Reviews/Contemporary dance

Climbing the stairs of human struggle

13 April 2023

The challenges of human existence are made manifest in dance piece Catch 22. Rita Clarke lauds the choreographer’s inventive use of movement in a magnetic performance.

Catch 22, Amelia Sagrabb
The Blue Room Theatre, 14 April 2023

Choreographer Amelia Sagrabb has spent time in Israel learning Gaga, a movement technique pioneered by Ohad Naharin of the Batsheva Dance Company. If you are fortunate enough to have seen a performance by Batsheva, you will know to expect something dynamic and intense, which Sagrabb gives in spades in Catch 22.

Even so, I felt curious about how she would be able to achieve the aim of conveying the “eco-anxiety” she felt in her 50-minute show; asking herself if it was enough to make art – even purporting to hold a mirror up to the world – or should she somehow take up arms to avert the world’s increasing climate-induced disasters. The result is rather like watching a dream where the enduring nature of human existence has to be fulfilled, despite obstacles put in the way.

Moving in deliberate calculated steps, eyes steadfastly staring ahead, the four dancers – Francesca Fenton, Montserrat Heras, Luci Young and Giorgia Schijf – are mostly in sync throughout, drawing to mind at first the perpetual motion of a metronome. Perhaps this is engendered by Peter McAvan’s equally metronomic sound design, at times so sharp and shattered it feels like you could almost see splinters of reverberation crossing the stage. It certainly adds to the allure of Sagrabb’s choreography. 

It is a silent opening, dark and gloomy, intriguing from the outset, courtesy of Matthew Erren’s lighting design. A single barefoot dancer clad in a tight black t-shirt and fitted trousers advances slowly towards the three blocks of steps arranged along a side wall. Crafted by Michael Frost, they are configured in stairs of five, four and three.

A dancer on the steps in Catch 22 at the Blue Room.
A dancer explores the top step in ‘Catch 22’ Photo: Sophie Minissale

A flood of side-spotlight follows the dancer through the gloom, the dusky tenor prevailing throughout the 50 minutes. She mounts the steps and performs an arresting, slow-weaving movement, after which the three others, similarly attired, join her – bland expressions, never looking down as they place their feet, bodies taut. A feature throughout is the pale skin of arms and hands with outstretched fingers which flash through the gloom. 

What followed is an intricate tapestry of movement with the dancers pushing the blocks of stairs into different and engrossing architectural positions, which they climb on or hide behind. In one memorable moment, while the stairs are set into the opening of two doors at the back of the stage, the dancers, at first unseen, hoist themselves backwards over the top and slowly manoeuvre their bodies down the stairs, arms outstretched and heads dangerously leading the way. It’s a stunning cogwheel of manipulation, showcasing their prowess and bravura.

Later, in between their interaction with the stairs, the performers dance together or alone, released from the zombie-like manoeuvring of earlier, but not from the somewhat agonised features.

All in all, Sagrabb’s choreographic inventiveness is intense, magnetic and mesmeric, as are the dancers. Whether or not you perceived Catch 22 as a tussle between art and eco-action, the Sisyphean task of simply existing is made perfectly obvious.

Catch 22 is at The Blue Room Theatre, 11-29 April 2023

Pictured top: The stairs used and moved by the dancers in ‘Catch 22’. Photo: Sophie Minissale

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Author —
Rita Clarke

Whilst studying arts at UWA Rita found herself working at Radio 6UVSfm presenting the breakfast and Arts shows, and writing and producing various programs for ABC’s Radio National. A wordsmith at heart she also began writing features and reviews on theatre, film and dance for The Australian, The Financial Review, The West Australian, Scooby and other magazines. Tennis keeps her fit, and her family keeps her happy, as does writing now for Seesaw.

Past Articles

  • Rewriting tradition with skill and charm

    It’s a privilege to witness the stunning dexterity of choreographer Raghav Handa and musician Maharshi Raval as they disrupt the traditional roles of Indian dance with grace and charisma, says Rita Clarke.

  • Straight talk reveals resilience behind anguish

    Despite its focus on the inhumanity of incarceration, Jurrungu Ngan-ga has the audience laughing and on its feet with admiration, writes Rita Clarke.

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