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Reviews/Dance/Perth Festival

Dance to savour

12 March 2021

Perth Festival commission Slow Burn, Together is a dance work that allows time for boredom… but Rita Clarke says the effect is quite the opposite.

Slow Burn, Together, Emma Fishwick, Performing Lines WA and Perth Festival ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 11 March 2021 ·

It’s not often you hear a choreographer say she hopes her audience will occasionally be bored, so they have time to absorb their own reactions to her work.

But that’s what local choreographer Emma Fishwick says of her new Perth Festival commissioned work, Slow Burn, Together. You certainly have that time watching the work – created for 15 female dancers, ranging in age from early 20s to 70s – for it has a slow, measured evolution, and so much is danced in silence you feel you should take care not to let others hear your thoughts. It creates that awed effect you get in a vast cathedral – as does listening to the intermittent Baroque music and soundscape, mastered and designed by Tristen Parr.

Fishwick sees the world from a kaleidoscopic perspective which results in a feast for the eye, not only created by movement but by its myriad, and mirth-inspiring props. Slow Burn calls to mind Chrissie Parrot’s fantastic productions in the 1980s and the magic MAM, from Teac Damsa, created by Michael Keegan-Dolan (Perth Festival 2020).

One of the ideas explored in this work is the historic objectification of women, and the labour that underpins this process. Items implicated in this state of affairs are either worn, or litter the stage: high heeled shoes, black bras and knickers, a bridal-like veil, diaphanous clothing. A kind of passive idleness in the stance and eyes of the performers suggest the discontent evident in Pre-Raphelite and Gustav Klimt paintings of women. This dissatisfaction is personified hilariously by a brief projection on the back wall of Edouard Manet’s 1863 painting Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe in which a naked woman sits languidly on the grass between two overdressed swells.

The golden curtain hangs in one corner of the stage. Centre stage two dancers (Nanette Hassall and Min Zhu) are placing images on a projector - displayed on the back wall is a renaissance painting of a naked man being pulled by others (it's hard to see the detail). In the other corner, Francesca Fenton and Ella-Rose trew stand with their legs in fourth position, their arms extended in a v, the torsos slightly twisted.
Exploring the historic objectification of women. L-R are Nanette Hassal and Min Zhu, and Francesca Fenton and Ella-Rose Trew. Photo: Christophe Canato

Slow Burn, Together opens in silence, on a darkened set, gradually revealing women in black slowly advancing across the stage. The floor is covered by an enormous sheet of fine crumpled gold foil which will later be hoisted up like a tsunami to stand gleaming and undulating across part of the stage, set designer Bruce McKinven’s stunning work masterfully lit by Chris Donnelly.

What follows are disconnected vignettes of action – a performer in a blue dress skating, a girl in a fluttering dress sweeping low on a long-stringed swing, others robotically pushing about ladders and projectors, or throwing shoes, books and balls across the stage. The main prop is a small dolly, wheeled on and off, holding tableaux of various kinds. One such is the comical scene which sees Francesca Fenton suspend a backdrop of gold foil to frame Ella-Rose Trew on hands and knees, pushing the dolly on which Laura Boynes and Sue Peacock perch. The pair are stretched out like figureheads on a ship; George Frederick Handel’s fulsome Harpsichord Suite No.4 in D Minor – IV Sarabande, accompanies.

Francesca Fenton and Ella-Rose Trew are captured mid-motion, a few inches off the floor, their arms extended above their heads. In the background is the golden curtain.
Francesca Fenton and Ella-Rose Trew captured during the ‘marathon of constant motion’. Photo: Christophe Canato

The two main performers, experienced dancer and choreographer Trew and Fenton, who is freshly graduated from the WA Academy of Performing Arts, are exquisite in a series of duets. They wrestle each other, execute a marathon of constant motion that makes you want to get up and join them, and also dance in high heels whilst serenaded by “Ombra Mai Tu” (aka “Largo” from Xerxes) from Handel’s 1738 opera, Seres. They turn, bend, make sweeping gestures and present beautiful profiles glancing over shoulders, rather like models on catwalks. The movement is mesmerising, graceful, simple and languid and their gaze inscrutable. They’re so good, though, they shouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.

Featuring many of the WA dance/movement community’s top performers and educators, the deft assurance of the ensemble, too, is a joy to watch, and it is inspiring to see celebrated senior performers sharing the stage with younger women. The only small criticism to be made is that it would be nice to see them utilised more prominently.

Suffice it to say I wasn’t bored – quite the contrary in fact. But I did have time to know this is a performance to dwell on and savour – exquisite.

Slow Burn, Together runs until 14 March 2021.

Pictured top: Francesca Fenton, Ella Rose Trew and Rachel Arianne Ogle. Photo: Christophe Canato

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Author —
Rita Clarke

Whilst studying arts at UWA Rita found herself working at Radio 6UVSfm presenting the breakfast and Arts shows, and writing and producing various programs for ABC’s Radio National. A wordsmith at heart she also began writing features and reviews on theatre, film and dance for The Australian, The Financial Review, The West Australian, Scooby and other magazines. Tennis keeps her fit, and her family keeps her happy, as does writing now for Seesaw.

Past Articles

  • Momentous clash

    It’s Bach and ballet versus jazz and fan dancers in WAAPA’s ‘Restart’, and Rita Clarke enjoys the fun of the clash in styles.

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