No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Dance Reviews

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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Review Brief: The Check Point Solo

The Check Point Solo starts in the silence of the Warehouse space at Metro Arts, the only accompaniment a soft hum of the lighting and footsteps falling in the corridor outside.  Rhiannon Newton begins to narrate her story, snatches of life through a year of travels.  As she begins to dance, we hear her feet slide and scuff along the floorboards, squeaks emitted as feet grip and are wrenched out of position.

As Newton jerks her body, moving each joint individually on its hinge, we hear the soft creaks and cracks of a worked dancers body, joints chip over each other, echo through the room.  The music comes in, Newton moving with the music, catching and bending with the beats.  Then, as if this jerkiness was nothing at all, Newton transitions into a smooth fluidity, breaks of the joints melt away as she flows through the space; a transition of grip to release showing us the variation in Newton’s skill just as the tension begins to wear.

I often found myself drifting through the narrative scenes, not completely aware of their location and connections.  Some choreography becomes repetitive, and while Newton and director/co-choreographer Jo Pollitt use the depth of the space well, there is little variation and elevation in the performer.  Short, coming in shy of half-an-hour, yet intensive on Newton, her breath heavy in the final scenes, The Check Point Solo is a gentle work for the audience.  Some unevenness in execution, it is the interesting dynamic of Newton’s jolting limbs which carries the show.

Brisbane Festival presents Under The Radar featuring The Check Point Solo, concept and direction by Jo Pollit.  Performer Rhiannon Newton, choreography Jo Pillit and Rhiannon Newton, photography by Rhiannoon Newton.  In The Warehouse, Metro Arts, Brisbane.  Season closed.

Review: Mortal Engine

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

On an impossible rake, the dancers’ bodies writhe, their hips seemingly disconnected from their upper body as their spine twists, bending over and out of itself. Bent over, arms creeping out, fingers and hands make awkward spirals as they separate from the body; energy pulses through their legs, flicking and whisking over the air: the uneven distribution of power between lower and upper body has a reptilian quality, dinosaurs have taken the stage.

Mortal Engine is a curious beast, more about the technology than the dancers.  This isn’t to detract from the dancers’ powers, yet I was struck at curtain call how little I recognised any of the performers from the piece I had just seen.  Not only are the dancers curled on themselves and each other, they are often encased by shadow – the bright white surrounding their mass highlighting the crush of a dancer’s body, rather than the individual peculiars.

Innately responding to the dancers’ positions, the lights and shadows bend and play around the dancers: a new dancer itself, a whole new character.  The human dancers are the lead, but the projector builds the image, creates the work on their form.

As pairs dance together they meld into one body: one leg here, one arm there, a head bending over this, limbs no longer belong to an individual, but to a mass of the dance.  Within the projections, within light and dark, spots scuttling across the stage, fluorescent tubes cycling in synchronicity, movement of the dancers is appreciated in the response of the projection, rather than a single entity.

The sound design reverberates through the theatre, the echo of shaking fittings becoming almost as much a part of the soundscape as the booming pulse itself.  Here, too, the sound isn’t content to just be sound pre-designed to which the dancers to keep time.  Here, the sound keeps time to the dancers, intimately playing with the dancers’ bodies and with the projection, building up a work so strong in structure but powerful in spontaneity, in constantly deferral to other elements.

At times, the dancers leave the stage and we are left with lasers and music, playing out their own dance.  This isn’t frustrating, as you perhaps would expect of a dance show with no dancers, rather it highlights the light and sound is as much as an intimate and discrete beast as any of the dancers themselves.

Mortal Engine plays with the physical limits of its dancers, in our understanding of the capabilities of technology. It is a constant play, interface between video, laser, music and dancer.  Constantly building and stripping away on itself, it is simply incredible.

Brisbane Festival 2011 and Queesland Performing Arts Centre present Mortal Engine by Chunky Move.  Director and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, interactive system designer Frieder Weiss, laser and sound artist Robin Fox, composer Ben Frost, costume designer Paula Levis, lighting designer Damien Cooper, set designers Richard Dinnen and Gideon Obarzanek.  With Kristy Ayre, Sara Black, Amber Haines, Anthony Hamilton, Rennie McDougall and Marnie Palomares.

Thoughts: Myth; or, art, feminism, and the critical juncture.

Subtitled “A study on the female species” (perplexingly omitting the word “of”) Erin Fowler’s Myth is a danced commentary on visions and stereotypes of women over time.   Fowler with co-choreographers and performers Jessie Oshodi and Mikaila Roe dance their way through images of this species: ancient perceptions of a goddess; 50s ideals of a housewife; Barbies to be manipulated; nothing more than a tease for men. Presentation of these images accompanies spoken text written by Fowler, the documentary style of Patrick Clements’ voice observing these women.

The small stage and flat seating of Nexus is hardly conducive to a good dance presentation, but Fowler, Oshodi and Roe all do well containing themselves within the space, without seeming constrained, and stay away from too much low and floor work.

The three emerging artists are technically strong, although at times sections of choreography had a tendency to delve into presentation of steps to show technique, rather than working off a through line from the choreography.  Regardless, much of the choreography is intriguing and does well to show off the strengths of the still young dancers: Oshodi particularly strong with a powerful presence in her jumps.

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Review: Worldhood (And: On the fallibility of being a critic)

Worldhood. Photo Chris Herzfeld Camlight Productions 2011

This review was originally published at Australian Stage Online

Darkness. Silence. Through the dim, white. A large blank page, several meters high by nearly the stage wide. In front, sits the stage. Empty.

Enter visual artist Thom Buchanan. To the white, he brings fast and furious strokes of charcoal. The theatre fills with the scratch and scrape of charcoal against paper, the breath of Buchanan, amplified, echoing around and around the space. The page fills with vertical lines, Buchanan swiftly crafting a forced perspective, the audience finding themselves peering down a city street.

As Buchanan draws he ducks and rises, his whole body mimicking the geometry of his hand and the charcoal he draws with.

Dancer Tara Soh walks on to the stage, watching with intent the rapid creation of a black backdrop, as she begins to follow Buchanan. As he drops, she drops. As he shifts up, right, down, right, left, she shifts up, right, down, right, left.

As she moves out of this holding pattern, Soh continues to create patterns and forms in response to the heightening intensity of sound, as the strike of charcoal and the sharpness of breath continues to intensify in the space. Her body moves in sharp lines and angles.

Other dancers begin to join and fill the space, their bodies too moving and bending with sharp cracks along lines, moving angles and moving planes. Hands grab, arms interlock, bodies in a mass move across the space.

The sound of Buchanan drops away, and as if the voice over to a documentary, we are told about the history of marks, of the precursors to image. Of angles, of composition, of the eventual discovery of how to create a perception of depth on a two dimensional plane.

And that’s just the first fifteen minutes.
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Review: Don Quixote

In just an absolute credit to this company and this production, when I left all I wanted to do (after 1. Go back for acts 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, and 2. Figure out how to break into the after party – needless to say, neither plan came to fruition) was to go and write about it.  And then when I started to write, I wrote 600 words in the blink of an eye, and still felt the absolute need to come back the next day and write more.  I don’t remember the last time I feel such an absolute positive crave to review.  Thank you.

The Australian Ballet presents The Dancers Company
Don Quixote
Brenton Langbein Theatre, Tanunda 31/07/10

The Dancers Company is the regional touring arm of the Australian Ballet, and this year’s tour of Don Quixote marks the 30thanniversary of the company.  Comprised of 26 students in their final years at the Australian Ballet School along with guest artists from the ballet itself, the company is much more than just a student production or graduate showcase.  To begin with, the students are contracted to the tour, and are paid as professional dancers.   The tour gives students an invaluable experience in working for a company and touring, and being exclusively regional, it gives audiences which are otherwise unlikely to see the ballet an opportunity.  (Even if, I’m guessing a not insignificant number of audience members at the Tununda performance were people who drove up from the city for the event.)

Dana Stephensen with company members. Photography by Jim McFarlane.

Because of this, a ballet like Don Quixote is perfect for the Dancers Company: it has lots of individual characters, medium sized groups, and pieces for the whole company.  And as well as being a beautiful ballet choreographically, the structure of the story leads for much acting on behalf of all performers, and the company amply rises to the occasion.

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Review: The Silver Rose

Presented by the Australian Ballet
At the Adelaide Festival Centre, July 17 2010

For at least the past six years, I have been seeing the Adelaide season of the Australian Ballet twice: once at the final dress rehearsal, and once during the season. Beyond the fun of being privy to the dress rehearsal, straining your ears to hear direction, I love seeing it twice, once from the Dress Circle and once from the Stalls, getting a chance to appreciate things you perhaps didn’t the first time, and the best result is when you are lucky enough to see two casts.

Wonderful costumes by Roger Kirk.

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