At once urban and animalistic, Mitch Harvey cuts a powerful figure in his new solo work, says Nina Levy. But can he fill the vastness of his performance venue?
MindCon, Mitch Harvey Company presented by Co3 Contemporary Dance ·
European Foods Warehouse, 3 November 2021 ·
Back in the 1990s renowned West Australian choreographer Chrissie Parrott presented her seminal work Tower in the old Boans Warehouse in East Perth. I still recall the impact of a corridor of light traversing the echoing length of the space, and the way Parrott used that depth to create layers of movement and story.
Suffice to say, making dance works in industrial warehouses isn’t a new idea, but in recent years the concept has enjoyed a renaissance in Perth. It’s not hard to understand why; dance is an artform that loves space and a warehouse provides that on a scale that the average theatre venue can’t provide.
Emerging local choreographer Mitch Harvey was one of three artists on Leeder’s Perth Mess Hall triple bill, and it seems he’s got a taste for space. Commissioned by Co3 Contemporary Dance through its inaugural In.Residence program to provide opportunities for local dance makers, his new work MindCon takes us inside the European Foods Warehouse in Northbridge.
Harvey’s striking a different path to the one trodden so far, however. Where others have filled their warehouses with dancers, Harvey’s work is a solo for himself, with the space populated instead by several large-scale sculptures. Created by his brother, visual artist and winner of TV’s LEGO Masters Series 2 Jackson Harvey, these piles of concrete-like blocks are like the rubble of brutalist architecture. Némo Gandossini-Poirier’s shafts of light and haze emphasise the stark and unforgiving lines of these towers, creating pools of light and shadow.
It’s appropriately bleak for a work that, according to its program notes, explores ideas about individuality and power in a futuristic, dystopian setting.
Into this post-apocalyptic world arrives a single dancer, Harvey, and rhythmic sound, by composer/lead collaborator Louis Frere Harvey, that rattles and pulses, layers building and receding throughout the work. Though the work is ostensibly a solo, the sound – like the sculptural set – feels like another “character”, and eventually manifests as such.
Harvey is renowned for his powerful grace, all the more striking because of his height, and his sheer physicality in MindCon is compelling as struggles against an invisible force. At times, his slowly evolving form – arching with arms outstretched – feels like an organic answer to the concrete-like cubes that surround him. Clad in utilitarian greys and combat boots, he is at once urban yet creaturely, oscillating between fight and flight as he navigates Gandossini-Poirier’s tunnels of light, shadow and smoke.
At times the otherworldliness feels almost ethereal; shafts of light have the quality of a biblical illustration and the reverberating sound is almost harp-like. The creature that finally appears, silhouetted by light at the top of the tallest sculpture, feels more vampiric than seraphic, however. Drumsticks slicing the air like knives, Frere-Harvey could be casting evil spells on all of us. The effect is magical.
While the interaction between the dance, sound, light and set is highly effective, it only goes part of the way to filling the airy, echoing space, and I missed the presence of other bodies in the warehouse context. Perhaps we, the audience, were meant to provide those bodies – the program invites us to “[explore] the set and [find our] place as one of its inhabitants”. Either audience members hadn’t read the program, or they felt – like me – held back by the lack of movement amongst other punters.
By halfway through the work I found the relentless sense of threat – aural and physical – overwhelming. No doubt that is intentional, but I felt some variation in mood and tone wouldn’t go astray.
Nonetheless MindCon is a strong debut for Harvey’s newly established Mitch Harvey Company and was received with warm enthusiasm by the opening night audience. I look forward to seeing what comes next.
As for the European Foods Warehouse, a little bird told me there are more exciting plans for this venue… stay tuned.
Pictured top: Mitch Harvey in ‘Mindcon’. Photo: Matsu Photography
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