Review: Our: Land People Stories (Bangarra Dance Theatre)

bangarraVenue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jun 16 – Jul 9, 2016
Choreographers: Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, Beau Dean Riley-Smith, Jasmin Sheppard
Cast: Waangenga Blanco, Deborah Brown, Luke Currie-Richardson, Tyrel Dulvarie, Tara Gower, Rikka Hamaguchi, Elma Kris, Yolanda Lowatta, Rikki Mason, Leonard Mickelo, Daniel Riley, Beau Dean Riley-Smith, Tara Robertson, Nicole Sabatino, Jasmin Sheppard, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Glory Tuohy-Daniell
Image by Wendell Teodoro

Theatre review
Three separate works are featured in Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Our: Land People Stories, each with a distinct flavour but unified by discipline, culture and history. Independently striking in style, they tell different stories of the Indigenous experience through the medium of dance at its most progressive and adventurous. Sumptuously designed by the formidable trio of Matt Cox (lights), Jennifer Irwin (costumes) and Jacob Nash (sets), the production is a feast for the eyes, brilliantly polished, with a level of sophistication that any theatre company would be envious of.

Jasmin Sheppard’s Macq is an analysis of the 1816 massacre of D’harawal people at Appin, 75km south of Sydney, and Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s complicity in the incident. It is an expression of British imperialism, specific to the carnage of two hundred years ago, but also serves as representation of the ongoing invasion of Aboriginal land and peoples that our society struggles to rectify. Imagery of death, sorrowfully depicted, provides the piece with an intense poignancy, and Daniel Riley’s performance as the governor amplifies its question of humanity by bringing an unexpected complexity to the tale.

Miyagan is about kinship, inspired by the cultural heritage of the Wiradjuri nation, of which its choreographers Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley-Smith belong. Mythology is given redefinition. Through this new manifestation, age-old stories are offered new life, and we see current generations relating to those ancient themes and ideas from a time and space that is real and personal. The dancers experience those narratives in their flesh and in their minds, and the audience shares in their ephemeral theatrical inhabitation of the Wiradjuri ethos. Also remarkable is music by Paul Mac, sensitively blending traditional with contemporary sounds, for a perfect accompaniment to an exciting movement vocabulary that contains more than a hint of hip hop.

Nyapanyapa Yunupingu is one of Aboriginal art’s biggest stars, and her story is put to dance in Stephen Page’s Nyapanyapa. Inspired by her paintings and set to oral stories thoughtfully incorporated into the soundtrack of the 44 minute epic, we are presented a work about the wondrous relationship between woman and nature, as observed through the life of the respected Yolngu elder from the Gumatj clan of North East Arnhem Land. Dancer Elma Kris is deeply endearing in the lead role, full of vital spirituality and an irresistible stage presence. The ensemble’s cohesiveness and their unity of message are a hallmark of the company, and luminously apparent in the piece.

In Australia, we rely on Indigenous cultures to give our art its soul. There is nothing that can replace history and age when we wish for art to be rich in essence and meaning, and it is people like those in the Bangarra company who are uniquely able to bring to materiality something bigger than economics, politics and even science. Theirs is a philosophy that is beyond the constraints of time, and speaks only with truth and depth. What they put on stage is sacred, but how the audience chooses to interpret is an important part of that equation, and it is that very act of listening that is crucial to the path of our collective civilisation.

www.bangarra.com.au

Review: Tropical Hypeisms‏ (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

pactVenue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), Jan 13 – 16, 2016
Choreographer: Caroline Garcia
Cast: Caroline Garcia

Theatre review
Discussing the effects of colonisation on many of our racial identities is a highly complicated one. It requires an understanding of histories/herstories that we might be able to research and study, but will ultimately involve nostalgic longings of an imagined past that can no longer be wholly authentic. Caroline Garcia is a post-colonial artist interested in the evolution of identities based on ideas of gender and ethnicity as they relate to the Westernisation of cultures. Tropical Hypeisms is a work that appreciates the complexities of those concepts and makes representations that are similarly intricate and elaborate.

There is certainly no watering down of what the artist wishes to say, which means that deciphering her consolidation of symbols can be challenging. Garcia rejects conventional approaches of berating and castigating the forces of domination, and attempts to present a personal conception and experience of what it is like to be outside of the mainstream, and the results are truly unique. Her show is charming yet bold, with a sensational cocktail of sounds and music by Mei Saraswati, and costumes by Matthew Stegh providing an aesthetic that is quite close to being original. Lighting could perhaps assist better with some of the more languid portions of the production, but Garcia ultimately wins us over with charisma, and the confident physicality of every sensual dance.

Invoking Carmen Miranda and Josephine Baker, Tropical Hypeisms is an exercise in locating the self through the deities and divas of one’s choosing. We look into mirrors that do not lie, but how we receive its reflective messages depends on what we want to see. We can accept the impositions of social norms and their requirements, or we can turn against them, to investigate something that corresponds with what we believe to be true. It is a question of soul, and of getting to the heart of the matter.

www.pact.net.au

Review: Ochres (Bangarra Dance Theatre)

bangarraVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Nov 27 – Dec 5, 2015
Choreographers: Russell Page, Stephen Page, Bernadette Walong-Sene (with traditional choreography by Djakapurra Munyarryun)
Cast: Elma Kris, Yolande Brown, Deborah Brown, Waangenga Blanco, Tara Gower, Leonard Mickelo, Daniel Riley, Jasmin Sheppard, Tara Robertson, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Luke Currie-Richardson, Nicola Sabatino, Beau Dean Riley Smit, Rikki Mason, Yolanda Lowatta, Rika Hamaguchi
Image by Zan Wimberley

Theatre review
Traditional Aboriginal practices often involve ochre, a material of great cultural significance most notably used as a colouring substance in art and ceremony. In Bangarra Dance Theatre’s four-act production Ochres, the substance is applied on bodies to represent a connection with ancestry and culture; the same bodies communicate with impressive presence and energy, powerful meanings about the land on which we live. As a non-narrative theatrical form, dance is often inseparable from spirituality. It is concerned with establishing meaning through a language that often circumvents the cerebral, to reach a universal faculty of purity, regardless of experience and creed.

Ochres was first performed 21 years ago. Its choreography (by Djakapurra Munyarryun, Russell Page, Stephen Page and Bernadette Walong-Sene) is informed by traditional Aboriginal dance and by contemporary, balletic Western styles, reflecting the dual nature of modern Aboriginal Australia. At the centre of the work is a meditation on time, with its evocation of the past blended into a portrayal of the present, and positioned alongside an inquiry into the future.

It is a confident and proud work that imposes on the stage, an identity characterised by qualities of fortitude, strength and intelligence, performed sensitively by a captivating ensemble, cohesive in technique and sensibility. A harmony in the group provides the work with its quiet but resolute poignancy, beautifully supported by a highly-accomplished design team. Jennifer Irwin’s costumes, Jacob Nash’s set and Joseph Mercurio’s lights, all contribute to the visual excellence of Ochres. Music by David Page brims with soulful creativity, magnificently showcased by superior technical facilities of the Carriageworks auditorium.

In the years between Ochres‘ première and its revival today, Bangarra Dance Theatre has gradually moved into the mainstream, bringing its unique voice to audiences far and wide, entertaining and enlightening us no matter who we are, or where we have come from. Its message of peace is inherent in its artistic ideology, and the part it plays in continuing efforts of reconciliation is not to be underestimated. Our response to a seminal work like Ochres must be correspondingly celebratory, and with all the support and respect that it rightfully deserves.

www.bangarra.com.au

Review: Reflections (Primal Dance Company)

primaldanceVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 13, 2015
Choreographer: Alyssa Casey
Cast: Natasha Clancy, Cassandra Clarke, Tasmin Cummins, Caitlin Drysdale, Brianna Hatter, Danni Hegarty, Lucas Hughes, Emma Macpherson, Bryony Munro, Ryan Ophel, Zac Smith, Michael Stone, Georgie Walsh

Theatre review
Reflections features a series of dance sequences set to the recorded music of Hayden Tee’s “Generation WhY? Live” album, comprised mainly of 80’s hits interpreted with acoustic and orchestral arrangements by Nigel Ubrihien. The vocals are emotional and powerful, in the style of musical theatre that many are familiar with, and that same attitude is adopted by choreographer Alyssa Casey, who chooses to present pieces in a sincere and quite literal manner, in accordance with the themes of each song. Physical language is largely lyrical with influences from classical, ballroom and gymnastics adding to the movement schema. Casey is also responsible for costuming of the show, which works well to provide visual variation between numbers, but is most effective when minimal in approach.

It is a cast of exuberant and athletic dancers, extremely well-rehearsed and full of conviction in what they produce. Some have a tendency to express too much sentimentality, but there is no doubt that all are steely focussed and keen to put forward their best. The group of 13 is well utilised, with most members receiving a moment in the sun to showcase their individual talents, although the bigger numbers can feel overwhelming in its intimate venue. Memorable performers include Emma Macpherson and Michael Stone who bring confidence, professional polish and solid presences to the stage.

For all its technical proficiencies and impressive discipline, the work requires greater innovation and sophistication in order to deliver a sense of transcendence promised by the medium of dance. Much of its endeavours are derivative, and in this space of creativity, our senses seek originality over emulation. Each of us has an unrivalled familiarity with our bodies, but we need artists to shed new light on the capacities and meanings of all that is flesh. Dance is uniquely able to speak with us, body to body, and its continuing mission to defy convention is what makes it beautiful.

www.facebook.com/Primaldanceco

Review: Moondance – Isotopic Reflections‏ (De Quincey Co)

Venue: Erskineville Village Anglican Church (Erskineville NSW), September 4 – 19, 2015
Choreography: Tess de Quincey
Video Animation: Samuel James
Photography: Vsevolod Vlaskine
Sound: Vic McEwan
Cast: Tess de Quincey
Images by Vsevolod Vlaskine

Theatre review
We face the far end of the church. There are two narrow stained glass windows, and the central double doors are painted white, as is the wall on which it sits. A video is projected onto the entirety of that surface, composed of photography created from the moon’s light, the beautiful images we see are completely abstract, monochromatic blobs and scribbles that could mean nothing or everything, with sound that is more cinematic than musical, atmospheric and visceral in its transmission. A person emerges in a long, white hooded raincoat, devoid of gender, ethnicity and age, Tess de Quincey performs the majority of the piece with her back to us. She responds and reacts, attempting to understand her relationship with the imagery before her, and we ponder the connection between dancer and photography, human and moon.

Our appreciation of the work does not occur immediately. It is all too strange and silent, and we feel lost in the bareness of its audacious start. Every visual and aural element conspires to move our awareness away from everyday mundanity, and in time, we are unknowingly hypnotised. A meditative quality sets in, captivating our senses, but perhaps more importantly, our minds. We go through periods of thought, trying to create meaning in the sight of dancer against photographic patterns, and we go through periods of release, allowing our senses to experience things as they are, without the interference of logic. It is an unusual pleasure, emerging from the idiosyncrasy of de Quincey’s presence, drawing us in to share in her perspective of the world. In the show’s best moments, time stands still, and we fear for it to end. We want the indulgence to go on, and we want to luxuriate in the sense of elevation it provides, lulled away from our usual petty concerns, into a space of hallucinatory ethereality and eternal bliss.

Lunar tributes have existed since time immemorial. Life on earth is meaningful only when we reach beyond, for the stars and moon. We cannot understand ourselves only from within; humanity requires that we look outside to make sense of what we go through on this planet. Whether sending rockets to Mars or dancing our bodies, art must think of infinity, in order to locate significance, value, or magic. To be human, is to move beyond corporeality, sometimes towards the far reaches of the ether, even if only in our heads.

www.dequinceyco.net

Review: Dancendents (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

pactVenue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), June 17 – 20, 2015
Choreographers: Flatline, Leah Landau, Rhiannon Newton
Cast: Flatline, Leah Landau, Rhiannon Newton
Image by Matt Cornell

Theatre review
In the search for a definition of art, Flatline’s work Drawn To Move relies on the exposure of process in dance choreography to give meaning to a completed work. Two pencil scribblings are displayed on a wall, emulating archetypal notions of the art establishment. From a fine art perspective, the pieces are primitive and ugly, but in the live drawing of the third, the creators reveal the rationale behind the pieces, rendering irrelevant the commodified hanging objects, and shifting attention to the dance, and time, behind the inanimate finished products.

In a charming parallel, Rhiannon Newton’s Assemblies For One Body is concerned with using the rehearsal process quite literally, to present a performance piece. Newton goes through repetitive movements, with facial expressions and an eyeline that demonstrates an inward focus, as she seeks to unlock motion and gesture for reaching an intangible target of perfection. Without the presentational vocabulary of a conventional show, Newton relies on an enduring vitality to keep her audience engaged. We are drawn in by the energy of her tenacious commitment in exploring body and space, and she fascinates us with an intelligent juxtaposition of sounds (rhythmic and otherwise) with her physicality. We can never fully grasp Newton’s mental processes in each moment, but she certainly encourages us to form personal narratives and interpretations in the presence of her visual elucidations.

Leah Landau’s approach in Summer Bone is decidedly different. Inspired by ideas about nature, wildlife, farming and food, the work is underlined by a serious and earnest environmental concern, but with manifestations on stage that are humorous and thoroughly whimsical. Landau creates language with her body, and communicates persuasively, basic concepts of conservation, that would otherwise struggle to find sophistication in more conventional paradigms. It is hard to find new perspectives on long-standing issues, but art can establish new depictions so that we understand them with refreshed interest. Beyond its political message, Landau’s is a delightful piece of physical theatre that captures imagination, and amuses sight. It is dance that breaks a few rules, so that we come to a renewed appreciation of the artist’s passions.

When theatre abandons narrative, we see more clearly, why we do the things we do, and what it means to make art. Modern life is all but usurped by capitalism, and we forget our humanity outside its gluttonous and all-consuming monetary imperatives. Reading abstract dance, is to explore reasons behind human behaviour. Allowing incoherence to transpire, within the restrain of truth, will deliver a kind of beauty and transcendental pleasure that is unique to the art form, and it is in its embrace that we are reminded of the deeper and more rewarding facets of life.

www.pact.net.au

Review: Dining [Uns]-Table‏ (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

pact1Venue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), June 17 – 20, 2015
Choreographer: Cloé Fournier
Director: Cloé Fournier
Cast: Cloé Fournier
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Events from childhood have the potential to shape a person’s entire life, no matter how innocuous they might seem at the time. Little souls have a kind of sensitivity that adults forget, and things that we do and say can have a lasting effect beyond any of our intentions. Cloé Fournier’s Dining [Uns]-Table is an exorcistic ‏work that draws inspiration from memories of a Christmas party with family members many years ago. Fournier works from a base of dance and physical theatre, but she establishes a definite sense of narrative, to provide her audience with reference points that allow us to connect with the surprising range of emotions that are being expressed. The style of art on stage is experimental and its language is thrillingly original, but all its moments are communicative and we read the unconventional presentation from an instinctive and familiar space of interior intimacy. Fournier’s exploration of her personal memory, is in conversation with our own remembrances, and the commonalities we are able to locate, are divine.

If essential ingredients for theatre are inventiveness and a spirit for adventure, Dining [Uns]-Table scores top marks. Furthermore, it is performed with exceptional gusto and flair, by a dancer whose talents are diverse and irrepressible. Fournier’s physicality is flawlessly employed by her own choreography, which is in turn, always thoughtful and refreshing. Her presence is that of a seasoned actor, with the ability to convey story and sentiments clearly and succinctly, always keeping us enthralled. The artist has a precise approach that leaves no stone unturned, and the show feels exhaustive both in terms of what it wishes to depict, and how it does so. The experience is fascinating and all-consuming, and by the end, we are completely satisfied and leave the space thoroughly impressed.

When we approach a work of art, we hope to see a reflection; not an exact facsimile of selves, but a representation of the human condition that we can relate to. This requires both creator and viewer to take a step forward, and to find a point of contact that will spark imagination and hopefully discover something meaningful. In Cloé Fournier’s work, we get in touch with elements that are fundamental to the construction of our identities, shared or personal. The depth that she leads us to, comes not as a result of the divulgement of details from her own experiences, but from the way she seeks to move us in the space that we temporarily encounter. There is so much power in the meeting of strangers at the theatre, and Dining [Uns]-Table agitates an eruption that brings new definition to how things are made and received on Australian stages.

www.pact.net.au