Reviews/Dance/Perth Festival

From cabaret horror to Zoom duos

24 February 2021

“MoveMoveMove” is a choreographic, sonic and visual adventure through independent local dance, one that finishes next door to another kind of journey in Feminism Has No Borders, discovers Nina Levy.

‘MoveMoveMove’, curated by Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson and presented by The Blue Room Theatre, Perth Festival ·
The Rechabite, State Theatre Centre of WA Sculpture Garden, The Blue Room Theatre, 23 February, 2021 ·

Feminism Has No Borders, Steamworks Arts, Perth Festival ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 23 February 2021 ·

Site-specific dance programs are not a new concept to Perth’s contemporary dance aficionados. “In Situ”, Strut Dance and Tura New Music’s annual program of site-specific dance works by Perth-based choreographers and composers, has enjoyed seven seasons since 2014, in venues ranging from Fremantle Arts Centre to St George’s Cathedral.

So I had great expectations of “MoveMoveMove”, a program of site-specific works curated by local dance artist Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson and presented by the Blue Room Theatre. Not only has the bar been set high by last year’s excellent “Situ8” program at the State Theatre Centre (STC), but this program is also a Perth Festival commission. No pressure.

The first work, Unearthly, met my expectations. Choreographed and performed by local dance artists Bernadette Lewis and Natalie Allen, Unearthly lives up to its name. It’s performed in the cellar-like depths of The Rechabite’s downstairs bars, and lighting designer Joe Lui and site/costume designer Kaitlin Brindley create a dark and dingy atmosphere. Into this our two dancers slink seductively, to a soundscape by Tess Stephenson that brings to mind a mix of 1920s cabaret spliced with clockwork.

As fluorescent tubes flicker, each dancer performs a ricocheting solo. Rocketing around the space to an explosion of sound and a kaleidoscope of light, they shed their sheer, shimmery outer layers along with any semblance of sanity. The mood turns to horror as Allen transforms into a rabid monster, with a screaming Lewis her victim. It’s terrifying and confronting stuff, exceptionally well performed and designed.

My only concern about the work was that some audience members (clearly not the aforementioned contemporary dance aficionados) looked confused about when and where to position themselves – perhaps a clearer audience briefing is needed beforehand, given that a Festival show is likely to reach beyond the usual suspects.

Somewhat shell-shocked, we were immediately immersed in a much calmer soundscape, thanks to headphones, and led to the next location, the STC Sculpture Garden, an unassuming space filled with shrubs, a few trees and an abstract, curving metal sculpture (Seeking Silence, by Tim MacFarlane Reid).

Mani Mae Gomes, Mitchell Spadaro and Michelle Aitken in the meditative ‘To Place’. Photo: Tashi Hall

To Place, choreographed by Lauren Catellani and performed by Mitchell Spadaro, Michelle Aitken and Mani Mae Gomes, has a meditative feel, in part due to Alexander Turner’s soothing sound design.

The movement, too, is subtle and calming. Dressed in oversized, wide-hipped white jumpsuits, the dancers navigate the trees and tussocks in slow and measured movements, bringing to mind the pacifying nature of some children’s TV shows (think Teletubbies).

The work is at its most engaging when the dancers perform in sync, slowly hinging, arms aeroplaning, folding at the hips. A title like “MoveMoveMove”, however, creates an expectation of movement, and lots of it. Following the highly physical Unearthly, the pedestrian pace of To Place, which brings to mind the dance experiments of the Judson Group in 1960s New York, felt underwhelming.

Pink dreams: Tahlia Russell in ‘The Walk’. Photo: Tashi Hall

A silvery, cloud-lined corridor sets the scene for the program’s final work, The Walk, choreographed and performed by local dance artist Tahlia Russell, whom we discover in a similarly decorated, pinkly lit room. In a bodysuit scattered with diamantes, with glittered eyes and cheeks, she seems like some kind of alien disco creature. An ethereal soundscape of electronic and wordless human harmonies, by Peter McAvan, gives way to a pop beat which draws the creature into action, and all of us into a new space.

Here Lui and Brindley transport us from pink dreams into an aquatic underworld, black, gleaming and cavernous. Russell is huddled in the corner under a crack of light; gradually she emerges into eerie cross beams. Limbs extending and rotating, she seems alien again, but this time amphibian, as she makes her way towards a hyperreal cloud.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Russell experiment with the interplay of movement and light, but assisted by a top-notch creative team, this latest development is mesmerising.

“MoveMoveMove” is a choreographic, sonic and visual adventure (Lui and Brindley, each superb in their own right, make for a dazzling design duo). While I enjoyed the program immensely, however, the reactions I saw and overheard among the audience, suggested it may be challenging for those who are less familiar with the scope of independent contemporary dance. Still, the season has sold out, so as wildcards go, it’s already paid off in that respect.

A still from ‘Feminism Has No Borders’, featuring Daisy Sanders.

After “MoveMoveMove” it was an easy segue to take in Steamwork Arts’ short dance film work, Feminism Has No Borders. Conceived and directed by Steamworks’ Sally Richardson with editor Emma Fishwick, it’s a series of four shorts, each created by a pair of women who have become friends through professional collaboration.

The catch?

Based in different countries, the dance artists are separated by the restrictions of the pandemic. Liaising by Zoom, they have provided self-filmed solo footages, which Fishwick and Richardson have delicately sewn together into duos.

Though the feminism of the title is communicated subtly rather than explicitly, there is a quiet strength in the dancers’ ability to create solos that speak to one another, in spite of Zoom’s well-known limitations and frustrations, and the anxiety of the situation in which we all find ourselves.

The overlapping bare-backed portraits of Yilin Kong (in Melbourne) and Hsiao Tzu-Tien (Taipei) are sculptural, capturing the incredible synthesis between them. In the footage of Daisy Sanders (Perth) and Aki Iwamoto (Japan/Brussels) we see a synchronicity in mood, a fascination with light and shadow. Both Sam Chester (Perth) and Isabel Sanchez (Madrid) hold their arms open to the expansiveness of nature. In contrast, Keren Rosenberg (Amsterdam) and Natalie Allen (Perth) contrast the softness of an Australian bush setting with the hardness of urban Dutch bitumen, a kind of visual metaphor for how far apart their worlds are.

It’s well worth finding 20 minutes to pop into the Blue Room to catch this fragment of time and experience, and also worth reading the online program and the touching stories of friendship that underpin these works.

Both “MoveMoveMove” and Feminism Has No Borders continue until 27 February, 2021.

Pictured top is a seductive Natalie Allen in ‘Unearthly’. Photo: Tashi Hall

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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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