Decadent plague party delights

14 July 2022

Choreographer Natalie Allen is inviting you to an end-of-the-world party. If you’re up for some decadent dance, says Liz Cornish, you should accept.

IN CRIMSON, Natalie Allen and HotHouse Company ·
All Saints College, 6pm 13 July 2022 ·

A suitably red sunset on a clear, crisp evening on Wednesday night made a perfect backdrop for choreographer Natalie Allen’s new work IN CRIMSON, presented by local arts project HotHouse Company, based at All Saints’ College.

A man lifts a woman above his head, holding her by the waist. She braces herself with her hands on his shoulders. Her legs extend outwards, one bent and the knee with toes pointing to the floor and one rotated - we can't see the bottom of the leg.
Adding to the decadence of the party atmosphere: Gabrielle De Vriese and Nathan Turtur in Natalie Allen’s ‘In CRIMSON’. Photo: Jessica Russell

Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s 1842 story The Masque of the Red Death, Allen and her team of 10 emerging dancers bring us a party to reveal our excesses and our vulnerabilities.

It’s a promenade performance –  building 8 of All Saints’ College is transformed into a Prince’s castle with multi-hued lighting and creative set dressing. And we’re invited inside, to witness a masked ball for the courtiers after months in isolation to avoid the red plague. Appropriately, audience members at Wednesday night’s early performance were mostly masked and hand sanitised before entering.

The audience is split into groups according to our playing card tickets and expertly guided through the space by the dancers. Immediately we’re immersed in a space reminiscent of a museum or art gallery with performers on display on plinths and in niches, and a wheezy soundscape that heightens any apprehension about what awaits us. 

Room after room reveals various relationships playing out; a flirtation, a fight, a drunken soul-searching conversation, petals strewn across the floor and laundry to be folded. We observe through the windows, from the doorway, inside the room, sitting on the stairs, peeking through the slats and over the balcony.  Jostling for the best viewing position becomes part of the fun. 

Layering electronic and instrumental sounds, the score by Pavan Hari seamlessly coalesces into a driving force as the party progresses and then leaves us with just the essential breath.  The costumes – in elegant shades of black, gold and ecru – highlight that the only colour is provided by the clever lighting of the spaces.  It is difficult to make off-the-rack curtains appear as luxurious tapestries; it wasn’t quite achieved, but the transformation of the curtains from castle wall hangings, to togas and turbans and capes, plus a bit of competitive masculine measuring, kept the audience eagerly anticipating the next invention.  

A young woman peers through a glass window and a person on the other side who is obscured by her reflection. The scene is bathed in magenta light.
A quiet moment of self-reflection: Natassijia Morrow and Isabelle Leclezio in Natalie Allen’s ‘IN CRIMSON”. Photo: Jessica Russell

A moment that brilliantly utilises the unusual performance space sees beckoning hands poking through a wall above an amphitheatre.  Allen’s choreographic style of wild abandon pushes the dancers to extremes and they perform difficult movement with great aplomb, even on carpeted hallways.  Dancers slide across the room, tumble down stairs, lift each other to the ceiling and clamber along the window ledges, adding to the decadence of the party atmosphere. In contrast, a room of mirrors and masks offers a quiet moment of self-reflection. 

Cheeky, flirtatious, feisty and fabulous, the performers are embedded in their characters throughout the performance.

Laced with humour, this party at the end of the world is touching and hysterical.  IN CRIMSON is a jewelled box of delights, and I feel I could watch every performance and still not see it all.

IN CRIMSON continues at All Saints’ College until 16 July 2022.

Pictured top: the cast of ‘In Crimson’. Photo: Jessica Russell

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Author —
Liz Cornish

Liz Cornish has worked in the dance world since 1980 as a performer, teacher, choreographer, rehearsal director and more. She currently teaches Pilates at Mobilates and occasionally performs if the opportunity arises. Her favourite piece of playground equipment is a tree – cooler on the hands than metal monkey bars.

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