Mayhem on speed makes for perfect Plan B

23 October 2021

Rita Clarke finds the two treats on LINK Dance Company’s latest bill are an antidote both to each other and to the challenges of closed borders.

‘Plan B’, Link Dance Company ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA, 22 October 2021 ·

COVID-dashed plans are not uncommon these days. They foster disappointment and despair but at the same time conjure up some innovative reactions, such as “Plan B”, by LINK Dance Company.

Traditionally LINK, which is part of the WAAPA Dance Department’s postgraduate program, offers young dancers opportunities to work with international and interstate artists. This year, however, Artistic Director Michael Whaites was forced to postpone ambitious plans for his students’ final season, thanks to Australia’s COVID travel restrictions.

Instead, he decided on a double bill featuring Didier Theron’s Shanghai Bolero, with Zoom connection to Theron (based in Montpellier, France) and Life, an original piece of his own creation labelled “an apt antidote to these uncertain times.”

They prove a good foil for each other.

Theron devised Shanghai Bolero for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. A triptych for 13 dancers it’s performed to Maurice Ravel’s famed orchestral work Bolero.

Much of Theron’s’ works is enigmatic in theme and conceptualisation, which is his appeal. In response to Ravel, who is said to have described his Bolero as written “without music”, Theron created Shanghai Bolero, calling it “a choreographic form without dance”.

To boot, although he said he was exploring sensuality and desire in this piece, both aspects seem at first very un-Gallically repressed in this stiff, choreographic style. There’s repetition of the music theme, repetition of movement, similarity of stance and style.

Yet, are we bored? Quite the contrary – it’s a vision of mathematical precision and compelling beauty, impressed upon the mind’s eye.

To start it features 10 women who march relentlessly and individually, stoney-faced, arms static at their sides, dressed in black shorts, long-sleeved tops and black high heels. Their chiselled precision is militaristic, enhanced by Ravel’s use of the dynamic soldiers’ rallying-to-battle snare drum. The dancers seem to become infused, step by step, with unrequited erotic vigour.

After the echo of pounding stilettos, three bare-chested and bare-footed men, clad in black trousers, appear and start to rock on parted feet. This movement gradually increases, propelling them into a blizzard of well-calibrated movement across the stage.

One dancer is lifted by many others. All wear black pants and the women wear black bras
Disciplined and wonderful to watch: LINK Dance Company perform Didier Theron’s ‘Shanghai Bolero’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

The last section begins with an apposite stillness as 16 dancers hold silent, powerful positions in groups of changing tableaux, reminiscent, perhaps, of the impotence that desire and anxiety often engender. The unravelling of this anxiety propels the piece magnetically forward to its close.

Shanghai Bolero demands enormous concentration by the dancers – the slightest lapse would sabotage the momentum. The LINK dancers were disciplined and wonderful to watch, creating that longed-for dramatic tension in the audience that keeps people riveted.

How the dancers must love shaking off this rigidity to perform in Life, choreographed by Whaites. A perfect antidote to Shanghai Bolero, it is mayhem on speed.

The company of 16 dancers shake their limbs, perform aerobatics, argue, throw things, have tantrums and surf each other aloft. It is loud, vocal, awash with pulsating light, and accompanied by live music played on the drums by Michael Jelinek whom the dancers skate around on the stage.

With impressive energy after such a demanding first performance, the dancers socked it to COVID and with a few defiant f-words cast aside their pandemic-woes in exchange for fun and frivolity.

You won’t want to miss this anything-but “B” performance.

“Plan B” continues at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre until 26 October.

Pictured top: LINK Dance Company performing ‘Life’ by Michael Whaites. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

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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.

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