Reviews/Contemporary dance/Perth Festival

Powerful primal beat of optimism

9 February 2023

Stephanie Lake Company’s exploration of the relationship between rhythm and human movement in Manifesto is intoxicating and invigorating, says Nina Levy. She just wishes she could have been closer to the action.

Manifesto, Stephanie Lake Company
Heath Ledger Theatre, 8 February 2023

“There is something primal about this show,” says Melbourne-based choreographer Stephanie Lake in her program notes for Manifesto. “It is to be experienced, not analysed or intellectualised.”

Though analysing Lake’s latest contemporary dance work is my job, part way through watching Manifesto I am flung back 25 years to my tertiary dance training, experiencing the joy of moving to live percussion in our daily technique classes. That embodied pleasure is, as Lake says, primal.

In Manifesto, Lake and composer Robin Fox dial up the intensity of live percussion, with nine drummers on nine drum kits.

As the curtain rises on opening night there’s an audible murmur of appreciation as we take in Charles Davis’ dramatic double decker set swathed in luxe sunset-pink curtains. The drummers form an arc above the nine dancers who sit on chairs in a matching semi-circle.

Lake says if Manifesto had a tag line, it would be “A Tattoo to Optimism”. From the outset there’s a sense of startled happiness, even ecstasy, emanating from the 18 performers.

Startled because sudden seismic sounds are central to this work; it’s not for the faint of heart.

I am seated almost as far away from the stage as it’s possible to be in the Heath Ledger Theatre, but even from that remote perspective I can appreciate the comical facial expressions on the dancers as they respond to the sporadic smashes of sound.

Rolling cymbals see the dancers vibrating as though hypnotised, including one twerking bottom. Such touches of humour reverberate throughout the work.

While I can make out the most overt facial expressions, I quickly realise I’m not going to see anything more subtle from my distant perch. And though I can appreciate that there’s an encompassing energy radiating outwards from the performers, it doesn’t quite reach the back of the dress circle.  

It’s disappointing because I suspect that being enveloped by the performance is central to this work, but I can still appreciate Manifesto’s other strengths.

Dancers and drummers respond to each other in ‘Manifesto’. Photo: Roy VanDerVegt.

Sometimes the movement is balletic, stylised and Forsythe-esque; a manic port de bras slumps and explodes.

Later in the work, the dancers stand in a tight clump, as a wash of cymbals sends micro-reverberations through their bodies. It’s as though the sound possesses them like a creature, Stranger Things-style.

Near the end, three overlapping arms weave a delicate pattern that eventually pulls the whole ensemble into a caressing chain.

The structure of the work is mirrored by costume designer Paula Levis’ ever-changing textured white mix-n-match separates.

The nine dancers are outstanding. Josie Weise’s twisting, twitching, scratching solo early in the piece is one example, but all the dancers give performances that are at once juicy and commanding. In particular, their rendition of the work’s final phrases, which require a paradoxical combination of absolute precision and total abandon, is compelling.

Then there are the musicians who bring to life Fox’s innovative, driving score. The range of sound they elicit from their nine drum kits feels miraculous – at times thundering, at others somehow tuneful. In the work’s most meditative section, the sound seems to chime.

A highlight of Manifesto is a section that showcases each musician’s skill in a series of rolling, complex drum solos. Just as impressive is the performance of lighting operator Rachel Lee, who manages the split-second lighting changes required here with aplomb. Assisted by Lee, Bosco Shaw’s lighting for this section is integral to its impact, and throughout the work his design plays beautifully with the rich pink drapes.

Manifesto has enjoyed national acclaim since its 2022 premiere at Adelaide Festival and it’s easy to see why. Its exploration of the relationship between our human bodies and rhythm is intoxicating and invigorating.

As my plus one remarked, “I just wanted to get up and dance.”

I’m just sorry I wasn’t a little closer to the action and fully enveloped in the experience.

Manifesto continues at the Heath Ledger Theatre until 12 February 2023.

Pictured top: Juicy and commanding, the outstanding dancers of ‘Manifesto’. Photo: Roy VanDerVegt.

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

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.

Past Articles

  • How to choose your Fringe World shows

    Overwhelmed by the 2024 Fringe program? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

  • A walk with Tina Stefanou

    Tina Stefanou is one of 10 artists whose work will be exhibited in ‘Rural Utopias’, at the Art Gallery of WA. Ahead of the opening, we’re re-sharing her 2020 reflection on the role of an artist, in a time that is characterised by economic, social, political and environmental injustice.

Read Next

  • Just what the doctor ordered

    Just what the doctor ordered

    29 September 2023

    Dr AudiYO uses vocal gymnastics to take the audience on a fun adventure. Junior reviewers Jackson and Chloe Davis are happy to take this prescription. 

    Reading time • 3 minutesTheatre
  • Seadragon weaves magic spell

    Seadragon weaves magic spell

    28 September 2023

    The Magical Weedy Seadragon enchants junior reviewer Isabel Greentree with a winning blend of story, song and humour.   

    Reading time • 4 minutesMulti-arts
  • Lifting the weight of the world

    Lifting the weight of the world

    28 September 2023

    Junior reviewers Jackson and Chloe Davis are taken on a thoughtful and funny journey to the Moon with one overwhelmed girl.

    Reading time • 4 minutesTheatre

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio


Cleaver Street Studio