No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Dance

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.

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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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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