will move across the stage the way they have for weeks in rehearsals. And so in a work about the involuntary, the peeks at something small, yet involuntary (even if occurring as an exacting result of an exact choreography) become something amplified well above their usual worth.

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Fringe Review: Skip

One Point 618 is a local dance theatre company, creating work for both adult and young audiences. Skip forms part of their educational program – a short dance work for young children directed by Katrina Lazaroff based around two friends (Rebecca Bainger and Emma Stokes) who, while out playing, come across a field of sneakers which seem to have magical powers.

As they leap from pair to pair, the friends find themselves taken over by the shoes, and act in a way that perhaps they didn’t expect. From shoes that make them dance, to shoes that make them feel like their feet are on fire, to shoes that make them sing, the couple run around the stage making all manner of fun.

A logical role of the shoes (as logical as one can be with anything expressing some sort of magic) is never completely firmed down. At times the same shoes seem to convey different dance styles in the wearer; the power balance between the shoes and the dancers is variable; sometimes the same shoes are used in different roles. But perhaps this picking on Skip for some confused logic is being persnickety, for the role of this work is not to explore the power of footwear, but to revel in the fun of dance.

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Fringe Review: Dining Uns-table

Cloé Fournier lies supine, suspended over two wooden chairs that on top of a dinner table.   Her body taut, muscles contract, feet flex. Her head whips towards the audience. “Shut up.”

“Shut up.”

“Shut up.”

This woman has been hurt.  Over the next forty minutes we watch as she tries to confront the demons of her family’s past, in particular her relationship with her abusive father, and piece together how she can put together her life.

As Fournier’s tall frame and muscular limbs contract and relax, you can see the power in her body. It’s an interesting body for a dancer, and Fournier treats it with quite a brutality as she whips an arm around this way, a leg around that, and throws her body to the floor.  In the small space you can see every fleck of Fournier’s skin ripple with the effects of her movement and its powered beauty.

Through the piece Fournier transitions from these momentous bursts of energy, limbs cracking and body flinging, to moments of quiet rigidity, legs bending and buckling as she slowly and carefully teeters.

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Festival Review: Gardenia

This review was originally published on ArtsHub

Gardenia is overwhelming in its quietness and subtlety. This isn’t a show of outrageous chorus numbers; instead it gently carries its audience across 105 minutes of beauty. Every step feels so carefully placed, so deliberate, as if our performers are taking us by the hands and leading us through this world.

It is the last night of a drag club, the Gardenia Cabaret, and as soon as the audience is asked to stand for a moment’s silence for a member of the Cabaret lost, the cast has us in their hands. This simple task of uniting an audience not through spectacle, not through humour, but through uncomplicated reverence binds us collectively in the space, and you can feel the audience trained, uncompromisingly, on the cast.

The stage, wooden tiles on a steep rake, opens to eight suited figures: we see them first as old men, wearied by the world. They are introduced to us one by one, transgender women who were once drag stars, admired by many men. After they take their bow they shuffle across the space, sensible office shoes scuffing across the floor to Steven Prengels’ emotive music, which constantly drives and changes through the piece, incorporating snatches of movie soundtracks, classical compositions, and popular music.

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Festival Review: Malmö

This review contains spoilers. 

Malmö is about the art of building a home.

Or, perhaps, the competitive sport of building a home.

An external reflection of ourselves, we are told; a 3D encapsulation of what makes you you.

For their Adelaide presentation of Malmö, Torque Show could not have found a better location. The old Waterside Wokers Hall, home to Vitalstatistix, is currently undergoing renovation of its own. Regular visitors to the space will notice differences to the space starting to take shape, and for those who aren’t familiar with the space, you only need to look up to see the paint switches left before the next round of renovations begins.

A show about renovations in a space which is being renovated: now, what was that saying about life and art?

Malmö is a pice of interactive dance theatre: adorning name tags, we are greeted familiarly by name by Vincent Crowley and Ingrid Weisfelt as we enter the space. Up off our stools we pick up our copy of MALMÖ: IDEAL LIFE – the lifestyle / decoration / interiors / art / architecture / entertaining / travel magazine – and we sit down.

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Festival Review: Proximity

Film and performance implicitly train our eyes in different ways. While a cinematographer has the power of framing and depth of focus to train our eyes to a particular moment or person, on stage everything is in frame at the same time. Through the use of lighting, blocking, and/or choreography the director can help guide where to look, what moments of a scene or movement should be capturing to our eye, but ultimately the theatre audience has choice: are they watching the primary performer, are they studying detail in the design, are they watching members of the ensemble?

Garry Stewart’s Proximity for the Australian Dance Theatre combines live dance work from an ensemble of nine, with live video art and manipulation by Thomas Pachoud. With a combination of stagnant cameras and cameras manipulated by the cast, a live feed of the dancers is projected onto screens taking up the back of the stage. Pachoud manipulates these images, creating looping and overlap of sections of video, creating the illusion of a moving performance space, or with lines that play and intersect with the dancers’ bodies.

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