Reviews/Ballet/Contemporary dance/Dance

Graduating dancers keep sense of joy

16 November 2021

A White Act degustation, a collection of oscillations and a comical retro-styled finale make for an enjoyable evening of dance, says Nina Levy.

‘Verge’, WAAPA Dance ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 15 November 2021 ·

Watching this year’s second and third year dance students at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) last night, I could not help but think about the interruption that the pandemic brought to their training.

This year’s “Verge” season is more than the usual celebration of the graduating students as they teeter on the brink of their adult lives and careers. It’s a testament to the tenacity of both the young dancers and their teachers.

The program opens with “Moonlight Suite”, a montage of highlights from the “White Acts” of Giselle, La Bayadère, Swan Lake and Les Sylphides, restaged by WAAPA Co-ordinator of Classical Ballet Kim McCarthy and guest artist Leanne Stojmenov, former principal of The Australian Ballet.

In terms of curation, it’s not altogether successful; the various White Acts – in which female dancers appear as various beings (usually supernatural) – are actually quite different from one another in mood. This makes for disorientating viewing as we swerve from the chill of Giselle’s wilis, to Bayadère‘s dream-like “Kingdom of the Shades”, to the mystical elegance of Swan Lake, to the pseudo-Romantic wafting of Les Sylphides.

The White Act degustation does give the second and third year dancers a chance to demonstrate their versatility, however. Particularly notable in Monday night’s casting was Hope Keogh, who surprised with her gregarious performance in the pas de trois from “Kingdom of the Shades”, after her appropriately stern turn as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis.

Though occasionally the dancers didn’t quite achieve the effortlessness on which these ethereal scenes rely, there was much to enjoy. Daniel Powell was an excellent partner to Tamika Farrugia, who impressed with her controlled adagio. Ada Sayasane was notable for her charismatic and fluid delivery throughout.

Impressive, too, was the consistency of the corps de ballet, particularly in Giselle’s challenging shunting arabesques.

While the genre shifts from classical to contemporary, the mood remains surreal in Standard Candle, which opens with a large, inflated plastic bag that dances, ghostlike, about the stage.

Choreographed by WAAPA lecturer Adelina Larsson Mendoza for 18 second year students, Standard Candle aims to critique the “Western scientific project” and argue for the value of the arts “in making sense of our place and scale in the cosmos”.

Whether it succeeds in this aim is open to interpretation – Standard Candle feels, for the most part, abstract. It’s a work of oscillations; between the ordered worlds of Vivaldi and Bach and ominous soundscapes of strings and synthesized sound, between neutrality and colour, between shadow and silhouette (it’s beautifully lit by designer Finn Boylen and associate Georgia Beswick).

Weaving these seemingly disparate parts together are pleasing repeating motifs; paired dancers who clasp each others’ necks in whirling counterbalance, a phrase of skips with an almost cheery catch-ya-later gesture.

The second year dancers gave a mature and assured performance. Particularly noteworthy were Nikita Dakers and Max Higgins, in a duo that is at once expansive and abrupt. My favourite moment sees the pair sink into a deep plie that is felled without warning.

A dancer lunges in one corner of the photograph. She wears a spacesuit like onesie, decorated with retro style stripes. She looks pensive.
The dancers stay po-faced throughout ‘Future ’87. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

Performed by 11 third year students, it’s the program’s final work, Future ’87, that’s the audience favourite, however.

Created by London/Perth based choreographer Sam Coren, to 80s-style electronica by William Kalimba, Future ’87 takes us into a world that reminds me of the sci-fi TV shows of my childhood (think Star Blazers).

Populated by what look like Teletubbies done Star-Trek style, the stage is decorated with a line of LED lights that add a disco touch (Boylen and Beswick), and punctuated by a voice-over that repeatedly advises us not to be afraid in a way that is vaguely disconcerting but entertaining.

Though the choreography has an appropriately robotic feel, Coren doesn’t allow it to be restricted by that dynamic and the movement has an athleticism that isn’t lost in those giant spacesuits. The third year dancers are to be congratulated for maintaining a sense of joy without losing the po-faced concentration that is vital to the work’s success.

It’s an enjoyable way to round off both their time at WAAPA and a program that’s worth catching before it finishes.

“Verge” continues at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre until 18 November.

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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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