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Reviews/Dance

Dance double bill goes off with a bang

29 November 2019

Review: Scott Elstermann and Shona Erskine, “Bang! Bang!” ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 28 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

November has been a boon month for dance in Perth, with no less than seven shows presented by various companies, organisations and independent artists. Packing a powerful punch, dance theatre double bill “Bang! Bang!”, by local indie choreographers Scott Elstermann and Shona Erskine, makes a fitting grand finale to this unofficial dance festival.

Scott Elstermann. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Scott Elstermann alternates between elegance and frenzy in ‘Love you, Stranger’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

As the gunshots of the title foreshadow, it’s murder that ties this double header together. The first work on the program, Shona Erskine’s Love you, Stranger, is a chilling exploration of the consequences of public shaming. Though we know this to be a contemporary issue, Erskine takes us back in time, to the fates of three Australian women – Martha Rendell (1871-1909), Audrey Jacobs (1905-?) and Ellen Thompson (1835-1887) – all brought to trial for murder.

Performed by three dancers (Storm Helmore, Scott Elstermann and Bernadette Lewis), each representing one of the accused women, Love you, Stranger interweaves stark solos with detailed ensemble work. It’s lightly seasoned with text (written by Vahri McKenzie, voiced by Jo Morris) that hints at horror of various kinds.

Representing Rendell, accused of murdering her step-children, Helmore is neat, deliberate, intricate. As the “seduced and then publicly snubbed” Jacobs, Elstermann alternates between elegance and frenzy. Arms flinging wildly, Lewis, as Thompson, seems to be fending off an attack from an invisible foe; later it seems as if her own gasps floor her. Joe Paradise Lui’s soundscape provides an ominous backdrop; a melange of repeating notes and deep drawn-out undertones, punctuated by whispers and breaths.

It’s a glimpse into the abyss; dizzying, compelling. Erskine tells me she has plans to develop this work, and I’m keen to see what comes next.

Bernadette Lewis, Scott Elstermann and Storm Helmore. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Detailed ensemble work: Bernadette Lewis, Scott Elstermann and Storm Helmore in ‘Love you, Stranger’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

It’s during the brief interval, complete with snack-bearing usherettes (Laura Boynes and Lilly King), that we are drawn into Scott Elstermann’s Act 2, Scenes 1-4, a mad-cap ride that takes murder less seriously. Elstermann’s work is inspired by Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and, having filled that particular hole in my pop-culture knowledge the night before, I was wondering how the concept would play out.

Bernadette Lewis and Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Laura Boynes and Bernadette Lewis in one of many moments of physical comedy. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Well, in summary, it is Wes Anderson’s style, cleverly transformed into contemporary dance. While you don’t need to have seen the film to appreciate this work (my plus one assures me), Anderson buffs will, I think, be thrilled by the result.

Unsurprisingly there’s audio from the film, but it’s the way it’s animated on stage that’s so effective. With his terrific team of dancers – Laura Boynes, Storm Helmore, Lilly King and Bernadette Lewis – Elstermann captures the cartoon-like nature of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s many fight and chase scenes, rendered all the more hilarious by the liveness and the proximity afforded by the intimate Blue Room Theatre space. From the sunrise-stained opening to a luminous aqua wash, Chris Donnelly’s lighting pays exquisite homage to the film’s famed saturated hues.

Boynes, Helmore, King and Lewis are superb. It’s not just the crisp perfection of their many slapstick scenes of physical comedy, but their wildly mobile faces that move, plasticine-like, into ever more comical configurations.

The only serious thing to say about this work?

You gotta see it. I don’t care whether you’re a contemporary dance aficionado, a newbie or indifferent.

And I reckon it will sell out, so don’t delay.

“Bang! Bang!” runs until December 14.

Pictured top are Storm Helmore, Bernadette Lewis and Laura Boynes in ‘Act 2, Scenes 1-4’.

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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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