Eclectic triple bill of dance ideas

25 November 2022

The second iteration of Co3 Contemporary Dance’s ‘IN.HOUSE Studio Season’ provides an intriguing glimpse into the ideas of three dance makers, writes Nina Levy.

‘IN.HOUSE Studio Season’, Co3 Contemporary Dance ·
Middar Room, State Theatre Centre of WA, 24 November ·

It always feels like a privilege to be invited into the studio to see the early stages of an artist’s work. When I’m asked inside as a critic, I feel this even more – the maker is trusting me to write about something that is, by definition, unfinished.

There’s something inherently exhilarating, too, about seeing the beginning of an idea, when it’s taking its first steps into the world.

Co3 Contemporary Dance’s “IN.HOUSE Studio Season” is, in a sense, the beginning of an idea too. Established last year, it’s part of a suite of three initiatives designed to support independent dance makers in WA. Curated by Co3 Artistic Director Raewyn Hill, this year’s “IN.HOUSE” has seen three artists given $4000 and 40 hours in the studio to explore a new idea and present the results to an audience.

Interestingly, the first work on the program comes from established director and designer Mark Haslam, who has worked with a diverse array of artists, ranging from Sydney Theatre Company to the DJ Fatboy Slim.

In Beta, Haslam investigates “the intersection of analogue and digital in our messy everyday lives”. The work plays out as a conversation between Haslam, who manipulates the design elements of the work live, and dancer Jessica Pettitt, who performs inside a cube with walls made of a translucent scrim.

Using subtitles projected onto the scrim, Haslam tells us that Pettitt is wearing a mocap (motion capture) suit. We are left to infer that the suit enables Pettitt to manipulate the sound and visual design, and evidently Haslam is involved too – dancing, in his own way, at his onstage computer desk.

The result is a maelstrom of light and sound. On the scrim and one wall of the studio, lines splice, intersect and fan through the space, interspersed with almost subliminal video footage of what could be family archives. Sound bubbles like liquid, Kate Bush’s resuscitated “Running Up That Hill” makes a fragmented appearance, a deep vibration helicopters through the mix. Clad in black, Pettitt is at once secondary and crucial; a favourite prominent moment, however, sees her silhouetted form crisply scooping and lunging through the psychedelic morass.

A scene from IN.HOUSE Studio Season, in which two brightly clad dancers stride purposefully, their arms extended forwards and fingers pointing.
Wonderfully silly: Russell Thorpe (foreground) and Luci Young in ‘That Was Awkward’. Photo: Chris Symes

The appropriately named That Was Awkward, by choreographer Russell Thorpe, brings us back from the otherworldly and into the studio. The houselights are up and something is going on behind the curtains that border the studio.

The soundscape (by performer Tao Issaro) is almost celestial but flamboyant gestures make it clear we’re not to take it seriously. The music becomes cartoon-like, the jokes dad-like, the poses slapstick. Though wonderfully silly and performed with zest by Thorpe and collaborators Issaro, Matthew Morris and Luci Young, this seedling seems like it’s still finding its purpose.

In comparison, If, Then… by choreographer David Mack with collaborators James O’Hara and Oscar Mack, feels more defined. Its staging helps with that; the two dancers (Mack and Olivia Hendry) are contained within a haze-filled wooden kiosk with a window, like a puppet box.

The arching and hollowing movement of the two dancers’ bare torsos against a soundscape that moves between opera and haunting electronica, is at once beautifully performed and faintly disturbing. But what is most effective about this work is the clever use of light, haze and unseen platforms, so that the two bodies, at times, seem to levitate or slowly vanish into the mist.

An intriguing glimpse into the ideas of three makers, “IN.HOUSE” is a neat program in which no work outstays its welcome. If you enjoy seeing inside the choreographic process it’s worth heading down to the State Theatre tonight or tomorrow to check out this one.

And a tip – if staff suggest that audience members move to get a better view, take their advice!

“IN.HOUSE Studio Season” continues until 26 November 2022.

Pictured top is Jessica Pettitt in ‘Beta’ by Mark Haslam. Photo: Chris Symes

A scene from IN.HOUSE Studio Season in which two people stand opposite each other. We can only see them from the chest up, they are unclothed and swathed in haze.
Haze is used cleverly in ‘IF, THEN…’ by David Mack. Photo: Chris Symes

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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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