Magical and moving

4 March 2020

In Denmark, Nina Levy cannot help but feel part of the joy of the collective dance performance, Chorus.

Review: Annette Carmichael Projects, Chorus ·
Silverstream Wines, Denmark WA, 29 February and 1 March ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

At the top of a small grassed hill, a multi-coloured mass of women is framed by the muted greens of gum trees whose gnarled and twisted branches reach towards the night sky. This is Annette Carmichael’s Chorus, a contemporary dance work that sees more than 140 women on stage, exploring the timely topic of family violence.

The scale of this project, however, reaches well beyond numbers.

Based in the small town of Denmark, in Western Australia’s Great Southern region, Carmichael is nationally renowned for her ground-breaking work, which blurs and breaks down the boundaries between professional and community dance. Her projects are created and performed in regional WA, creating new audiences for contemporary dance, providing employment and professional development for regional and metropolitan artists, and enriching the lives of participants and audiences in regional cities and towns.

Chorus is the third work in Carmichael’s “Beauty Index Trilogy”, which investigates the idea that fear and violence may be alleviated by beauty and compassion. Chapter 1, The Beauty Index, was made with men from Albany and Denmark in 2017 (and will tour regional WA next year). Chapter 2, A Light Shade of Red, was created last year, with young people aged 15 to 26, also from Denmark and Albany. In Chorus, the performers hail from Albany, Bunbury, Denmark, Mandurah, Perth and Ravensthorpe and range in age from 14 to 75. The central roles are played by professional dance artists, who lead a cast of community dancers.

As the title may suggest, Chorus is shot through with references to Greek mythology. We see the wounded figure of Beauty, a character inspired by the goddess Nike. Like her ensemble, she is a victim (we assume) of domestic violence. As the work progresses, Beauty is comforted and strengthened by sun goddess Solaire via three delegates and their respective choruses.

Holly Carter as Beauty, left, and Bernadette Lewis as Soleil’s second delegate in ‘Chorus’. All photos this page: Nic Duncan

In the sculptural and soaring role of Beauty, Holly Carter is lithe and limber. First delegate Sumer Addy brings an earthy quality to the deep pliés, surprising springs and arching moments of her solo. Bernadette Lewis, the second delegate, dances a solo that alternates between smooth scooping movement and joyful frolicking, with her trademark breadth and dynamism. Dancer Talitha Maslin and violinist Jude Iddison together bring an explosive energy to the third delegate’s solo, which quivers and shivers, writhes and undulates in a celebration of female sexuality.

Albany singer Bonnie Staude’s ethereal voice added much to James Gentle’s soundscape.

Threaded through the work are the wordless vocals of Solaire, sung by talented Albany singer Bonnie Staude, whose pure and ethereal voice and stately presence belie her 18 years. Her vocals form part of an other-worldly soundscape by James Gentle, of double bass (Gentle), cello (Marie Limondin) and violin (Iddison) woven together with electronic/synthesised sound.

And then there is the chorus, for whom the work is named, comprised of dancers whose training backgrounds range from professional to beginner. Divided by town or city into smaller, colour-coded groups, the chorus variously swells, divides and divides again across the massive grassy expanse.

Carmichael’s love of intricate patterning is evident in a section entitled “The Domestic Machine”, in which the drudgery and repetitive nature of domestic life are abstracted and transformed into a mesmerising grid of robotically slicing, jabbing and cradling arms accompanied by a cacophony of beeps, clicks and taps. It’s performed with impressive precision by dancers from Denmark.

The abstracted gestures are reprised in a section called “Persistence”, by dancers from Perth, led by dancer Tanya Rodin. This time, the crisp circling and encircling movement unrolls across the stage. Again, the precision of the execution is notable.

About 100 women run, spinning a whirlpool of colour and movement.

Contrasting these complex choreographic patterns are moments of mass movement, performed by the chorus. One of the most powerful is a maelstrom of colour as about 100 women run to form a whirlpool of moving bodies. And the “gestural opera” of the closing moments, in which we see the entire cast moving in unison, is uplifting to witness. Throughout the work, the focus and commitment of the chorus is impressive, especially when one remembers that some have had little or no prior dance training. It’s a credit, not just to each individual performer and the lead dance artists, but to Carmichael’s artistic leadership.

Occasionally, Chorus feels repetitive; it could benefit from some editing and shortening. At times, too, the distance between the audience and the performers seems too great – though the cast is large, much of the choreography is finely and intricately detailed. As I discovered when I moved closer to the front for my second viewing of the work, those sitting further back missed out on the work’s many delicate hand gestures as well as the joy on the faces of the performers.

But it is this joy that ultimately outweighs those concerns. Watching Chorus was a magical and moving experience. The scale of Carmichael’s achievement, both on and off stage, is immense.

Pictured top: Soloists perform in ‘Pleasure’, part of Annette Carmichael’s dance work, ‘Chorus’. L-R: Tanya Rodin, Talitha Maslin, Bernadette Lewis, Holly Carter and Sumer Addy. Photo: Nic Duncan

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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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