Reviews/Dance/Fringe World Festival

‘You Are’ by OFF-base dance: seeing is believing

15 January 2022

Fringe World has begun! OFF-base Dance’s debut work may make you squirm in your seat but Rita Clarke says she’s hooked.

You Are, OFF-base Dance ·
PS Art Space, 14 January 2022 ·

PS Art Space in Fremantle is a cavernous space built in the 19th century, perhaps originally used as a warehouse. For Fringe World, the solo dance work, You Are by OFF-base dance, it’s transformed (much to its surprise, no doubt, were it animate) into a monastic cloister.

It’s dark and murky and at first ominously silent. During the performance, reverberating sounds of bell ringing, drumming, gongs and thunderous, echoing voices, swirl around the pillars that cross the interior. This soulful soundscape (by Ned Beckley) was so in-your-face that you almost felt it was taking hold of you.

It’s a terrific space, fitting the bill for You Are, which its presenter – newly established local collective OFF-base Dance “ – likens to a “dark ritual of devotion through self-sacrifice” in the show’s publicity materials.

I must admit that during the first seven minutes or so I thought I was going to be self-sacrificing because the lone dancer (Macon Escobal Riley) crouching on the floor with his head in a stainless steel bowl hardly moved, it seemed, and when he did raise his head it was only to put it down again. However my discomfort also fitted the bill; OFF-base Dance wants to encourage you to squirm in your seats in an effort to show you the “other worldliness” of dance.

And by the end of the hour’s performance I was hooked and slightly stunned.

An image from OFF-base dance's performance of 'You Are'. In the foreground, you see a man's back as he lies on the floor with one hand behind his back the other extended. He is wearing nothing but what appears to be a loincloth. In the background are three ominous silhouettes.
Macon Escobal Riley at the end of a riveting sequence. Photo: Adrian Thomson

OFF-base Artistic Director Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson says he created You Are because of his interest in the ritual, dedication, pain and exhaustion devotees put themselves through to try to reach something beyond their understanding. It’s a tour de force for Riley who is compelled to exploit his body as though it has no barriers or limits. At the end his almost naked body runs liquid with sweat which streams down his torso and limbs.

Robinson’s choreography is full of animalistic imagery – requiring Riley to knee-crawl, simian-like, through the pillars, or arch his shoulder blades, on all-fours, like a leopard ready to pounce. At times he holds poses for long minutes, standing on his head, or twirling Dervish-like beneath a spotlight between the pillars. Mark Haslam’s lighting consists of alternating, spaced, soft red and blue linear lights high above, and back lighting, all creating the necessary nuances of cloister mysteriousness.

Riley begins his ritual dressed in a short, yoked white smock (designed by Sorcha Whalley) which billows as he dances. He then discards it, standing rather like St. Sebastian in the painting, waiting for the arrows, clad now in just a white cod-piece and coiled strap.

Thereafter he begins a riveting sequence of punishing martial-art like movements which must be seen to be believed. At the end he lies exhausted and prone on the hard, unwelcoming ground, the sequel to which is surprising.

As said, see it to believe it. It’s an hour – if intentionally uncomfortable in parts – well-spent.

You Are plays PS Art Space until 16 January.

Pictured top is Macon Escobal Riley in ‘You Are’. Photo: Adrian Thomson

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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

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