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A captivating season and a fitting farewell

Review: WAAPA 2nd and 3rd year dance students, ‘Verge’ ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 16th November ·
Review by Lauren Catellani ·

This year’s “Verge” season, from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ dance department, is an expansive celebration of dance, with four diverse works passionately performed by the students. “Verge” is an annual mixed bill program of classical and contemporary dance that showcases both the graduating and second year students, and this year’s program is well constructed and provides an opportunity for audiences to appreciate dance in both its past and present forms.

The evening kicks off with Coppelia Suite, a montage of scenes from the famed Romantic ballet, remounted by WAAPA’s Kim McCarthy and Danielle Hunt. The audience is greeted with an energetic live performance of the Leo Delibes score – arranged by Gennaro Di Donna and performed by Di Donna, Caitlin Malcolm, Peter Evans and Robyn Blann – which sparks engagement and adds intensity throughout. The curtain rises on an enchanting village scene. Warmly lit, the stage is adorned with strings of flowers that complement the autumn-hued villager costumes beautifully.

‘Coppelia Suite’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

McCarthy and Hunt’s arrangement of excerpts from this comical ballet exudes playfulness and joy as the dancers perform the lively Harvest Festival and pageant day scenes. With storytelling a crucial part of this particular ballet I yearned for more vibrancy and facial expression from the supporting dancers positioned around the stage, in order to match and boost the impressive soloists. Among many exceptional dancers, standout performers were Brent Robert Carson, Beatrice Manser, Chloe Hinton, Ruby Gibbons and Sarah Ross.

Following Coppelia Suite, second year Bachelor of Arts students performed Cass Mortimer Eipper’s Black Gold. A new contemporary work exploring the growing culture of excessive consumerism and the human capacity for gluttony and oppression, the work cleverly interlaces  abstracted images and sounds relating to the global oil industry to explore its theme.

Cass Mortimer Eipper’s ‘Black Gold’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Mortimer Eipper’s choreographic style is thrilling and the dancers, dressed in bold red jumpsuits, perform a unique collection of eccentric and robust movements. A rhythmic marching in unison that transforms stylistically throughout the work is a repeating motif that  drew me into a deep trance. Performing with unwavering commitment, the students’ embodiment of the movement style was impressive, with notable performances from Campbell Gateley, Samantha Smith and Jack Tuckerman. During the interval that followed, the energy and excitement in the foyer – sparked by this bold work – was palpable.

A small group of third year dancers, selected by audition, re-commenced the show with Leigh Warren’s award winning 1997 work Shimmer, remounted here by Delia Silvan (original cast member and founding member of Leigh Warren & Dancers) and Kynan Hughes (also a former company member). This contemporary work was inspired by Graeme Koehne’s musical score Shaker Dances and the Shaker movement itself, a Protestant sect that emerged in America in the late 18th century. Named for the style of the dancing that was part of their faith, the Shakers were also known for their belief in celibacy and in gender equality.

Leigh Warren’s ‘Shimmer’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

In Shimmer, six dancers perform under spotlights and in gendered couples. On opening night Natassija Morrow, Estelle Brown, Millie Hunt, Nathan Turtur, Nathan Crewe-Kuge and Brent Rollins executed the movement in a detailed manner, a credit to Silvan’s direction. Warren’s choreography displays both confidence and modesty, and the costumes are used to show both concealment and spontaneous sexual freedom, a harmonious duality around which the work – intriguingly – revolves.

The third year students closed the show with Ludum Vitae,  a contemporary work choreographed by Belgium-based choreographer Helder Seabra. The work’s chaos and disconnection is hinted at in an ironic voice-over at the beginning, and only makes any sense at its conclusion. The dancers begin and end in an exhausted physicality. Stumbling, slumped and crawling around in a circle, they move though varying states – vigorous convulsing, careful and consoling gestures and high impact fight scenes. Seabra’s choreography is an impressive demonstration of physicality and displayed the power of these dancers as a group.

“Verge” is a captivating season and an impressive farewell to the graduating dancers as well as to Nanette Hassall, who is retiring after 24 years of dedicated service as head of the WAAPA dance department.

“Verge” runs until November 23.

Pictured top is “Ludum Vitae” by Helder Seabra, performed by graduating students from WAAPA’s dance department. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

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