Reviews/Contemporary dance/Dance

Creative fusion delivers dreamy dynamic

23 June 2023

Lovers of contemporary dance are in for a treat as WAAPA honours students dazzle in Outbound, writes Nina Levy.

It’s no secret that the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts offers Perth audiences the chance to see professional level performances for a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere.

The dance department’s honours year collective, LINK Dance Company, is keeping up the tradition with its Outbound double bill.

Not only is the standard of the 11 student performers impressive but we see new works by internationally renowned Dutch choreographer Anouk van Dijk (former artistic director of Melbourne’s Chunky Move) and locally renowned choreographer Emma Fishwick, whose work Slow Burn, Together was a hit at 2021’s Perth Festival. What a treat for lovers of contemporary dance.

The icing on the cake? Though these choreographers have very different approaches, the two works share a common thread that ensures they complement one another beautifully, each exploring the dynamics – physical and metaphorical – of life in the Anthropocene.

In Nothing really comes to rest, it’s van Dijk’s costume designs that initially catch my eye. In neutral shades with pops of lemon and silver, flowing fabrics contrast with the occasional sculptural piece, both working to accentuate the dancers’ lines. Matthew Marshall’s lighting is pure, in keeping with the lemony, silvery aesthetic.

Against wave-like surges of traffic noise (Hubert Machnik’s Empty Rooms/Leere Räume), 10 dancers pretzel then unwind, corkscrewing in and out of the floor, with a brief pause to recline, one elbow bent in a pastiche of relaxation.

Arms twist, hands pull at faces as though trying to remove a mask. Cutting a diagonal swathe across the stage, the 10 dancers ripple and lunge in alternating unison.

More layers of sound are introduced: ominous electronic notes from Aphex Twin, synthesised droplets from Jethro Woodward. The dance becomes dispersed, each person a whirling wild pinball.

It culminates with the purity of soprano Kate Moore. A gorgeous solo by Annmarie Clifton-James rolls and ricochets through the space. She is absorbed into an amorphous clump of dancers who form a bobbing, bouncing line, in contrast to the liquid vocals.

It’s the first time I’ve seen van Dijk’s choreography performed live, and it was worth the wait.

A cascading tableau, created with two stepladders, is a memorable moment in Emma Fishwick’s ‘And again’. Photo: Stephen Heath

After interval Fishwick’s And Again provides a total shift in dynamic, but is just as compelling.

As aforementioned, there are thematic similarities in Fishwick and van Dijk’s program notes, in terms of navigating a world that is in a state of ecological and political upheaval, but stylistically the works are distinct.

Where Marshall’s lighting for van Dijk’s work is designed to work in subtle service to the silvery, lemony vibe, the colours are saturated here – dense violets and blues, fiery oranges.

While van Dijk’s choreography swirls almost incessantly, Fishwick’s baseline is slow and measured, but peppered liberally with phrases that erupt into skips and leaps, driven by the slow build of the prelude from Wagner’s Das Rheingold.

A solo by Chelsea Goodchild is one highlight. A repeating running phrase, punctured by a leap in the air that feels like a fillip of joy, is another. A cascading tableau, created on two stepladders, is also memorable.

As with Fishwick’s recent works, there are moments of absurdist humour. A toy fish flips energetically into a pile of confetti (a reference, I think, to Fishwick’s 2022 work From Here, Together). A pair of shiny purple cowboy boots makes sporadic appearances.

It’s like a dark dream, and death hovers. One dancer wears a Victorian-style bustled mourning dress. Another sits covered entirely – head to toe – in floral fabric, as though she has been wallpapered, her face masked. The music compounds the sense of discomfort that pervades the work; from Wagner to the mournful march of Crucifixión by Banda Cornetas Tambores de Sevilla. Even Chopin feels somehow ominous in this context.

It’s heady, thrilling stuff.

Outbound is a diverse and challenging program, performed with dynamism and maturity by the student cast. Though the two works are stylistically distinct, there is something that binds them together beyond the program notes – a dreamy, liminal quality that makes for a fantastic night of dance.

Kudos to LINK’s artistic director, Michael Whaites.

Outbound at Geoff Gibbs Theatre until 24 June 2023.

Pictured above: Performers weave across the stage in the first Outbound piece, Anouk Van Dijk’s ‘Nothing really comes to rest’. Photo: Stephen Heath.

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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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