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An intricate layering of art forms

Review: Steamworks Arts, 歸屬  Gui Shu (Belong) ·
PICA Performance Space, 13 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Described as a fusion of dance, music, sound and video projection, 歸屬 Gui Shu (Belong) is a layered work in more senses than one. Four dancers move amongst semi-sheer fabric banners, onto which video footage is projected. Through these corridors of fabric and imagery we catch glimpses of local composer Tristen Parr and Taiwan-based sound artist Yenting Hsu, both of whom play live. The dancers’ costumes are layered too; a mesh wrap will later be removed to reveal an earthy spectrum of colour beneath.

According to the show’s writer/director Sally Richardson, 歸屬 Gui Shu “explores interrelations of life, cities and globalisation…” and a sense of interconnectedness pervades the work. The different disciplines contained in 歸屬 Gui Shu dance around one another, a series of solos, duets and trios delicately and intricately interwoven by Richardson. Though the effect delights me, it doesn’t surprise me; Richardson is renowned for her innovative work across disciplines. In 歸屬 Gui Shu, not only has she  brought together artists from several artistic genres, but from two countries, Australia and Taiwan.

L-R: Yilin Kong, Laura Boynes, Yiching Liao & Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
The different disciplines dance around one another. Pictured L-R: Yilin Kong, Laura Boynes, Yiching Liao & Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

The video footage, too, hails from both countries, meandering dreamily through urban and suburban spaces in Perth and Tapei. Created by Ashley de Prazer, these images – gorgeously saturated with colour and detail – interact with both the fabric and the dancers. A delicate pattern of wild grasses forms a mask on dancer Yilin Kong’s face through which she peers; later her skin seems awash with flames. At another point, the dancers gently manipulate the fabric banners and the contracting or expanding projections add a ghostly quality, harking back to the work’s developmental stages (for those of us who were lucky enough to see these).

Tristen Parr. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Tristen Parr’s electric cello has a remarkable sound range. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Parr’s electric cello has a remarkable sound range, from the more familiar haunting strings to a throaty rumble reminiscent of a didgeridoo. At times it’s hard to tell (especially when he is obscured by the fabric curtains) where Parr’s playing ends and Hsu’s synthesized soundscape begins, so cleanly are the two woven together. Hers is a melange of deconstructed natural and urban sounds, from the soothingly aquatic to the rumbling of an unseen engine.

We hear Hsu’s voice too. In a favourite moment of mine, she recites a poem alternately in English and Mandarin, accompanied by projected imagery of various hands gently pressing the bare skin of a dancer. The words are haunting in more than one sense:

… In this world of ghosts
The unbearable remains unknown
As long as you remember me
I will never disappear…

The dancers (two from Perth, Laura Boynes and Yilin Kong; two from Taipei, Yiching Liao and Hsiao Tzu Tien) perform variously in solos, duets and quartets. It’s hard to pick standout sections as I found it all engaging, but one that sticks in my mind sees the four dancers’ arms moving flame-like; flickering, flaring and receding. In another, the dancers navigate each other’s bodies at close range, a kind of “dance of the crowded carriage” performed against a backdrop of what looks like station platforms and shopping centre interiors. It’s unsurprising to note that the four dancers are credited with the choreography; the fluid ripples, folds and lunges seem deeply ingrained in their bodies.

L-R: Laura Boynes, Yiching Liao, Yilin Kong & Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
A moment of karaoke. Pictured L-R: Laura Boynes, Yiching Liao, Yilin Kong & Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

The only part of 歸屬 Gui Shu that didn’t gel for me was a brief karaoke-style break. Though it was, unquestionably, funny (and the opening night audience seemed to enjoy it very much), I found it jarring in relation to the hypnotic quality of the rest of the work.

This is a minor niggle, however. 歸屬 Gui Shu is a gentle but compelling work that had me mesmerised for its 60 minute duration. The icing on the cake was checking out the accompanying video installation after the show, in which one can recognise footage and connect the two works.

Highly recommended.

歸屬 Gui Shu runs until November 16. 

The accompanying video installation runs until December 22. Both are part of a broader intercultural program, entitled “Between Landscapes”, running at PICA until December 22.

Pictured top is Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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