Momentous clash

27 March 2021

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.

‘Restart’, Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 26 March, 2021 ·

WAAPA’s first dance season is a momentous clash of two new works for dance and music students: the classical Barroco, by Kim McCarthy, and Justin Rutzou’s contemporary dance/theatre piece, Are You Watching Me? The first is set to the famed baroque music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and the second to a variety of country, jazz and pop. The music is more than fine in both; it’s the face-off in style that shakes you up – wickedly intended, I’m sure.

Bach might have approved of Barroco, which features the classical grace and beauty of women dancing en pointe, and Are You Watching Me? – of which Bach would, no doubt, not have approved – features hoydenish women, often shoe-less, artless and graceless, except for the great finale.

In the first part of Barroco, eight string musicians (led by Paul Wright) fluently perform Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. Twelve feather-light classical dance students whirl about the stage in a floodtide of physical power and beauty. Dressed in white (costumes by Nicole Denholm) they look like dancers from Degas’s famous ballet paintings brought to life and arranged in exquisite tableaux. McCarthy’s clever movement design with its mix of groupings and quintessential classical idioms complements the music’s contrapuntal shape and its dynamic ascent towards a climax.

The second part features violinist Ciara Sudlow, an honours student, playing Bach’s difficult but exquisite “Chaconne” from his Partita No. 2 in D Minor, composed on the death of his wife. McCarthy’s 12 gorgeous and impressive dancers execute his superbly constructed choreography with expressive gestural movement, most engagingly with arms and heads. Their movement, hovering honeybird-like at times, captures the spiritual power of the music. Sudlow is ardent and luminous, creating in the finale a seeming parhelion as she moves into the centre of the dancers. In their intense lyricism and iridescent structure, McCarthy’s Barroco and Bach go hand in hand.

WAAPA’s contemporary dance students blow their top in ‘Are You Watching Me?’ Photo: Stephen Heath

Rutzou’s wickedly whimsical Are You Watching Me? revolves, he says, “around the arts and ever decreasing budgets, women in all their facets and a director called Bob”.

It opens with an empty, dark stage and a recording of Wanda Jackson singing her 1957 hit, “Fujiyama Mama”. The stage is variously flooded by every lighting device and in every colour (Shannon O’Neill) you could imagine. It certainly sets the scene, for after Jackson’s terrific rendition, all 11 contemporary dance students blow their top! Everything, in fact, is mayhem: the raucous voices, eye-watering showgirl costumes (Nicole Denholm), and music by Shirley Bassey, Jelly Roll Morton, Quincy Jones and Brahms.

Bob (an off-stage Jackson Rutherford) uncaringly auditions hopefuls, each trying to upstage the other, including tap-dancing Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Katharine Hepburn look-alikes. There’s a wicked sequence, reprised, of fan dancers using their exotic fans to portray themselves as peacocks – or perhaps turkeys, who knows?

Some of the audience members were in stitches, some not – that’s the fun of it.

‘Restart’ is on at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA, Edith Cowan University, until 31 March, 2021.

Third-year classical dance students in ‘Barroco’, the first work in WAAPA’s season opener, ‘Restart’. Photo: Stephen Heath

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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

  • Dance to savour

    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.

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