Creative synergy makes for powerful and moving dance

16 February 2022

Emerging dance critic Zendra Giraudo finds Rachel Arianne Ogle’s new work about life, loss and grief profoundly moving.

Every year Seesaw Magazine, in collaboration with Perth Festival, provides an opportunity for a young dance graduate from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts to review a Perth Festival dance work and have that review published.

Throughout their three years of study, WAAPA students are required to review dance performances. The opportunity to write for Seesaw Magazine is a special award for the WAAPA dance student who made the most outstanding contribution to the field of dance criticism throughout their studies at WAAPA.

This year’s winner is 2021 graduate Zendra Giraudo.

And The Earth Will Swallow Them Whole, Rachel Arianne Ogle ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 13 February 2022, matinee ·

And The Earth Will Swallow Them Whole is a profound, two-act contemporary dance work that journeys through the shapeshifting world beneath our feet, where we witness six dancers contending with Earth’s imminent power. Exploring life and death, grief and loss, and the glorification of those gone from us, this effective and exemplary work by West Australian choreographer Rachel Arianne Ogle has made its premiere at the 2022 Perth Festival.

Ogle masterfully marries choreography with design in this ambitious piece wherein each design element breathes in its own rising and falling dynamic, simulating an atmosphere of organic otherness. Her collaborators – set and costume designer, Bruce McKinven, lighting designer Bosco Shaw, and composers/performers, Gabriella Smart and Luke Smiles – provide the synergy between set, sound, and choreography that is a trademark of Ogle’s work.

In the first act of And The Earth Will Swallow Them Whole, the Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre of WA is transformed from a conventional proscenium theatre into a stadium. The audience above is invited to peer down over the precipice and into the pit of the theatre, the Earth’s black belly.

From the darkness below, Smiles’ electronic distortions prey like a parasite on the classical melody of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata from the grand piano at Smart’s fingertips. Mournful arpeggios turn into frantic chords that are electronically warped into grating, plummeting screams with haunting resonance.

The beat drops, cueing our six dancers. They clump, hurtle, skim, and cling to one another, to the very ground beneath their feet, in search of stability. Ogle’s signature style features in these group sequences, as dancers expertly flow through suspended lifts and arcs, into rock-solid formations that endlessly collapse and seamlessly rebuild.

A promised cloak of dark fabric quickly blankets the space and dancers with air bubbles trapped beneath. Do those patterns resemble waves in the sea or sky, or perhaps the terrain of the earth’s surface? Dancer Zee Zunnur is caught in a tsunami, or is it a storm, or earthquake? The waves grow in magnitude and ferocity, and she is enveloped behind expansive plumes of fabric, until they billow out into an immense, encompassing amoeba. And so the first act concludes, leaving us wondering what is come.

In Act II we are invited to traverse the inside of the belly and inhabit the theatre floor. In a contemplative slow burn, this section beautifully enacts a universal rite, honouring grief and loss through captivating imagery. Inside a ring of stones and surrounded by a small forest of pieces of black tissue paper, the dancers gather in mournful ceremony around Zunnur’s body.

They fold, twist, and scrunch the tissue to construct objects and adornments; a bouquet of flowers and a letter, bowls filled with offerings, coverings for the eyes and hands. Each step of the process is significant to the next, and over its many phases, we begin to recognise the innate humanness of the scene. Ritualism as an attempt to make peace with impermanence.

By the end of And The Earth Will Swallow Them Whole, the classical and the digital sounds find harmonious coexistence to create a melancholy and hopeful ambience, perhaps symbolising reconciliation with the Earth and ourselves. This final section brings forth feelings of acceptance and compassion in the face of the death and danger experienced in the first.

The extensive detail to the ceremony, as it unfolds, is a testament to Ogle’s thorough artistry. It is this which makes her work sophisticated and sensitive, despite the broad and deeply nuanced concept. It is, of course, made possible by the adept cast of independent dancers – Linton Aberle, Imanuel Dado, Storm Helmore, Bethany Reece, Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson, Zee Zunnur. Their unwavering execution and precise commitment to intention is truly at the heart of the work’s success, as it is through their bodies that we experience our own.

And The Earth Will Swallow Them Whole is cathartic and reflective, bringing hope and love to a concept so many of us fear.

Pictured top in the foreground: Storm Helmore, Linton Aberle, Bethany Reece and Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson. in the background: Zee Zunnur and Imanuel Dado. Photo: Emma Fishwick

Read senior critic Rita Clarke’s review of And The Earth Will Swallow Them Whole.

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