Reviews/Dance/Perth Festival

Excellence is in our backyard

5 March 2021

Nina Levy says Structural Dependency is yet more proof we don’t need to import world-class contemporary dance companies – they’re already here.

Structural Dependency, Brooke Leeder & Dancers ·
State Theatre Centre, 4 February 2021 ·

One of my favourite soapbox topics is the under-acknowledged excellence of Western Australian independent contemporary dance. And one of my favourite independent local choreographers is Brooke Leeder.

So I was thrilled when I learned her ensemble, Brooke Leeder & Dancers, would be presenting her work, Structural Dependency, at this year’s Perth Festival. Having already seen two iterations of the work, I felt confident it would be a winner on the Festival stage. On opening night my hunch was confirmed.

Everything about Structural Dependency feels purposeful, starting with the title, which neatly encapsulates the work’s intention. As Leeder explains in her program notes, Structural Dependency explores the structure of choreography, and how its elements – movement, space, sound and the viewer – depend on one another.

As it was in its development seasons, this year the show is presented in a studio space, with a relatively small audience seated in two rows, one on each side of the dance floor. The arrangement creates a sense of immediacy; we are physically close to the dancers and they are able to blur the boundaries between them and us, whether navigating a path of dependency on our bodies, sitting within our midst, or simply making powerful eye contact with us.

There’s something minimalist about the work – in the simplicity of the dancers’ all-white outfits and the unadorned studio space. The movement, too, feels minimalist in that it’s often repetitive but, like all great minimalist works, never monotonous. That’s partly because Leeder creates movement that makes you want to see it again – whether it’s an expansive lunge, a rippling dive, or a precariously balanced body – but also because she is master of the subtle variation, be it a difference in orientation in space, lighting state, pace, grouping or delivery.

As Leeder promises, the interdependence between the movement and the design elements is intensely rewarding. Louis Frere-Harvey’s score is composed of repeating sounds – from driving, drumming rhythms to ominous whirrings and sirens – that accumulate and dissipate in keeping with the movement. Similarly, Nemo Gandossini-Poirier’s lighting carves the space with shafts, spots, or washes that seem to both move and be moved by the dancers.

The interplay between movement and light is one of the rewards of ‘Structural Dependency’. Standing is May Greenberg, with ensemble. Photo: Mitchell Aldridge

It’s difficult to single out highlights because the work is such a cohesive whole, but a series in which the dancers repeatedly cluster before surging one member into the air is one. Particularly effective is the first of these, in which a dancer (Lilly King), is pressed against a wall as sirens and dense blue light build a sense of urgency. She seems to float for a moment before the fall that we know must happen.

In the work’s many solos there are numerous moments of note – Nikki Tarling’s waving, rippling form, which Celina Hage seems to channel and make her own; the contrast between Lilly King’s deliciously deep pliés and legs that slice the air; the intricate elegance of Scott Elstermann; the absolutely smooth control of May Greenberg. When the group comes together to dance in sync, we see elements of these solos simplified and amplified – undulating dives, spiralling turns, legs that carve parabolas – as the dancers charge around the space, regrouping and building to the work’s finale.

The opening and closing sections are my favourite, however, for their simple yet clever use of repetition, and for Frere-Harvey’s poignant broken chords.

As Leeder promises, the success of this work lies in the integration of, and interplay between, its various design elements … but it also lies in the quality of each of these elements: the choreography, the composition, the lighting design, the costumes, the design of the space and, of course, the dancers, who perform this intricate yet athletic work with electrifying energy and control.

A few weeks ago, I remarked on the achievement of Co 3 Contemporary Dance in showing Perth that our own dance artists are more than capable of making an international, Festival-standard work. That this has been achieved by an independent ensemble is even more impressive, and a powerful argument for the value of investing in WA’s independent dance sector.

Structural Dependency is proof that we don’t need to open our borders to see world-standard contemporary dance – it’s right here in our backyard.

Structural Dependency is in the State Theatre Centre’s Rehearsal Room until Saturday, 13 March, 2021.

Pictured top: Lilly King moment before she topples backwards to be caught by the ensemble. Photo: Mitchell Aldridge

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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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