Laura Boynes’ on-the-spot choreography makes for dance theatre that’s at once comic and enthralling, discovers emerging critic Dominique Logan.
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 dance students are required to review performances. The opportunity to have work published by Seesaw Magazine is a special award for the student who made the most outstanding contribution to the field of dance criticism throughout their studies at WAAPA.
This year’s winner is 2022 graduate Dominique Logan.
Equations of a Falling Body, Laura Boynes
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, 23 February 2023
With its creator whispering instructions, silent disco-style, into the dancers’ earpieces, real-time choreography drives Equations of a Falling Body, a new dance theatre work by local choreographer Laura Boynes.
This style of improvisation also drove many anxious moments for me whilst studying dance full-time, waiting for the next instruction for shaping the space. A perfectionist with control issues despises the element of chance, but the flipside – as the last three years have shown me – is that anything is possible. And it’s what Boynes shows her audience in this work.
Developed through Strut Dance WA’s 2020 Seed Residency, Equations of a Falling Body encompasses the extremities of the human experience. The piece opens with James O’Hara, harnessed and suspended mid-air above a shallow pool of water. Ella-Rose Trew and Timothy Green shine their head torches onto his body, and we all wait in anticipation as he is lowered into the water.
Against a score designed and composed by Felicity Groom and Tristen Parr, O’Hara’s movements are spectacular and otherworldly, inhuman even, as he moves through the liquid. This opening sequence encapsulates the focus of Boynes’ work, where highly unpredictable forces, beyond our control, intervene in our everyday lives and reshape our desires.
Teetering on the line between comfort and adrenaline, the dancers rely on Boynes’ voice in their ears to guide them over the next 75 minutes. Whilst the structure of the work has remained almost the same since its developmental phases in 2020, there are always changes in content. This is evident in the final moments of this performance, where the scrim would not open, and instead, we received a glimpse into both the disarray of found objects they have left behind them, and the vulnerabilities of live performance.
When the house lights were occasionally turned on, my stomach had a falling feeling that many performers have when something wrong happens, a testament to lighting designer Matt Marshall. It’s in these moments, too, that Boynes begins to dismantle the performance space by exposing it for what it is: a studio. Props, including megaphones, helmets, fake grass and industrial fans, are used for a few minutes and left abandoned. There is nothing blended over; sections break apart, and our focus is constantly shifted. Nothing is made palatable for us.
Everything is purposeful within this mesmerising work; threads are woven together by the dancers to form an integrated whole. Green recounts his childhood watching David Attenborough documentaries, recalling one about the protective cocoon silkworms form, like a shell of transformation. The image of the cocoon as a space of comfort and care becomes the through-line of the work.
Trew is mesmerising as she is rolled up, cocoon-like, in a reflective silver tarp, the tiny space illuminated by O’Hara and Green’s head torches. It is a scene that encapsulates the resilience of the human body.
In one of the final moments, a giant industrial fan blows empty hazmat suits across the space as the dancers run after them. It’s a scene of the disarray that brings to mind falling bodies and ties the work together in a cinematic finish.
Equations of a Falling Body invites audiences into a comically bleak and enthralling sequence of scores that resonates beyond the performance space. Abstract and bizarre, the palpable sense of connection between dancers and audience makes for captivating dance theatre.
‘Equations of a Falling Body’ was performed at Studio Underground in the State Theatre Centre of WA, Yandilup (Northbridge), 21-26 February, as part of the 2023 season of Perth Festival.
Pictured top: Ella Rose Trew in Laura Boynes’ ‘Equations of a Falling Body’. Photo: Emma Fishwick
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