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A sea of beautifully executed moves

Review: Brooke Leeder and Dancers, Radar ·
The B Shed, Fremantle, 21 September ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

The creaking, wooden glories that are the sheds of Fremantle port are one of the city’s secret beauties. What mysterious maritime activities go on inside C-Shed? What about D-Shed? Most of the sheds are off-limits to the public, a fact that seems suddenly heartbreaking when you attend a performance in B-Shed. These cavernous spaces create rustically sparse settings, ideal for dance or theatre. This year’s Fremantle Biennale makes fabulous use of these unique venues, but really, the public should be able to share in these spaces on a more regular basis. At the very start of Brooke Leeder’s Biennale contribution, Radar, giant wooden doors are pushed back, revealing a dimming sky on sea, terns restive on pillars. There was even the grand replica of the Leeuwin, an unwitting backdrop to the performance.

Leeder is well known in the Perth community, both as an independent choreographer and as a gifted teacher of dance. This work, created in collaboration with percussionist Louis Frere-Harvey and lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirier, harnesses the talents of 23 of Leeder’s dance students from John Curtin College of the Arts, ranging in age from 12 to 17, as well as five professional dancers. With so many bodies, particularly when most are dancers-in-training, synchronised phrasing is very difficult. Throw in live percussion and you have a mammoth task ahead of you. Consequently, I was holding my breath for much of the show.

O ye of little faith!

The thrum of a densely electronic soundscape kicks off proceedings as two dancers thread through a brisk portside breeze. With an echoing thud, the trio of percussionists (Frere-Harvey, Rosie Taylor and Joel Bass), join the fray, building a menacing, aural cloud that fills the space. Black-clad dancers file in from the port, pairing with a partner in a fluid formation of geometric shapes. Arms scissoring through the air, legs all angles. Just as suddenly as the percussion began, it all stops. The dancers dart away, fish-like.

A new throng emerges from the wings – a younger set, mostly from year seven and eight. Is it just me who finds young performers so poignantly transparent in their motives? Look at me! We all want to be seen, I guess… young performers just wear it on their sleeves. The breeze buffets the wooden walls creating a ghostly effect as the dancers wind their way through the space. Undersea blips, the hum of a motor. The youngsters are joined by the older crew and then, in a wave of movement, comes the synchronicity. Lines of bodies, diagonally spread across the floor, alternating in their motions. Recognising the difficulty of synchronicity perhaps, Leeder opts for wave-like motions, movements spilling through the corps like water. I was worried for the nervy 12-year-olds, (Goddamn girl, leave the mothering at home!) but they nailed it. Driving drums, low lights, a sea of beautifully executed moves.

At its best moments, Radar reminded me of a rough-hewn iteration of Didier Theron’s work Harakiri. With just five professional dancers amidst a pool of students (however accomplished), this is a formidable achievement. It was hard to take my eyes off two of the pros in particular, Scott Elstermann and Lilly King. Not just their seamless execution, it was their unflinching commitment and confidence in seeing this ambitious enterprise through. Nerves? What nerves?

The single mis-step was an extraneous narrative piece towards the end. A police siren sounds, a girl falls, a boy saves her. There was nothing wrong with the dancing but the narrative felt awkward and unnecessary in a work that dealt primarily in abstractions. It’s a minor quibble and one quickly forgotten as the dancers re-emerged onto the stage for one last thrilling dance en masse.

It was over. The dancers filed out through the vast doors, into the darkened harbour, golden-lit with portlight. I breathed again as the audience rose as one, in cheering acclaim of Leeder and her collaborators.

Radar runs until November 24.

Read an interview with Brooke Leeder.

Pictured top is Lilly King and cast members of ‘Radar’. Photo: D. Wright.

 

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