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Bold new works make for dark double bill

STRUT Dance and the State Theatre of WA, “And Then Some” ·
Studio Underground, 13 November ·
Review by Tanya Rodin, mentored by Nina Levy ·

A double bill of independent dance boldly slapped its opening night audience at the State Theatre Centre of WA. Entitled “And Then Some”, the program is part of a new initiative from STRUT Dance, The Blue Room Theatre, the State Theatre Centre of WA and Co:3 Australia, and offers two emerging choreographers the opportunity to present work on the Studio Underground stage. The two works presented in inaugural iteration of “And Then Some” are by emerging Australian choreographers Scott Ewen and Lewis Major.

To have independent choreographic works developed and performed in Perth is always exciting, even more so when supported by some of the major players in the performing arts sector.

So why the use of the word “slapped”?

I understand the desire to create art that holds a mirror to the world, and that such works are often smeared with a dark tone, but I am finding myself starting to crave a little laugh, a little joy, a little hope, that could also potentially bring change.

Introduced by a witty, pink-wigged host (Olivia Hendry) the program begins with Scott Ewen’s Wasps at War, a work exploring the notion of competition, fighting and the decisions in between. It buzzes into being with two dancers (Dean-Ryan Lincoln and Rhiana Katz), each mesmerised by the wrapping of cloth bandages tightly around their wrists, preparing for the battle of limbs to come. With whipping wasp hands and warped wasping ballet, two more dancers (Scott Ewen and Lilly King) seem to be pressing pause and play, entangling and rearranging as they “strive for ascendency”.

I enjoyed watching, and wanted to see more of, the play with the bandage. It entwines and morphs the space between the dancers, as if adding extra limbs, extra contact, extra support or extra leverage. The four dancers move together with strength, clarity and precision, and then shift into slapping, shoving and suppressing.

As an audience member, I am usually not so interested in movement “tricks”… but Ewen has a way of fluidly blurring the lines so that “tricks” explode – impressively – out of nothing, as if he flies into fight and then dissipates. At times, however, I am not sure I believed the fight between the dancers.

Composer Dane Yates, a regular collaborator with dance and movement-based works, has a way of enticing the audiences into the complexities of rhythm, form and tension in movement, and his scores for these two works are no exception. Lighting designer Fausto Brusamolino illuminates the stage beautifully across the double bill, demonstrating the breadth of his visual palette, from eye-squinting haze to flashes of piercing light.

Second on the bill, Lewis Majors’ Platypus appears comical at first, with a dancer in an animal suit (the platypus of the title?) that stands in the spotlight staring back at us. A voiceover announces that this is an “important work of art”, before we are plunged into darkness and a bone-shaking cacophony of sound.

The lights come up, and we see six women in simple pink dresses, (a stellar cast of Jasmin Lancaster, Nikki Tarling, Sophia van Gent, Tra Mi Dinh, Zoe Wozniak and Sarah Wilson), who stand and stare, powerfully holding the space. The light fades in and out, revealing some things but not everything, until just one dancer (Zoe Wozniak) remains, back curled, swaying, silently calling the others to join the tribe-like movement.

These six women seem to command the space to move for them as they curve in and out of the floor. The cohesion and complexity of choreographic patterning in the group is impressive, especially given the relatively short rehearsal period.

But Major subtly scatters small warning signs that something is not right. The women transform into fierce-eyed creatures, circling the space. There’s a dramatic shift in tone with scenes that had me squirming in my seat; the women fighting then being hit by the faceless animal/man, followed by almost ritualistic torture, complete with replica guns. By the end I was left in shock, staring at the dishevelled man, still in the animal suit, gasping for air.

Leaving the theatre after the show, I found myself pondering the violent images in my mind, and questioning why. The clue “Epstein didn’t kill himself”, in Major’s program notes, sparked me researching when I got home and I encourage you to do the same. In a world full of brokenness and danger, I recognise that portraying this destruction might be a way to make us think, question, and then, perhaps, take action. But as a dance artist myself, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to be in that rehearsal process. Seeing my contemporaries being beaten or holding a gun (albeit replica) to someone’ s head was shocking. It seems it was Major’s intention to shock, but I wasn’t clear what conversation he hopes to spark, and at what cost.

Though I loved seeing two athletic works performed by two casts of powerhouse dancers, for me this double bill is a heavy combination. “And Then Some” is an exciting new initiative, but for me it truly was dark in the Studio Underground on Wednesday night.

“And Then Some” runs until November 16.

Pictured top: Lilly King (front) and Scott Ewen in Ewen’s “Wasps at War”. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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