Students rise to the challenge

7 May 2018

Review: WAAPA Dance: Rise ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 5 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When it comes to reviewing dance at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, I feel I should declare a bias. Not only did I complete my own dance training at WAAPA (albeit nearly 18 years ago… eep), but for several years I taught dance history there too.

But, to be honest, having had so much to do with the department means that, if anything, I am harder to impress. While the standard is always high, I have seen a LOT of these programs. And they tend to be relatively long. So I approached “Rise”, a mixed bill of works performed by second and third year dance students, with a combination of nostalgia and hope.

I wasn’t disappointed.

First on the program was Between the Lines, choreographed by Jayne Smeulders and performed by third year classical major students. Smeulders, who has recently been appointed to the WAAPA staff, has created a challenging work for the students… and true to the name of the program, on opening night the cast of 11 rose to the challenge.

Set to three movements from Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No 1 in D Major, Between The Lines sees the dancers slice and dice the music, with razor sharp fouettes, jetes and arabesque lines. Interspersing these “lines” are moments of softness and stillness. While the  speed and detail of the ensemble sections require technical precision, the various pas de deux are particularly difficult and were performed on opening night with guts and verve. In particular, a duet by Marcell Stiedl and Katarina Gajic was impressive.

Sara Ouwendyk, Alexander Diedler and Jordhan Gault in “Between The Lines’ by Jayne Smeulders. Photo: Jon Green.

Next up were the second year contemporary major students, performing Together, together, created by New York-based choreographer Ori Flomin in 2017, for Second Avenue Dance Company in NYC.  Exploring the concept of community, and people’s dependence on one another, Together, together, is an ensemble work both physically and thematically. The opening moments set the tone. Scattered across the stage and clad in soft, muted pastels, the dancers stand in silence. Minutes pass before they slowly melt to the ground.

While the work picks up in terms of momentum, that sense of the primacy of the group dynamic remains throughout. Music begins to play, synthesised and insistent. Like a live sculpture, the group appears to inhale and exhale. A beat kicks in and the dancers gradually respond until they are a storm of writhing limbs. Now they are a human chain, now they nest in pairs, now they form a clump, bathed in a cloud of light; individuals always subsumed by the whole. While the students coped well with the demands of the work, I began to long to see individual personalities.

Moving as one: second year students performing Ori Flomin’s ‘Together, together’. Photo: Jon Green.

The mood lightened after interval, with Daniel Roberts’s Under Construction, performed by second year classical major students. Though the program notes sound heavy – the title is a reference to building one’s life as a recently retired dancer (Roberts) or as a dancer (the  students) – this contemporary ballet is quite the opposite. With a repeating barista motif, portable tables and  chairs, and coffee shaded costumes (latte to espresso), there’s a humorous café-style undercurrent running through Under Construction.

Shiny, shimmering dancers catapult across the stage in Natalie Allen’s ‘Panthea’.

Grande jetes and pirouettes aplenty ensure that this work feels a little Center Stage, but there are some more serious choreographic moments too. In particular, the final section of the work sees the ensemble in a kaleidoscopic pas de deux series. While the dancers didn’t demonstrate the polish of the third years, they performed with an appealing exuberance.

And so to the final work of the evening, Natalie Allen’s Panthea. Created for the third year contemporary major students, and inspired by the Oscar Wilde poem of the same name, Panthea is sensual and seductive.

Against a backdrop of disco-style lights and beats, and wildly shimmying dancers, we are invited into a celestial world by a comically sexy hostess (Olivia Hendry). While it’s definitely funny, the humour in this work is delivered with a light touch. The music, composed by WAAPA student Annika Moses, morphs gently into a more ambient soundscape, the sounds of running water and insects bringing to mind a lush, natural setting, through which the shiny, shimmering dancers catapult.

For the movement is trademark Allen; rocketing and powerful, and the third year students seemed to be channelling her unmistakable style. While all 19 dancers (all women) are to be commended for their performances, Alexandra Kay and Amy McCarthy were especially  notable.

“Rise” runs until May 11. It’s a diverse and entertaining program that’s well worth a look (and it finished before 10pm).

Pictured top is Daniel Roberts’s “Under Construction”, performed by second year students.

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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