Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A whirlwind tour of ideas

Review: Strut Dance: “Short Cuts”, Program A and B
Studio 3, King St Arts Centre, 27 September (B) & 28 September (A)
Review by Nina Levy

Have you ever wondered how a contemporary dance work is made?

Strut Dance’s annual “Short Cuts” program takes the audience to the beginning of that process, by presenting about a dozen or so short works that are based on the new ideas and experiments of independent artists. This is called a “first stage development”, meaning that it is a seedling idea or concept that may be further developed into a longer work. Showings of first-stage works are common enough but not often open to the public.

So “Short Cuts” is a treat – a relatively rare glimpse into the process of making new work. Not only that, there is something exciting about sitting down to see a collections of starting points with unknown final destinations. What was particularly special about this year’s season was the level of detail in both the choreography and design. While the programs were presented, as is traditional, in a studio setting, the atmosphere was more “theatre” than “studio”.

As is also traditional for the “Short Cuts” season, the 2017 edition was divided into programs A and B and I took in B first*, which began with Emma Fishwick’s rose-tinted trio, The beginning. Clustered closely initially, three dancers gradually fill the space with impossibly wide plies, jumps that flip front-back-front, deep lunges that sweep into turns, thrilling slides. This beautifully crafted first draft was danced expansively and expressively by by Bernadette Lewis, Isabella Stone and Nikki Tarling.

Next we were plunged into the world of robotic weirdness that is Michelle Aitken’s Future’s Eve. Delightfully kooky, Future’s Eve opens with a spotlit roomba tracing an unpredictable dance, before a robotic, shiny-lycra clad dancer (Aitken) appears. Both roomba and dancer  jerk randomly to a soundscape of disembodied voices and radio static. Quirky made way for poetic, with Holly Pooley’s short film Landing projected on a studio wall. With a soundscape provided by spoken word artist Leonie Sinden-David, words drop like jewels in this sun-drenched short film and the dancer (Isla Gibson) almost seems to exist to illustrate the words, rather than vice versa.

Tahlia Russell’s Farm invited us to come closer to the work’s miniature picket-fenced perimeter, heightening the feeling of being an observer of, even an intruder into, this tightly packed duo, performed here by Tyrone Robinson and Russell. Torch-lit, the dancers fold in and out of one another as they navigate the confines of the fence-bordered space. It’s intense, enigmatic and engaging. Returning to our seats, Kynan Hughes’s Slippage opened up the space again. Clad in over-sized suit jackets, Slippage sees two dancers (Storm Helmore and Isabella Stone) bounce and ooze, skip and slide; slipping in and out of one another’s reach.

From the interpersonal to the psychedelic, Tyrone Robinson’s Acid Trip was last on the menu and well worth the wait. Horrifying and hilarious, this cleverly constructed solo work relies on split second timing, in-your-face physicality and cartoon-like facial expressions, all provided here in spades by pocket-rocket Bernadette Lewis.

It was Lewis who opened Program A as well, The Honeymoon Suite revealing her sense of humour as a choreographer. Lit by a single blue globe, her two dancers sport gorgeously sequinned shorts as they strut their stuff. A favourite moment sees the pair posed at right angles as they jerk their heads to Kate Ceberano’s “Bedroom Eyes”. Dancers Laura Boynes and Tanya Brown performed with a gorgeous mix of sensuality and silliness.

Program A included three self-devised solos, and Blushed by Yilin Kong was first, a gloriously articulate two-part piece. Part one is sculptural, extending and unfurling almost in slow motion; part two dynamic, limbs fanning, kicking, slapping. Like Program B’s The beginning, Blushed has a completeness that belies its relative youth. The second solo followed, Lauren Marchbank’s I’m OK With It, exploring her “reality and identity as a dancer who has Down syndrome”. Via audience participation and film we watch Marchbank negotiate the world and the gaze of others; at once gentle and powerful, funny and moving.

Contrasting Marchbank’s optimism, Rikki Bremner’s Welcome to Life was next. While this crisp quartet, performed here by Mitchell Aldridge, Mo Berrachad, May Greenberg and Bremner, is pleasing to watch with its geometric patterns, the highlight is the opening solo. A dancer (Aldridge) is pitched against a Big-Brother style voice, forcing him into a series of increasingly comical manoeuvres.

Solo number three, Richard Cilli’s Rings, was the penultimate work on the program. Projecting footage of ringed planets, Cilli plays with distance; between the projector and the projecting surface, and between the projection and the dancer. Interestingly, the concept is most effective when the projection is stretched to its maximum, distorting both the dancer and the image. As Dane Yates’s electronic composition explodes, the dancer’s shadow becomes the focus, surrounded by flickering light and movement.

Wrapping up Program A was Unkempt Dance’s I Have Health Insurance Now. Equipped with laundry baskets, balloons and house plants, Unkempt Dance’s Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis and Amy Wiseman take a light-hearted look at what it means to be thirty. From “I got my pap smear…. BEFORE I received the reminder,” to “Sometimes I buy wine that I don’t intend to drink straight away,” Unkempt had the audience chuckling with recognition. Special mention goes to the baby medley, performed in honour of the “hundreds and hundreds” of photos that grace social media at this time of life.

At the end of both programs, each audience member was asked to use a ballot slip to anonymously select one work deserving of funding to be developed into a longer work. Whilst I won’t reveal my votes, I will say that I almost didn’t vote at all, so difficult was the choice. This town is simply bursting with choreographic ideas.

* Nina viewed Program B at its final dress rehearsal, Friday 27 October.

Pictured top: Yilin Kong performing ‘Blushed’.

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