Reviews/Contemporary dance/Dance

Bodies meet Baroque in blaze of glory

15 September 2022

Thirty years after its celebrated debut, Douglas Wright’s Gloria lights up the stage once more, this time with a very special addition. The result, writes Nina Levy, is simply glorious. 

Gloria, Co3 Contemporary Dance ·  
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA, 14 September 2022 ·  

It’s a bumper week for dance in Perth, with both state flagship companies presenting stellar works. Hot on the heels of West Australian Ballet’s Goldberg Variations comes Co3 Contemporary Dance’s Gloria, by the late New Zealand/Aotearoa choreographer Douglas Wright. 

It’s a wonderful, if unplanned, Baroque music double bill. 

I’m not quite old enough to be nostalgic for Wright’s dance composition to Vivaldi’s seminal sacred 1715 choral work Gloria. The celebrated choreographer created the work in 1990, and WA’s Chrissie Parrott Dance Company presented it at the 1991 Perth Festival. 

But within moments of curtain up it was apparent that there’s more than nostalgia driving excitement for this remount.  

What makes this production even more special is that, in a first for Wright’s Gloria, Vivaldi’s score is performed live, by St George’s Cathedral Consort, accompanied by West Australian Symphony Orchestra in chamber format. 

A deliberately understated curtain raiser by Co3 Artistic Director Raewyn Hill and Michael Whaites, accompanied with distinction by WASO Concertmaster Laurence Jackson, builds anticipation. 

What a bravura performance follows.  

Bathed in golden light, a dancer leaps into the air, arms held high, while two others from Co3 Contemporary Dance shift and shape behind him.
Ecstatic leaps, arching backs and loose limbs abound. In the foreground is Russell Thorpe and to the left is Zachary Wilson. Photo: Shotweiler Photography

At first the dancers are meditative, as though drawing energy from the exultant opening strains of the first movement of the Gloria. Then on those first jubilant cries they leap ecstatically, their arching backs and loosely held limbs contrasting the music’s formality. 

Understatement is key, and the dancers leave Aotearoa’s Sean MacDonald (who danced in Gloria in 1997) as a striking solo figure, arms raising. Darkness falls as conductor Dr Joseph Nolan pushes the silent pause just enough to magnify the triumphant final refrain. Magic.  

Seeing Nolan conduct in the round – the singers sit behind him – is also magical. A dancer in his own right, at one point he reaches back and seemingly plucks the voices of his singers from the air. 

And the sound he draws from both choristers and orchestra is rich, luscious and impeccably polished. 

A dancer forms a human sculpture above others from Co3 Contemporary Dance, using their heads as stepping stones.
Claudia Alessi makes a grand entrance. Photo: Shotweiler Photography

Renowned dancer Claudia Alessi (cast in the 1991 Perth Festival Gloria) makes an arresting entrance. Poised on the backs of co-dancers, her arabesques peel and contract in a repeating phrase as the human sculpture moves across the stage. As she treads up a staircase of skulls, dancers roll and reform underneath her.  

The pomp and cheer of “Laudamus te” is met with springing joyful movement, typical of this work and of the era in which it was made. Rather than looking dated, however, there’s a sense of freedom in this release from today’s more grounded styles. Sweeping gestures match the ebbs and flows of sopranos Lucinda Nicholls and Bonnie De La Hunty’s duet, their magnificent voices rolling liquidly around one another. 

In the “Propter magnum gloriam” movement, designer Mark Haslam’s dim circle of light serves to blur the distinctions between the bodies of four or five dancers who entwine and embrace, slowly rolling and undulating. Alongside Latin declarations about the glory of God, this scene is at once sensual and spiritual. 

The purity of Nicholls’ voice in solo “Dominie deus” is paired with a solo of similar clarity from dancer Francesca Fenton, in a movement series that circles and arches to a triumphant conclusion. Similarly, the aural overlapping of “Dominie, fili unigenite” is matched with dance phrases that see limbs crossing and opening, and bodies moving in rising and falling canons. 

Against alto Amber Lister’s mellifluous solo, a grappling duet between MacDonald and Scott Galbraith is powerful. Accompanied by the sopranos’ bell-like voices, its resolution, as one holds the body of the other, is poignant. 

Two dancers bathed in golden light grapple with each other in Douglas Wright's Gloria.
Sean MacDonald and Scott Galbraith grapple in a powerful duet. Photo: Shotweiler Photography

To the honey-smooth strains of alto Anita Saxby and regal instrumental accompaniment, pocket rocket Alex Kay sets off the next movement; star-shaped sautés are interspersed with jubilant spinning. Again, we see phrases layered and repeating, this time with ebullient drop-swings and knee slaps.  

In an astonishing moment in the final movement, Alessi swings through the air like a pendulum.  

It’s all in the name. This production is glorious and an absolute must-see, a melding of exceptional performances from the Co3 dancers under stager Megan Adams and artistic advisor Ann Dewey, and the Consort and WASO ensemble under Nolan, beautifully lit by the talented Haslam. 

With just four more nights to go, you’d best get on it. 

Gloria continues at the State Theatre Centre of WA until 18 September 2022. 

Pictured top: Claudia Alessi’s extraordinary pendulum is an astonishing moment in ‘Gloria’. Photo: Shotweiler Photography

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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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