Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

From the intimate to the comic

MoveMe Festival review: The Farm, Cockfight; Kynan Hughes, Love/Less & STRUT Dance, “Next” ·
State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

The theme of toxic masculinity is getting a lot of (long overdue) play in the Australian cultural landscape of late. With the possible exception of those packs of lycra-clad bicycling dudes, nowhere is this societal trope more evident than in the corporate workspace. It’s this setting that Queensland dance theatre ensemble The Farm has selected for their new work, the aptly named Cockfight. But if you’re worried about being bludgeoned by some unsubtle political posturing, fear not! Cockfight is 90 minutes of hilarious absurdity, wrapped in dance. I have not heard a dance audience laugh this long or this hard in a very long time.

The work opens with a deskbound Gavin Webber, playing with those corporate fidget toys – you know, the prototypes of the ones we now give to kids with ADHD? He’s nervously awaiting the arrival of young upstart, Joshua Thomson. Thomson is the new guard, the successor of the empire Webber built and Webber is none too keen on giving up the swivel chair. What ensues is an epic battle of the male ego – youth vs age; strength vs wit; innovation vs experience. Utilising all the accoutrements of your bog standard office, Webber attempts to intimidate and overshadow his nemesis. Filing cabinets are ravaged, chairs are thrown, desks are repurposed as dancing platforms. There are reams of paper, flung aloft or folded deftly into airborne missiles – one particularly memorable scene sees Thomson catch such a missile neatly in his mouth. Webber congratulates him with that most masculine of accolades – the hearty handshake, which steadily metamorphosises into a full-body, limb-swinging assault.

In another phrase, Thomson finds himself atop the filing cabinet. The next thing we know the two men are whooping around the office, knuckles dragging, chests beating. For a dance work tackling male ego and power, this is perhaps an obvious choice, but the beauty is – I never saw it coming. In a similar twist, the chairs the men are fighting with become antlers as the two bucks battle it out. Again, not surprising but somehow gleefully unanticipated.

It’s impossible to stop watching the charismatic Webber. Now silver-haired, he still has the grace of someone half his age and watchability that must be the envy of any dancer in the country. Thomson is a wonderful foil and with his (dare I say it?) youthful vigour, the better dancer. Together, whether they’re discussing the migration patterns of the Sooty Shearwater or hurling each other through the air, their chemistry bristles.

This is slapstick on the desktop. The gags – and the laughs – are relentless. By the time it was over, it was almost unclear what we had witnessed – was it dance, theatre or comedy? No matter – whatever it was, it was marvellous.

A male dancer holding a female dancer by her arm and leg
Ambitiously physical: Marlo Benjamin & Alexander Perrozzi in Kynan Hughes’s ‘Love/Less’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Independent local choreographer Kynan Hughes and that invaluable hub of contemporary dance in WA – STRUT dance – have produced a showcase of fine offerings as part of the MoveMe Festival. The program includes a full-length piece, produced and choreographed by Hughes, alongside two short works presented by STRUT (performed on alternate nights) – #thatwomanjulia by Natalie Allen and Sally Richardson and the one I saw, Blushed by Yilin Kong. The latter is an unashamedly sensual exploration of femininity performed by Kong in three sections. Kong’s movement is exquisite and the 20-minute work, while erring on the side of repetitive, is beautiful to watch.

Love/Less is the second full-length work from local choreographer Kynan Hughes. While the first, 2017’s Valentine, received mixed reviews, this new offering demonstrates that Hughes is coming into his own.

Inspired by the death of Hughes’ father, Love/Less has actually been in development for five years. In the program notes, the choreography is credited as a joint effort between Hughes and his dancers – Rachel Arianne Ogle, Marlo Benjamin and Alexander Perrozzi. It’s an ambitiously physical work, demanding great athleticism of the performers, all of whom rise admirably to the task. While there is not a strong narrative thread, the work’s movement and its flawless execution by the dancers easily holds the audience’s interest. Ogle is always extraordinary to watch and she is in peak form here. I’m sure she doesn’t mean to do it, but her onstage magnetism is so strong at times it tends to overshadow anyone performing alongside her. That was not the case on this occasion – when Benjamin (who I had not had the pleasure of seeing before) started in on her solo, I was gobsmacked. Like some sort of hypermobile elf, Benjamin’s control of her vessel is so impressive, her economy of movement so incredible, I could have watched her all day.

Aided by an evocative soundtrack by Sascha Budimski and gorgeous lighting from Joe Lui, Love/Less is a truly remarkable feat of dance. Dance for dance’s sake, if you will.

You can catch both these programs at the State Theatre Centre of WA until September 22. 

Pictured top: Hilarious absurdity, wrapped in dance: Gavin Webber and Joshua Thomson in ‘Cockfight’. Photo: Darcy Grant.

a girl in a crouched, swirling position
Rachel Arianne Ogle is extraordinary to watch. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
A man and a woman with a microphone
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A dynamic showcase

Review: Co3 Australia, ‘The WA Dance Makers Project’ ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 13 September ·
Review by Jo Pickup ·

Co3 Australia’s “WA Dance Makers Project” opened the 2018 MoveMe Festival of contemporary dance with a triple bill of new works. As the name suggests, the season has been specially designed to showcase the choreographic talent here in Western Australia – and with the wealth of dance talent on offer in this state, one might imagine curating such a season to be an unenviable task.

Co3 Artistic Director Raewyn Hill relished the opportunity, however, describing her curatorial choices as a chance to bring together “unique and dynamic women” to “celebrate a powerhouse of WA female choreographic talent.” From the creepy to the comedic, her favoured works presented a diverse array of contemporary dance, providing a powerhouse experience for viewers.

The curtain-raiser was a piece by celebrated contemporary dancer Richard Cilli who, though WA-born-and-trained, was obviously an exception to Hill’s female-focused vision for the season. For his “WA Dance Makers” piece, entitled This Is Now, he worked with dancers from WAAPA’s student company, LINK.

From this work’s beginning, the audience is drawn into a dark environment pulsing with fiery heat. Fourteen dancers appear out of the dim, dressed in red and black, to take their place on stage armed with determined, steely glares.

It is, therefore, an interesting twist to see them erupt into a strange melodic word-song – repeating the word “pom” at various pitches and intervals, creating a whimsical barbershop choir. This bouncing melody segues into equally unexpected movement sequences; the dancers are revealed to be sassy, pom-pom toting cheerleaders.

Yet this is no ordinary half-time fan-squad display. This team of high-kickers stabs and thrusts its red accoutrements into the air with a gusto that borders on maniacal. There is certainly a dark underbelly to the group’s glossy, swishing veneer.

Highlights of this work were the quintessential team-USA style routines, replete with disciplined formations and breakaways, performed by the LINKers with a nice mix of splendour and spirit.

A man embracing a woman from behind
The air is filled with a spooky, unnerving tension: David Mack and Tanya Brown in Chrissie Parrott’s ‘In-Lore Act II’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

After a short blackout, it was time to see veteran WA choreographer Chrissie Parrott’s latest creation – In-Lore Act II, another work with a strangely dark atmosphere.

As the stage lights go up, we see a small “family” of characters clad in dusty, old-fashioned Scottish garb, sitting around a large wooden dining table. Their house is stuffy (perhaps haunted?) and the air is filled with a spooky, unnerving tension.

The opening solo (danced by Tanya Brown) presents a tortured spirit-figure in a cream silk-satin nightdress. Under the spotlight, her moves are a mix of the beastly and the beautiful. Flinching and flowing, she appears to be suffering under the weight of something colossal, as if there is something terrible repressed deep inside her.

The piece continues in this eerie vein as six dancers (Ella-Rose Trew, Andrew Searle, Katherine Gurr, Zoe Wozniak, Tanya Brown and David Mack), play out narratives of various strained relationships (between family? lovers? It’s never quite clear). The soundscape, composed by Eden Mulholland, is full of shrill cello strings countered by low- electronic rumblings. These sounds coat the auditorium in a mist of music reminiscent of Wuthering Heights.

Overall, this piece is a rather slow-moving mystery, peppered with occasional thrilling moments when dancers are grouped in trios or duets that allow them to wholeheartedly embrace their characters within the overarching old-lore tale. In this regard, Zoe Wozniak was a stand-out on the night.

The final work, performed after the show’s short interval, was You Do Ewe by Unkempt Dance, a crowd favourite that was a much-needed emotional upswing after the intensity of the first half.

Unkempt Dance is a collective of three female WA choreographers: Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis and Amy Wiseman, and their combined forces consistently produce dance theatre work that is witty, cheerful, and so damn clever! In You Do Ewe they take the audience on a hilarious romp through their Co3 cast members’ inner-psyches, using a single microphone; a series of playful puns, and a bunch of sheeny-shiny acrylic wigs.

The performances by cast members Ella-Rose Trew, Andrew Searle, Katherine Gurr, Zoe Wozniak, Tanya Brown and Mitch Harvey were a delight. Each performer brought a unique flavour to their various roles – which swung from playing effusive, overblown game-show hosts, to being raw, vulnerable versions of themselves.

All in all, it’s a work that proved highly entertaining and wonderfully thought-provoking.

So here’s to more opportunities to showcase the work of WA dance makers in future. This “WA Dance Makers” triple bill was a reminder that our state’s dance artists have so many dynamic ideas to share, not just at MoveMe festival time, but all year round.

“WA Dance Makers Project” closes September 16. The MoveMe Festival continues until September 22.

Pictured top are Andrew Searle and Zoe Wozniak in “You do Ewe” by Unkempt Dance. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

a girl dancing, a guy doing sound
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts, The MoveMe Files

Journey to a dance work

Ever wondered how a dance work gets put together? Dance artist Talitha Maslin and composer/collaborator Dane Yates will be giving you the chance to have a look at a showing of their work-in-progress, entitled Amity, as part of the MoveMe Festival this September. Nina Levy had a chat with Talitha Maslin to find out more about Amity’s journey so far.

Talitha Maslin and Dane Yates. Photo: Alexander Turner.

Tell us about Amity
Amity is a new work that Dane and I are currently developing, looking closely at the collaboration between composer and choreographer. We were lucky enough to be selected as artists in residence at Albany’s Vancouver Arts Centre this year and wanted to create the work in relation to our practice, with consideration of place and region. We looked at historical sites in Albany and came across the Brig Amity, the ship that brought the first settlers to Western Australia.

We quickly became interested in the meaning of “amity” – friendship or friendly relations. We then discovered that the relationship between the local Minang people and the settlers was, initially, one of co-operation and harmony. We didn’t want to get super political inside the work so decided to focus on sociological elements, like how to maintain positive rapport and how to keep working together even through moments of disagreement or confusion. Our creative relationship has a beautiful harmony; we are both interested in breaking the constraints of the titles “composer” and “choreographer” to generate a balance where we can direct each element of the work equally.

What is your role in the work?
What’s been interesting about this work is that I can’t really pinpoint my exact “role” in it, I guess the best thing to say is I’m the co-director. Dane and I feel we are simultaneously the composer and choreographer and, in some unplanned and completely unknown way, set and lighting designers. We spent a good portion of time developing a language where we could both have input in each field. In this way, I feel there is a deeper understanding of concept realisation and direction beyond what I have experienced in other choreographic works I’ve directed.

How did your collaboration with Dane come about?
I first met Dane at a STRUT workshop and I felt he had a natural intuition in reading dance and generating sound that is experimental but, at the same time, has a way of drawing the audience in. We’ve had a working relationship since 2016 and I am so happy that we can work together with equal voices in this work. He is an amazing dancer who has a natural understanding of rhythm, state and, to be honest, the legs of a ballet dancer. He has taught me about sound design techniques and laptop composition, and is a massive inspiration and joy to work with.

Poster image for ‘Amity’, featuring Dane Yates and Talitha Maslin. Photo: Talitha Maslin and Dane Yates.

Talk us through the creative process of making the work…
We began by discussing concepts. We set out simple things to start off the creative process – Dane would give me an improvisation task to work with, for example, and I would describe some sound, like tone and tempo, for him to work with. We gradually began teaching each other skills; I learnt how to use some music making software and Dane learnt how to set choreography and spatial design.

Due to our relative isolation in Albany and need to be in front of the heater, we worked in the rehearsal space, the car and the living room, blurting out ideas at any moment of the day. It was awesome to track when we would get spurts of creative energy and amazing to have the space to run with it.

We slowly built scenes and sections, then threaded the ideas together by finding something of a narrative within the larger meaning of our relationship in the work. We also spoke a lot about audience engagement and how we wanted to keep the work light, as we both naturally lean towards darker and more experimental work. We managed to work with a balance between the experimental, pop culture, consideration of communal dances and a blend of sound samples and songs.

What excites you about this work?
This work excites me because we are working towards a new interdisciplinary platform to redesign the dancer/musician relationship. Showing something at the beginning of its journey, when both performers are vulnerable and working outside their comfort zones to discover how and why they create performance work, is super exciting for us. We hope the audience will come on a journey of discovery with us as we invite them on a rollercoaster of human emotion through physical and audible immersion.

What appeals you about being involved in the MoveMe Festival?
I first performed in MoveMe Festival 2016 with Co3 Australia, in Raewyn Hill’s The Cry. The performance was an amazing experience as it was the first full length work Co3 ever presented and the first time I felt really established and valued as a performer in the Perth dance community. What’s special for me this year is that I get to feel what it’s like to present something I’ve created, in a big dance festival. So even though it’s a showing, it feels like a huge step in my career and I’m looking forward to that. Amity is definitely a work in progress, so I am also excited to put it in the public sphere in this moment, as audience response will be invaluable moving forward.

I am also working with Momentum Dance on their “SeeMe” performance, so this festival is really helping me to grow as a choreographer, and to find my independent voice within the community. We are also thrilled at the unique opportunity to represent young creative voices within the festival which celebrates WA’s dance community.

Talitha Maslin and Dane Yates will present a showing of “Amity” at the ShowMe program, Saturday 22 September at the Middar room, State Theatre Centre of WA. The showing is free but please register you interest at https://moveme.org.au/amity/

Pictured top: Talitha Maslin and Dane Yates performing at Outcome Unknown’s WAM Experimental Music showcase in 2017. Photo: Laura Strøbech.

Woman in a yellow dress, in a plank position
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts, The MoveMe Files

The MoveMe Files: Yilin Kong

Yilin Kong first performed her self-devised solo Blushed at Strut Dance’s 2017 “Short Cuts” season, where it was described by Seesaw’s Nina Levy as “sculptural”, “dynamic” and “gloriously articulate”. So it’s no surprise that Blushed was selected to be further developed for performance in Strut Dance’s “Next” season. Nina Levy found out more about this solo, ahead of the presentation of “Next” at the upcoming MoveMe Festival.

Yilin Kong
Yilin Kong

Nina Levy: Tell me about Blushed.
Yilin Kong: Blushed is an extended version of a solo created for STRUT’s 2017 Short Cuts. The [original] solo was a self exploration of physicality and emotion around my own relationship to my femininity. Femininity exists everywhere and is a part of every person and there is always a particular stereotype and expectation with the understanding of the word. I am curious about the complexity and scale of femininity that can exist and be represented within history, nature, culture and atmosphere. I myself have an interesting relationship with my understanding of my own femininity and often find myself thinking things that are taboo or contradictory, or feeling the sense that the feminine voice isn’t loud or heard.

The work last year stood in two parts, looking at the idea of landscape and sculptural structures on the body and then at the feminine and the groundedness within the woman. This time round I have revisited both sections, and am adding a third, that will take us into another world, looking at the ethereal yet alien. So this work will be comprised of three episodes in three different worlds.

NL: What inspired you to make Blushed?
YK: I decided to create a solo as a challenge and an exploration of physical research, playing with and pushing my boundaries. This is the first time I have created on myself at a performance level and it has been an interesting experiment on understanding my perspective, expectations and trust in myself. There’s definitely a real test but also liberation in holding the majority of the responsibility.

Girl dancing in yellow playsuit
‘All the material for this solo came from states of improvisation.’ Yilin Kong in ‘Blushed’.

NL: Who else is involved in Blushed?
YK: Niharika Senapati is making one component of the music. Not only does she make sound but she is also my soundboard for ideas and provides general encouragement and positivity if I feel like I’m losing any sort of direction. I’ve also had other close artists come through to help keep my perspective while working away by myself. It’s very easy to lose track of yourself, being alone all day!

NL: Talk me through the creative process of making Blushed
YK: Another reason why I was interested in working solo was to try a different creative process to what I would usually play in. All the material for this solo came from states of improvisation. I found myself in a place/state/atmosphere and settled and played for a while and then re-learned the bits that I found interesting and relevant. There is so much intricate detail and idiosyncrasy in movement that is generated in the moment and I find it so much more integral and interesting to play and shape with. And working on myself, I can really push myself physically to find new pathways and ideas. I do think it’s quite a skill to be able to learn from idiosyncrasies, and have only just started to get the grasp of it, without taking hours on about 30 seconds!

I am also interested in the layers of performance and how much we can be with our audiences. Playing solo has been a useful way to consider building a relationship with my audience, as I don’t have other bodies in the space to interact with.

NL: What excites you about presenting Blushed at MoveMe?
YK: It’s a first work of mine to be performed at a festival to ticketed audiences and the first time I’m performing my own work. I feel incredibly exposed and vulnerable which is nerve-wracking but also exciting and so beautiful at the same time. I think I’m excited to share my choreographic voice with people outside of my immediate work community and family. When I was first making this solo last year, it was quite cathartic and a big part of my personal growth, so the work feels very special and considered. I hope that audiences can take something away from it, whether they connect to me as a performer or my journey, or just to the images or atmosphere present.

‘There is so much intricate detail and idiosyncrasy in movement that is generated in the moment.’ Yilin Kong in ‘Blushed’.

NL: Have you performed at the MoveMe Festival previously?
YK: Yes, I performed in the last MoveMe Festival [in 2016], in STRUT’s presentation of Ohad Naharin’s Decadance. That performance has definitely been a highlight of my performing career, not only because the work is so iconic and such a joy to perform and share with audiences, but because being a part of a festival creates such a buzz, in both the arts community and the community around Perth. On multiple occasions I enjoyed  going home on the bus and listening to strangers talk about the different shows they had had the opportunity to experience and how it allowed them the opportunity to see something different and local. I think it’s so important that festivals such as MoveMe are around, as there are so many local artists and makers who have a voice and work to share. I feel very passionate and privileged to be so involved in the festival.

NL: What are you looking forward to seeing at MoveMe?
YK: I am very curious about Dust on the Shortbread by Anything is Valid Dance Theatre (AIVDT). This work has been in progress for a little while and I’m very interested to see the outcome.

I also haven’t had much experience with intimate works especially in intimate and familiar site specific spaces so am curious to experience it. I am also intrigued by the two prominent performers, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman and George Shevtsov, as I am familiar with both but haven’t seen perform in a creative space like this and can imagine their presence and performance to be quite special and poignant. I think Serena and Quindell [of AIVDT] are incredibly interesting and intelligent creatives so I’m also excited to see their work again.

Yilin Kong’s “Blushed” will be presented as part of Strut Dance’s “Next”, alternating with Sally Richardson’s #thatwomanJulia, and plays the Studio Underground, together with Kynan Hughes’s Love/Less, 19-22 September.

Pictured top: Yilin Kong in ‘Blushed’ at ‘Short Cuts’ in 2017.

Girl with pink wig and megaphone
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts, The MoveMe Files

The MoveMe Files: Sally Richardson

Director Sally Richardson has taken Julia Gillard’s landmark 2012 speech about misogyny and, together with dancer Natalie Allen, created a dance solo. First performed at Strut Dance’s 2018 “Short Cuts” season, #thatwomanJulia has been developed for presentation in Strut’s “Next” program, as part of the MoveMe Festival this September. Nina Levy caught up with Richardson to find out more.

Sally Richardson

Nina Levy: Tell me about your new work, #thatwomanjulia…
Sally Richardson: #thatwomanjulia takes as its inspiration the transcripts of the parliamentary record, reportage and public commentary around the political life of Australia’s first female Prime Minster, Julia Gillard, referencing directly her famous question time response to the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott:

… I say to the Leader of the Opposition I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever…and …if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That’s what he needs…
– Julia Gillard, 2012, Canberra

And:

Julia Gillard: Kentucky Fried Quail: Small Breasts, Huge Thighs, and a Big Red Box.
– Young Liberals Party Dinner menu

This powerful solo work, by the experienced creative team of Natalie Allen and myself, is a response to the terrible things we see and hear, spoken about and to women in Australia; a way to overcome our feelings of helplessness in the face of the ongoing vilification and sustained abuse, the appalling sexism, misogyny and violence that is continually directed towards women at all levels of public and private life in this country.

Apologise to the women of Australia, apologise to me…
– Julia Gillard

NL: Why have you chosen to make this work now?
SR: This project is a response to the wider cultural movement of #metoo, to a growing powerlessness I feel as a woman, as I continue to see, read and hear on a daily basis the horrific, appalling and violent acts targeted and enacted towards my sex in Australia (and the rest of the world). The work is a way to challenge these feelings of helplessness in the face of the sickening and unspeakable sexism, misogyny, discrimination and violence that is continually directed towards women at all levels of public and private life.

Julia Gillard’s speech, made in 2012, was about a party leader pushing back. She set out to attack what she felt was an unjustified claim of misogyny that had been directed at her by the then leader of the opposition Tony Abbott.

Gillard’s fifteen minutes of rebuttal to this accusation, delivered in parliamentary question time, went viral, and the rest is history. Her words took on a life and agency of their own, and in researching and working with this source material six years later, it has been fascinating to unpack the mythology, while recognising what has become regarded as a historic landmark moment for feminism in Australia, with millions of views recorded world-wide.

What interests me, and is a focus of my research, has been to consider the impact of this historic moment; to ask has anything changed since then, in terms of the entrenched sexism and misogyny that exists within the fabric of our culture? Never before in the history of this nation has its leader “been portrayed as someone who should be burned at the stake…” (Tracy Spicer, in “Bewitched & Bedevilled”, p 280)

So then how do we, as women artists, work with and adapt this material to speak with a potency, a currency, and with a voice that is our own?

This decision to utilise a board room-style table came very early in our studio explorations and proved to be a key to the overall aesthetic and design of the work. Pictured is Natalie Allen in the first incarnation of ‘#thatwomanJulia’.

NL: Talk me through the creative process of making the work…
SR: Collaboration with other artists is at the core of my process. It is on the floor, in the studio, together, that we develop, devise and shape the work.

Primary source material that provided impetus for improvisation included numerous wide-ranging articles and analysis of Gillard’s prime ministership, the live recording of her “Misogyny” speech from question time, transcripts of this speech, photographs by Sydney Morning Herald press photographer Andrew Meares (taken while delivering the speech), various anthologies of YouTube presentations; including “The Bullying of Julia Gillard”, and several key publications, in particular the compilation of essays “Bewitched and Bedevilled”, edited by Samantha Trenoweth.

Initially I created a set of deliberate choices around the material to provide a clear framework and template for us to work from. We would use only “the speech” as the core material from which to draw choreographic and sound content.

The setting would be an imagined form of parliamentary “question time” and include as its centrepiece a large solid wood table. This decision to utilise a board room-style table came very early in our studio explorations and proved to be a key to the overall aesthetic and design of the work.

Costume was also an effective early trigger that assisted the development of character and range of movement choices. Black high heeled shoes, a “shiny” corporate-styled suit, and a “flaming” red wig introduced early, significantly informed the work’s content and structure.

The initial score for rehearsal was the recording of the actual speech, and Natalie used this as a basis for long-form improvisations, responding directly to the spoken word, tone, repetitions and key physical gestures, as made by Gillard. We then analysed this material, making selections and re-framing the scene.

I drafted a score that focused around key sentences and key repetitions in the transcript of Gillard’s speech, with the idea of the hashtag driving my selections; the lines, combinations of words that are recollected and readily recalled, and potentially take on a life of their own after the actual event. Natalie then developed a set of gestures around these words and sentences.

NL: What excites you about this work?
SR: I think contemporary dance can, potentially, present powerful and overt responses to current political issues. In this sense, #thatwomanjulia is deliberately feminist and provocative, exploring topical issues that many in the audience will have some familiarity with, while at the same time offering our own response to the rising sexism and violence directed towards women at all levels in our society. In its first presentation, as part of Strut’s “Short Cuts” program, the work generated passionate audience responses and conversation, not necessarily a typical response to contemporary dance. We are looking forward to presenting an evolution of this first version, and to a wider audience.

NL: What are you looking forward to seeing at MoveMe?
SR: There are so many new works on offer, so I am aiming to try to see as many premieres of new local works I can, including works by Kynan Hughes, the Co3 WA Dance Makers Project, soloist Yilin Kong [also in “Next], amongst others. I am particularly keen to catch the award-winning Cockfight by The Farm, who are, in my view, some of the most exciting dance theatre artists currently making work in Australia.

#thatwomanJulia is part of Strut Dance’s “Next”, alternating with Yilin Kong’s “Blushed”, and plays the Studio Underground, together with Kynan Hughes’s Love/Less, 19-22 September.

Pictured top is Natalie Allen in “#thatwomanJulia”, at Strut Dance’s “Short Cuts”, earlier this year.

Dance, Features, News, Performing arts, The MoveMe Files

The MoveMe Files: Kynan Hughes

Ahead of the 2018 MoveMe Festival, Perth’s biennial showcase of contemporary dance, Nina Levy is talking to the program’s choreographers to find out more about the works that will be staged this September.

Here she catches up with local independent choreographer Kynan Hughes, to talk about his new work Love/Less. Featuring dancers Marlo Benjamin, Rachel Arianne Ogle and Alexander Perrozzi, Love/Less delves into the making and breaking of human connections.

Kynan Hughes
Kynan Hughes

Nina Levy: What is Love/Less about?
Kynan Hughes: Love/Less explores the universal human experiences of intimacy and loss.

Intimacy is defined as being “very personal; private”, it can refer “to or [be] indicative of one’s deepest nature” and reflects “close acquaintance, association, or familiarity” across all forms of relationships: from family ties to sexual flings. I believe intimacy and the sharing of our deepest emotions and thoughts with others is one of the most fundamental and basic desires of being human: we seek the comfort and understanding of others, be it from friends, family members or lovers. It is inevitable that at some point in our lifetimes we will lose some of these connections through various circumstances: such as loss (from death or distance), change or time.

This work has been driven and spurred on by the death of my father after a long series of illnesses in 2010. While being part of a close and loving family, my father was a solitary man and, after his passing there is still a lingering feeling that I did not really know him at all. Love/Less examines how we can be close but simultaneously so far apart.

Man lying next to girl under a sheet
Marlo Benjamin & Alexander Perrozzi

NL: Talk us through the creative process of making Love/Less
KH: Choreographically the work is highly complex physically, with strong emotional and theatrical content. The material was created collaboratively with the entire creative team: it relies heavily on the interaction and trust between the cast members throughout the demanding partnering.

My goal, as a choreographer, is to make distinctive dance works that emotionally resonate with audiences, challenging them to examine and question the subject matter of the work in relation to their own lives.

NL: What excites you about sharing Love/Less with Perth audiences?
KH: Love/Less has been in development for around five years now, with two creative developments and many grant writing sessions! It’s incredibly exciting to get it to the stage and finally share it with people. Hopefully, it will offer an experience that moves people and gets them reflecting upon events in their own life around love, loss and grief in a way that is cathartic and beautiful.

NL: What appeals you about being involved in this festival?
KH: I’m excited about being a part of an event that showcases and celebrates West Australian dance – an industry that I’m really proud and honoured to be a part of. I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to present and share my work in such a platform.

NL: What are you looking forward to seeing at MoveMe?
KH: Everything! There’s so much that’s so intriguing and interesting. The intergenerational and site-specific aspect of the “SeeME” really excites me, especially because I co-curated a site-specific dance program, “In Situ”, with Emma Fishwick, in 2016 and 2017. Cockfight is explosive dance theatre performed by two incredible performers. Co:3 are presenting a double bill of four (!) unique and powerful female choreographers’ work, which I can’t wait to see – it will be fantastic to see their work on the company. Dust on the Shortbread tackles an illness that is affecting my family right now, and I feel it will offer quite a revelatory experience.

Love/Less plays the Studio Underground, together with Strut Dance’s “Next”, 19-22 September.

News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A little bit goes a long way

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Company and Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, Skylab ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, 18 August ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

1979. It was the best of times.

Sir Charles Court was in his pomp, and under his selective vision, Western Australia was becoming the world’s quarry, and its new Wild West.

While a contented and complacent Wadjela population packed the pubs and the footy for their easy entertainment, fortunes were being made under the benign, indiscriminate gaze of Court’s government by the names that would ultimately bring the whole edifice down.

Not so indiscriminate or benign though, was the treatment of those who didn’t figure in the Court vision; whether it was his phalanxes of police roughing up the custodians of Country at Noonkanbah on behalf of American oil companies, or the neglect of families – especially Indigenous ones – who weren’t part of his big plans.

While the state’s business leaders and journalists loosened their wide ties and played bizarre drinking games over long lunches at the Palace Hotel, battling families in the bush coped with empty fridges and paychecks that came late or not at all.

Families like Nev, Jem, their three kids Amy, Sonia and Nate and their Nan, eking out a bare living outside Esperance, searching for stray bullets around the house so Nev could hunt a roo to supplement their meagre supplies; their mad-as-a-cut-snake Uncle Harvey in the shed with his diagrams and short wave radio, ranting about the Russians, the CIA, and the sky falling.

So when it really does, and bits and pieces of the American space station Skylab crash around them, does it portend change, and, who knows, better times to come?

Man and woman outside a corrugated iron shed
There’s genuine frisson between Alan Little and Laila Bano Rind, as Nev and Jen. Photo: Dana Weeks.

It’s the jumping-off point for the playwright Melodie Reynolds-Diarra’s phantasmagoria of dreams fulfilled and desires delivered, a candy store of wonders for the little family.

A new world where Weetbix turns into Fruit Loops and stray cats become pink ponies. Where diamonds are as big as the Ritz, and Elvis performs the marriage rite in the Chapel of Love.

Where debts are erased, the old boss comes up with wads of cash he’s withheld – along with an apology for stealing the land – and a Blackfella gets served first in the general store.

It’s a bit silly, but it’s a bit exhilarating, and there are real messages underneath all the fun and games.

Unfortunately – and it’s a real shame – Skylab seriously overstays its welcome.

Three children dressed as astronauts
Charm and energy: Benjamin Narkle, Juliette Laylan & Liani Dalgetty. Photo: Dana Weeks.

There’s genuine frisson between Alan Little and Laila Bano Rind, as Nev and Jen, and charm and energy from Juliette Laylan, Benjamin Narkle and the wonderfully sparky Liani Dalgetty as the kids (they alternate with Eva Bartlett, Donnathia Gentle and Jacob Narkle in the roles).

There are some nifty effects from set designer Matthew McVeigh and vision designer Mia Holton, and some effective cat-herding from director Kyle J Morrison and his associate Ian Michael, especially in the play’s first act.

But it all goes on way too long, and becomes far too trivial and self-indulgent. Example: a continuing sub-theme revolving around the Japanese cult TV show Monkey is messy, interminable and philosophically confusing.

By the time Skylab gets to the finishing line, its charm and exhilaration have all but dissipated and its messages are obscured.

But the silliness remains pretty much intact.

Skylab plays the Studio Underground until September 2; Karratha September 5 and Carnarvon September 8.

Pictured top: Gary Gooper as Uncle Harvey and Liani Dalgetty as Amy. Photo: Dana Weeks.

Julius Caeser
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

From dystopia to reality

Review: Bell Shakespeare, Julius Caesar ·
State Theatre Centre, August 8 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Shakespeare’s political thriller, Julius Caesar, has been asking questions about power, leadership, morality and the role of citizens since 1599. One of its key message seems to be that change can’t come from assassination because violence simply begets violence.

As a slid into my seat in the Heath Ledger Theatre this week, I realised the last show I’d seen in that venue was Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins (a musical about the dozen men and women who’ve killed or made attempts on the life of American presidents). Clearly, while Shakespeare’s plays sound a warning bell, society is often deaf to their pleas or staggeringly slow to change.

Shakespeare used the Roman setting as a way to provoke reflection on Elizabethan politics (without getting tortured or executed) and many productions of Julius Caesar since then have been staged through the lens of contemporary politics.

Under Orson Welles’s direction in 1937, Caesar and his followers donned the uniforms of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. A production in New York last year dressed Caesar as Donald Trump, which sparked a right-wing backlash, including death threats against the cast. (One wonders whether the protestors bothered to actually see the play.)

Kenneth Ranson as Caesar (top) and Nick Simpson-Deeks as Cassius. Photo: Prudence Upton.

At its heart, Julius Caesar is about the power of rhetoric – the way language can be used to persuade or manipulate or incite violence. Given the ratcheting up of heated rhetoric and violence in our post-truth, digitally connected world, Bell Shakespeare has made a timely choice.

Directed by James Evans, the production is set in contemporary times in an unnamed country. The parallel with the rise and acceptance of populist politics is clear. In the second half of the play, after Caeser’s assassination and Mark Antony’s stunning funeral speech, the set and costumes (designed by Anna Tregloan) take on dark, post-apocalyptic look.

Bare mattresses rest under a blue tarpaulin. There’s an upturned chair and industrial machinery belching smoke. An orange light beamed out onto the audience casts grotesque shadows. The actors are in camouflage and military boots.

As with all dystopian texts, it’s designed to shock – to make us look critically at the trajectory we are on. It also holds up a mirror to the hell of refugee camps or white supremacists on the streets of Charlottesville, encouraging us to see that what we would have considered dystopian decades ago, has already become reality.

Sydney-based African American actor Kenneth Ransom plays Caesar in a smooth, understated manner. He has the aura of someone who believes his own PR. But tyrant or hero? Ransom keeps us guessing.

Nick Simpson-Deeks injects sass and humour into the role of Cassius, the disgruntled thinker who manipulates Brutus into leading the conspiracy to kill Caesar. He sees Caesar as a “vile thing”, a “colossus” that towers over other men despite being of little worth. Is it just tall poppy syndrome, I found myself asking, or is Cassius smart enough to see through Caesar’s spin?

In many ways, the play is Brutus’s story. Caesar’s friend and ally fears the Roman Republic will be destroyed if Caesar is crowned King. We follow his belief that Rome is falling under tyranny, his decision to assassinate Caesar and his resulting inner turmoil. Ivan Donato does well to portray this conflicted soul who loses everything.

The powerful scene in which his wife Portia (played superbly by Maryanne Fonceca) eloquently protests the limitations placed on her sex, and proves her loyalty, was beautiful to watch. Donato displayed a real affection and respect for Portia entirely lacking in the relationship between Caesar and his wife.

Caesar calls Calphurnia (Emily Havea) “barren”, in public view, and treats her as little more than an accessory. This is why it is thrilling when the ambitious Octavius (Caesar’s great nephew and heir) is also played by Havea. The doubling adds a subversive note, amplified by the casting of Sara Zwangobani in the role of Mark Antony, whose performance I found thoroughly captivating.

Likewise, Jemwel Danao plays both Metellus (who, in the first scene, warns Caesar will leave citizens in ‘servile fearfulness’) and Cinna the Poet, who is later killed by the mob.

The doubling emphasises Evans’s angle. “When leaders use language that provokes or normalises violence, a dark collective urge is unleashed,” he writes in the program notes. “And the artist is always the first target.”

That shocking and masterfully choreographed scene will stay with me forever. I’ll admit I felt ambivalent about the production before the interval. Its minimal set and casual dress projected a rehearsal room feel at times. But the remainder of the show was engaging and visually stunning.

‘Julius Caeser’ plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until August 11.

Pictured top: Nick Simpson-Deeks as Cassius. Photo: Prudence Upton.

Potter Potter
Calendar, Performing arts, September 18, Theatre

Theatre: Potted Potter

26 – 30 Sep @ The State Theatre Centre ·
Presented by: Lunchbox Theatrical Productions ·

Potted Potter:   The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff

All Seven Harry Potter Books in Seventy Hilarious Minutes!
Playing to sold-out houses all over the world, POTTED POTTER takes on the ultimate challenge of condensing all seven Harry Potter books (and a real-life game of Quidditch) into seventy hilarious minutes. This fantastically funny show features all your favourite characters, a special appearance from a fire-breathing dragon, endless costumes, brilliant songs, ridiculous props and a generous helping of Hogwarts magic!

Created by double Olivier Award Best Entertainment nominees Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, the show is a must-see for Potter addicts and a great introduction to the series for anyone who’s ever wondered what all the fuss is about. Even if you don’t know the difference between a Horcrux and a Hufflepuff, POTTED POTTER will make you roar with laughter. This brilliant family entertainment is perfect for ages six to Dumbledore (who is very old indeed).
pottedpotter.com

More info:
www.ptt.wa.gov.au/venues/state-theatre-centre-of-wa/whats-on/potted-potter/

Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Shattering a myth

Review: Bangarra Dance Theatre, Dark Emu ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 2 August ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When it comes to contemporary dance, I prefer minimal program notes. I believe that the best dance works speak for themselves, that the language of the body can speak as effectively as written the word. Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dark Emu, however, cracks my rule asunder.

Directed by Stephen Page and choreographed by Page, Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown and the Bangarra dancers, the work takes as its starting point Bruce Pascoe’s ground-breaking 2014 book, Dark Emu. Subtitled Black Seeds: agriculture of accident?, Pascoe’s Dark Emu is a detailed and fascinating account of the sophisticated and sustainable Aboriginal farming, fishing and building practices that were in place prior to European colonisation. In bringing these practices to light, Pascoe shatters what Page refers to as the “convenient myth” that, pre-colonisation, Australia’s Indigenous people lived as hunter-gatherers.

Never mind the extensive program notes (including Q&As with various members of the creative team that absolutely enrich one’s viewing of the show), for me, one of the great joys of watching the performance was making the connections between Dark Emu, the dance work, and Dark Emu, the text. While it may seem a big ask to suggest that anyone seeing Bangarra’s Dark Emu should also commit to reading the book, I would actually go further and say that I believe every Australian should read Pascoe’s Dark Emu.

That said, the dance work’s 14 short sections have a logic that is independent of the book. A melding of abstract dance with moments of narrative, Bangarra’s Dark Emu is richly layered in terms of movement, sound and design; references to the text form a kind of bonus layer, for those who have read it.

That abundance of detail is apparent from the opening section, “Dark Spirit of the Sky”. Jacob Nash’s set design, a vortex of luminous blue rings, creates the sense that we are peering into a kind of cosmic void. The dancers emerge head first; rolling, arching and rippling, as though guided by the haunting soundscape, that features vocals by dancer Beau Dean Riley Smith.

In the spirit of the book, the scenes that follow represent traditional cultural and agricultural practices, pierced by scenes that depict the destruction of those practices by European colonisers. A favourite section of mine, that evocatively uses movement to represent elements of the natural world, is “Ceremony of the Seed”. Against Nash’s backdrop, the texture of which brings to mind veined rocks or leaves, the five dancers representing ‘Black Seed’ split and shake, while seven ‘Kangaroo Grass’ dancers’ feathery movements match their shredded silky skirts. Lastly, ‘Grain Dust’ sees three dancers stretch and contract across the stage. This trio was performed with dynamism by Kaine Sultan-Babij, Beau Dean Riley Smith and tiny powerhouse Yolanda Lowatta.

Jennifer Irwin’s often intricate costumes act as a metaphor for the complexity of the rituals and practices that form the basis of Dark Emu. In “Bowls of Mourning” we see eight women garbed in white webbed dresses, some of whom wear white crocheted caps that bring to mind cocoons. In fact, Pascoe explains, there is a tradition in Central Australia whereby a woman wears a “mourning cap” after the death of her husband. Even without this information, though, this scene is haunting, with the ethereal vocals of Yolande Brown woven into the score. Some of the women huddle on a low platform of wooden logs, others break away in a whirling motion that, ultimately, draws them back to the group. A rich, sweet smell fills the air, almost like incense. Nash’s veined back drop is now lit a deep and calm blue.

It’s a shock, then, when the music abruptly becomes choppy, and the male dancers burst in, leaping and rolling. Quickly they deconstruct the platform, utilising the logs to fence in the women. We don’t need the voiceover to confirm that these are the European explorers, wreaking havoc on traditional life.

Throughout the work, Steve Francis’s evocative score brings together “found” sounds with instrumentals, vocals and spoken word. In amongst the likes of cello, percussion and synth, we hear the flapping of wings, the drum roll of a downpour, the howl of the wind, the humming of flies, the crackle of a storm. Impressively, the vocals are mostly provided by the multi-talented dancers.

And those dancers. They have a sinewy quality, a stealth and lightness to their movement, that makes them incredible to watch. Whether slipping and sliding through white ochre powder, rolling and weaving amongst stone boulders, or springing and twisting in amongst the flames of a fire, they move with an energy that is deft but wild.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dark Emu is a rich tapestry of dance, sound and design that both celebrates the complex, practical and beautiful culture of Aboriginal people, and reminds us of the role of European settlers in its destruction.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s sold-out Perth season finishes August 5.

Photo: Daniel Boud.