The human touch

9 June 2021

From dystopia to salvation, LINK Dance Company’s latest double bill brings together two responses to the loss of connection experienced by artists and audiences over the last year, writes Kim Balfour.

‘In the Flesh’, Link Dance Company ·
Friday 4 June, Geoff Gibbs Theatre ·

The last year has been a tough time for performing artists everywhere, and dancers and audiences alike have felt the profound loss of shared experience. In its recent double bill, “In the Flesh”, WAAPA’s graduate dance ensemble LINK Dance Company centred this idea, with two debut works focusing on the human connectivity that living flesh provides.

The first work, Bloody Hawaii, choreographed by local independent choreographer Bernadette Lewis, is a collision between Greek mythology and vintage cartoons, from which an unsettling shadow world of the human psyche emerges. All 16 of the LINK company dancers are on stage most of the time, looking very much like disembodied souls on a dystopic holiday cruise to nowhere.

Dressed in a genderless mix of uniform-like blue skirts, pants, and shirts, accented with shocks of primary coloured collars and pleats, costume designer Nicole Denholm’s outfits reference a bygone era. Lewis’s choreography, created with the input of the LINK company, belies the superficial civility and unity the costumes convey.

The ensemble repeatedly form, dissolve and reform an unnerving jiggling, jittering and undulating mass, depicting social fatigue, obedience and mindless loyalty to group think. Tension mounts and then ebbs away, power struggles ensue, ending in gunfights, friendship or romance, only to be reabsorbed by an amoeba-like throng of bodies.

Kalib Gwilym’s lighting and Ryan Burge’s music composition and sound design are central to creating the work’s disquieting atmosphere. Burge’s haunting off-kilter soundscape for Bloody Hawaii is comprised of mashups of scratchy vinyl records and vintage cartoon themes. The soundscape includes “I Put a Spell on You”, by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, “The Skeleton Dance”, by A Silly Symphony, and western-influenced Hula tunes called auana, meaning to drift or wander. And drift and wander the ensemble does, into the fading twilight they peel off from long conga lines in a semiconscious state of Club Med delirium.

Four dancers are on stage, captured mid movement. Two stand on one leg, leaning precariously, their backs arched. One flies in the air, arms and legs outstretched. Another is mid stride.
James Berlyn’s is fluid, earthy and stylish choreography for ‘Adaptitude’. Pictured are Loci Wamsley, Dior Maddalena, Anna Milburn and Asher Simkin. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

When we turn our internal monologue upon ourselves, in times of isolation and uncertainty, how do we drag ourselves out of the tailspin of self-doubt? It’s a question choreographer James Berlyn (artistic director of WA Youth Theatre Company), explores in Adaptitude, where a resilient and adaptive attitude can be our salvation.

Adaptitude is bookended by two short videos of a cellist, Miranda Murray-Yong, producing a yearning melancholic dissonance. The rest of Tristen Parr’s composition exudes a subtle sophistication, which works perfectly with Berlyn’s fluid, earthy, and stylish choreography. Jake Pitcher’s black understated costuming contributes to the sleek feel of the work.

Adaptitude again sees a good deal of the LINK company as an ensemble, interspersed with smooth transitions into compellingly executed duos, trios, and quartets. There are some touching, ethereally beautiful sequences in Adaptitude, demonstrating a care and sensitivity of movement honed over Berlyn’s decades in the performing arts.

There is a sequence of spoken word as the company lethargically ambles towards the audience. The dancers’ internal monologues become external, beginning as murmurs, then whispers, until we can hear phrases such as, “Positivity gone”, “Judgements and comparisons”, and “I don’t feel good at this”. The ensemble members put on blindfolds and industrial hearing protection, living in silence and darkness, in isolation with their negative self-talk. The performers later constrain their movements with belts and straps, a movement workshop idea Berlyn played with thirty years ago, to “create the possibility of other unused or as yet undiscovered options”. Adaptation.

From here the score gradually builds towards a more optimistic future, Jolene Whibley’s evocative lighting shifting from cold stark tones to a nurturing warm glow. The now unrestrained ensemble shifts up a gear or two, a murmuration of bodies pulsing with an airy lightness to an ethereal discord of liquid beats. The dancers move in sequences and formations characteristic of rippling water, at one with and also shaping their environment.

“In the Flesh” made for an engrossing, entertaining, and beautifully performed double bill, produced by two gifted choreographers at different stages of their careers. Both Berlyn and Lewis have a lot to say, and their ideas have been articulated with professionalism, ability, and sensitivity by the LINK Company dancers. Given the dark time the performing arts has been enduring of late, it’s encouraging to see the beginnings of a bright future in these young artists.

Pictured top: LINK Dance Company performing Bernadette Lewis’s ‘Bloody Hawaii’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

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Author —
Kim Balfour

Kim Balfour is writer and former professional dancer, who has danced with companies such as WA Ballet and Sydney Dance Company. Kim has worked as a freelance writer for over 15 years, including the role of dance writer for The West Australian newspaper. In 2020, Kim was selected as a writer-in-residence at the Centre for Stories, and is currently writing a work of creative nonfiction on gender identity and expression in dance. As a child Kim was sometimes seen sitting on a gently spinning playground carousel, deep in thought, staring at her feet as they dragged along the ground.

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