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Calendar, Dance, May 19, Performing arts

Dance: The Line

15 – 19 May @ Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre ·
Presented by Raewyn Hill & Mark Howett ·

Co3 Australia presents The Line, a world premiering creation by Raewyn Hill in collaboration with Mark Howett. This powerful dance-theatre work draws on the boundary line that demarcated a prohibited area in central Perth for Aboriginal people between 1927 and 1954. Co3’s cast are joined on stage with live accompaniment by Co3 Associate Artist and award-winning musician Eden Mulholland and internationally renowned piano-accordionist, James Crabb.

More info
W: www.co3.org.au
E:  info@co3.org.au

Pictured: Stefan Gosatti Dancer: Ian Wilkes

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April 19, Calendar, Dance, Performing arts

Dance: Drug Aware presents: ceilings.

4 – 6 April @ Studio C5, Huzzard Studios ·
Presented by Not Sold Separately ·

ceilings. is a double bill program, consisting of ‘Bloom’ and ‘No Mandarin’s An Island’ – two new dance works by Briannah Davis and Olivia Hendry of Not Sold Separately. This production explores relevant and universal concepts through hilariously poignant dance theatre that is bursting with power, vulnerability and feminine energy. Set to original sound by Annika Moses, prepare to be moved.

Proudly sponsored by Healthway, promoting the Drug Aware message and Propel Youth Arts WA.

More info
W: www.trybooking.com/BBHZK
E:  notsoldseparatelytheatre@gmail.com

Pictured: ceilings, photo credit: Sarah Sim

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Dance, News, Perth Festival, Reviews

The marvellous Masilo

Perth Festival review: Dada Masilo’s Giselle ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 28 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Like all the great Romantic ballets, Giselle doesn’t read well from a contemporary feminist perspective. Its female protagonist goes mad and dies halfway through the work because she’s been deceived by a man. Then the second act is populated by wilis – ethereal, evil female spirits bent on dancing men to their deaths. And at the end of it all, the man is forgiven and saved, as the female lead disappears.

Hmph.

What is both clever and immensely satisfying about South African choreographer Dada Masilo’s version of Giselle is that she tweaks this plot only slightly to achieve a completely different result. The magic of the transformation is embedded as much in the choreographic, musical and design choices as it is in the storyline.

From early on in Masilo’s Giselle, those familiar with the traditional version will notice that Philip Miller’s eclectic composition includes pops of the original Adolphe Adam score, but manipulated; distorted, distended, overlain with African drumming.

The dancers make occasional references to the original choreography too, but predominantly the movement is a blend of contemporary and traditional African dance. Feet skitter, arms curlicue, heads dip. It’s peppered with claps, calls and – occasionally – conversation, and framed by William Kentridge’s whimsical pencil sketch of a sparse South African rural vista. In contrast to Act I’s delicate, simpering balletic “Friends”, here we see Giselle’s friends get down with some serious booty-shaking. Later, the vibe shifts to swing; the music, big band style.

And then there are the two Act I pas de deux between Giselle and Albrecht, danced with joyful abandon by Masilo and Xola Willie (on opening night). Whereas in traditional Romantic pas de deux the dancers’ bodies barely touch and passion is communicated with longing glances, here we see Giselle’s body slide down Albrecht’s. The dance is punctuated by their audible breaths; arms fling skyward with an exhalation and float sensuously down. When Albrecht whirls Giselle around we feel the dizziness of their attraction. Their final kiss rings through the air.

As Masilo notes in the program, in the traditional Giselle, the famous “mad scene relies on messy hair”. Shaven-headed, Masilo’s Giselle pulls not at her hair but at her clothes. Writhing and screaming she is stripped back in every sense. The baying onlookers are, perhaps, figments of her imagination who fade away with the light, leaving her to die alone, her crumpled outline just discernible.

And so to the Wilis.

Forget other-worldly wraiths in ghostly white. Against a minimalist forest of shards and slivers lit luminous green, these wilis are crimson-clad, their tulle bustles a tongue-in-cheek nod to tutus past. Wafting port de bras and delicate bourees are replaced with flicking hands, stamping feet and war calls. Turning the whole wispy women trope on its head, they’re earthly and androgynous. Male and female, they’re led by a transgender Myrtha – a sangoma (a traditional South African healer) rather than a spirit – danced by the sensational and stately Lllewellyn Mnguni. Towering and muscular she wields long blonde hair and a blonde-haired switch, both of which she whips with ferocity.

Dado Masilo’s Giselle is at once liberating and devastating. It is performed with power and conviction by its compelling cast.  Leading her dancers as Giselle, Masilo is simply captivating, as she moves through innocence, heartbreak and anger to freedom.

If you aren’t familiar with original Giselle, it’s worth taking some time on YouTube to fill in the gaps before you see this version.

But most importantly – whatever you do – make sure you see Masilo’s marvellous Giselle.

Dada Masilo’s Giselle plays His Majesty’s Theatre until March 2.

Pictured top: Dada Masilo (centre) is simply captivating as Giselle. Photo: John Hogg.

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New parameters

Perth Festival Review: The British Paraorchestra, The Nature of Why ⋅
Heath Ledger Theatre February 21 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅

There are multiple things happening at once in the British Paraorchestra’s The Nature of Why. Musicians with disabilities are in the spotlight and the audience is on the stage too, co-mingling as ‘revered accomplices’ according to English conductor and Paraorchestra founder Charles Hazlewood.

Hazlewood’s eloquent invitation before the performance began to ‘be curious as physicist Richard Feynman was curious’ disguises a challenge. Because as we process onto the stage, surrounded by chanting musicians, dancers, wheelchairs and instruments, it is clear the artists have the upper hand. They know what is about to unfold around us and we don’t.

Hazlewood and his orchestra of disabled musicians made their debut at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics with the goal of disrupting the barriers around our expectations of disability and our experiences of traditional orchestral music. In this production, created in 2018, they also quietly flip power on its head.

Wheelchair bound Caroline Bowditch’s choreography blocks performers and the audience into shapes and places we are barely aware of. A blind violinist clearly knows where he is going while the audience is on the back foot trying not to get in the way. But it unfolds with such gentle joyousness that it is only afterwards these role reversals become clear. At the time it is all about the immersive experience.

I feel the hot breath of a dancer on my foot, the reverberation of percussion on my skin and the constant movement of people brushing by. I have a heightened alertness to the moments of pathos and joy expressed around me. Am I in the way? I want to join in.

The Heath Ledger Theatre stage is framed by Hazlewood and the string players of the Perth Symphony Orchestra at one end and a battery of percussion at another. In between wander musicians (amplified through speakers above our heads), dancers (there are only four but it feels like more because the musicians often join in) and the audience.

The dancers and musicians use contact improvisation to weave a dance built from shared weight, touch and awareness. It is by its nature measured and responsive, with slow lifts and entwined limbs. Bodies coagulate and disperse, reforming elsewhere. Out of nowhere a line of dancers form with arms floating like wings, lit by a corridor of light.

Cameos pop up in corners including a particularly delightful pas de deux between a dancer and a musician in a wheel-chair whose horn rests on his lap while he spins. A string bass player establishes a walking bass line groove while a dancer literally gives legs to the instrument, crab-walking around the stage with the bass in his lap.

Two people in wheelchairs entwine hands and a singer engages an audience member as dancers, musicians and audience mingle.
The mingling of dancers, musicians and audience. Photo Toni Wilkinson

The work is structured around audio recordings of Feynman discussing the attraction and repulsion of magnets. The American Nobel-prize winner’s constant refusal to draw definitions that might be limited by his own frame of reference provides a theoretical backdrop for Hazelwood and his creatives to question the parameters we put around music and dancers, performers and audience, those with a disability and those without.

Composer Will Gregory from the electro-pop duo Goldfrapp creates sections of semi-improvised music in response to the audio excerpts. It is riff-based; built from a rhythm or walking bass line and layered with the colours of bass clarinet, strings, harp, percussion and luscious electric guitar. Two sopranos float above the texture, joined by the glorious calls of the horn. The rhythms invite movement and the harmony has a plaintive yearning.

Bit by bit the audience responds, enticed into the dance by an ecstatic crescendo which evaporates at its peak into sudden silence. There is a sense of disappointment that the new world we created has finished too soon. Also pride at the parameters we ‘accomplices’ have inadvertently expanded thanks to the guiding hands of the Paraorchestra and friends.

The Nature of Why continues until February 23.

Pictured top: Sopranos Joanne Roughton-Arnold and Victoria Oruwari with arms outstretched as dancers move around them. Photo Toni Wilkinson.

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Ambition vs art

Perth Festival review: Ochre Contemporary Dance Company & Daksha Sheth Dance Company, Kwongkan (Sand) ·
Fremantle Arts Centre, 16 February ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

Creating overtly political art is hard. As an artist, how do you strike the balance between missed message and straight-up didacticism? Where does beauty fit into the picture, or should it not matter? Considering the fraught nature of the path, it’s unsurprising that many artists steer clear of broader political messages, irrespective of the depth of their personal convictions.

As a creator, Mark Howett has always dived fearlessly into this fray. As artistic director of WA’s Ochre Contemporary Dance Company he has directed 3.3 (2018), Kaya (2016) and Good Little Soldier (2017). Each of these productions was notable for its deft handling of thorny social issues and for the high calibre of technique and artistry. Whether the topic was Indigenous incarceration (3.3) or PTSD (Good Little Soldier), Howett straddled the line between preachiness and meaning with certainty, creating compelling shows that spoke truth as they engaged. With Kwongkan (Sand) however, that sweet spot is missed. It’s a deeply felt, impassioned treatise about climate change… but it’s also deeply flawed.

Like Kaya before it, Kwongkan is the fruit of a cross-cultural exchange between Ochre and Daksha Sheth Dance Company in Kerala, India. The work began life as a film, which some audience members may have seen preceding 3.3 last year. This first, film version of the work is lushly evocative, signalling an interest in the environment, but lacking the overt political agenda that forms the core of Kwongkan as a dance work. The most effective parts of 2019’s Kwongkan feature sections from the original film as backdrop, with dancers Ian Wilkes, Isha Sharvani and Kate Harman silhouetted in the foreground.

As a former lighting designer, Howett has a terrific eye for the visual and in this way, Kwongkan meets the high bar set by his previous efforts. Unfurling plastic film sheaths Harman, as she leaps across the grassed stage of the Fremantle Arts Centre; a blanket of soft plastics unrolls down an incline; Sharvani shinnies up a silk suspended from one of the eucalypts bordering the stage – there are some wonderful visual elements here but they feel like additions bolted onto what is an unfocused and uncertain narrative.

Kwongkan’s troubles begin with a split narrative focus – we start with climate change and humanity’s destruction of the planet, then we shift suddenly to the Stolen Generation and back again to the climate, this time with an emphasis on plastics. Each of these themes is worthy of a dance work of its own – to combine them all into one hour feels cruelly brief.

There is some truly remarkable filmed footage of the camps Aboriginal children lived in after being torn from their parents. This is complemented by incredible traditional dancing from Wilkes, who is one of the best young dancers at work in Australia. Sharvani and Harman join him in this sequence, one of the only joint sequences that enjoys a synchronicity noticeably elusive elsewhere. The accompanying skit of Wilkes’ forced adherence to Western dress codes is embarrassingly simplistic, seriously underestimating the audience’s capacity for a more nuanced depiction of this abhorrent period of our shared history.

Then, without notice, we are back to the environment. Admittedly, Howett faces a tremendous challenge in creating work about climate change – socio-cultural fatigue. Even the most ardent among us are sinking into a kind of inert despair at the lack of political action on this front. We understand the danger, we make lifestyle changes… but I’m ashamed to admit that I now actively avoid looking at the plastic ocean imagery because it makes me feel so awfully hopeless. There’s no avoidance to be had here – image after image of plastic-choked sea creatures were projected in a sequence that had many in the Fremantle audience in tears. This was followed by the dancers chanting (“we can’t eat money”) and exhorting the audience to join in. But rather than feeling like an uprising, it felt to me like a sad, desperate refrain.

There is no doubting the urgency of the themes tackled here, or the passion of the players. But despite these noble aims and some flashes of brilliance, Kwongkan fails to live up to expectations, both of Howett’s work and of Festival curated fare.

Kwongkan plays Fremantle Arts Centre until February 20.

Pictured top: Ian Wilkes in “Kwongkan”. Photo: Daniel Grant.

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Stark, dark and utterly compelling

Perth Festival review: Michael Keegan-Dolan and Teac Damsa, Swan Lake/Loch na hEala ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 14 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Anyone who saw Michael Keegan-Dolan’s dance theatre work Giselle at Perth Festival, back in 2009, will know that the Irish choreographer has the capacity to show us that the dark and often gruesome side of 19th century Gothic fairy-tale narratives lies just below the surface of contemporary life.

So it’s no surprise that his Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, created for his Ireland-based dance theatre company Teac Damsa, is laced with loneliness and grief, punctuated by violence. Instead of a castle we see an Irish housing estate. In place of a prince we have Jimmy O’Reilly (Alex Leonhartsberger), a 36-year old man emotionally paralysed by unemployment and the loss of his father.

The evil sorcerer is The Holy Man (Mikel Murfi); the story is his confession. In a flash-back scene we learn that he has sexually abused Finola (Rachel Poirier), a teenaged girl in his parish. When he realises that the crime has been witnessed by her three sisters he silences them with a curse that transforms all four girls into swans.

Years later, when Jimmy seeks solace at the local lake,  he is transfixed by the swan-woman Finola. And so the story unfolds but this is no escapist Romantic tragedy. Instead it’s a tale of the insidious nature of depression, of prejudice, and of corrupt power.

It would feel unrelentingly dark, but Keegan-Dolan tells this modern-day fable with a light touch. For starters, there’s a liberal sprinkling of humour. Then there’s the sparkling live music, composed by Dublin-based band Slow Moving Clouds and performed with zest by Aki (nyckelharpa, vocals), Mary Barnecutt (cello, vocals) and Danny Diamond (fiddle). The folk resonances of the tumbling score, with its yearning wordless calls and minor key melodies, are soothing as the story takes increasingly disturbing turns.

And, of course, there’s the dance, which interweaves the spoken narrative with curlicuing limbs and spiralling paths. It’s beautifully executed by the cast. As The First, Second and Third Watchers, Saku Koistinen, Zen Jefferson and Erik Nevin are lithe and nimble, while the swan sisters Kim Ceysens, Anna Kaszuba and Carys Staton, and Poirier are at once weighted and expansive, their arms extending with an airiness that belies their firmly grounded steps. With their broad-spanned swan wings (designed by Hyemi Shin) they are almost angelic.

Poirier and Leonhartsberger’s two duets are highlights, the first flinching and stuttering; the second softer and more supple, a moment of comfort before parting. Both dancers portray their vulnerable, damaged characters with poignancy and sensitivity.

As The Holy Man (and various other minor roles) Mikel Murfi is outstanding. This is no fantasy villain; chilling yet comical, his Holy Man is both repellent and believable. And Murfi is versatile; so swiftly and deftly does he switch between two conversing characters that we almost see two men on stage.

It’s a pleasure to see Australia’s own Elizabeth Cameron Dalman playing Jimmy’s widowed mother Nancy. At 84, this doyenne of contemporary dance inhabits the role with stoic grace. Her wonderfully expressive face speaks volumes and it’s a privilege to see her dance in the final scene, albeit briefly.

Though the feather-filled finale feels disconnected from the story’s tragic conclusion, it also allows viewers time to gather their thoughts and spirits. By curtain call on opening night, the audience was, justly, ecstatic.

Stark, dark and disturbing, Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake is utterly compelling.

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until February 17.

Pictured are Alex Leonhartsberger (Jimmy) and Rachel Poirier (Finola). Photo: Matt Grace.

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Some hits, some misses

West Australian Ballet, ‘In-Synch: Ballet at the Quarry’ ·
West Australian Ballet, Friday 8 February ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

West Australian Ballet’s annual outdoor season sees ballet fans flock to Floreat’s magnificent Quarry Amphitheatre for a balmy summer evening of dance. This year’s programme, “In-Synch: Ballet at the Quarry”, features four short contemporary ballet works, including a unique collaboration with WA’s flagship contemporary dance company, Co3 Australia. Arriving early at the venue allows for the added luxury of a shared picnic in the setting sun and the chance to observe the artists warm up and prepare for the performance.

Opening the evening, Finnish choreographer Johanna Nuutinen’s X-It uses both live performance and a projected film, which was shot in the iconic Fremantle Prison. Unsettling in theme, the work explores our psychological reaction to constant surveillance.

An eerie, suspenseful solo, aided by Thomas Norvio’s sparse sound design, unfolds both on and off the screen, performed with strength and precision on opening night by Kymberleigh Cowley. Though the concept is not fully explored and ideas feel fractured, the piece is technically impressive, as the cast of six weave and arc through physically demanding duets.

Itzik Galili’s The Sofa follows a short interval. This comical romp, originally performed by the company in 2014, delighted the opening night crowd. Though thematically a little dated on the issue of sexuality and dare I say, consent, on the whole this work is clever and engaging with charming characterisation (in this casting) from dancers Matthew Lehmann, Chihiro Nomura and a sassy Oscar Valdés.

The world premiere of In-Synch follows. Conceived by Aurélien Scannella and Sandy Delasalle this is an improvised work with the musical score selected by the audience each night. Performance improvisation, as those of us who have tried it will attest, is immensely challenging and demanding. The craft often requires years of specific training even without the added restriction and specificity of the classical form, and unfortunately this ambitious experiment misses the mark.

The company dancers move between a series of constructed tableaus using guided frameworks featuring morphing lighting states by Michael Rippon and movement provocations by former WAB dancer David Mack. For the most part, the work felt structurally transparent and tentative at the performance viewed, though a brief duet by Dayana Hardy and Juan Carlos Osma found space to captivate with stunning partnering and responsiveness.

Concluding the evening, is Reincarnation, a new work created for this season by renowned Australian choreographer Garry Stewart. Bold and visually striking, Reincarnation uses company artists and dancers from Co3 Australia, to full exertion. Clad in saturated reds and blues, ungendered bodies parade in ritualistic procession, moving with Stewart’s characteristic tension and physical intensity. Eccentric and at times ironic, the suspended fantasy felt bewildering and otherworldly but it was difficult to remain completely absorbed, despite the theatrics. Fire-cracker Katherine Gurr (Co3 Australia) and the lithe Polly Hilton (WAB) delivered powerful commanding performances amongst a cast of proficient and committed artists.

Artistic opinions aside, it was wonderful to see an Australian choreographer, particularly one of such esteem in the programming this year, as well as witnessing the (currently) rare opportunity for professional West Australian artists in ballet and contemporary disciplines to share the process and the stage together at a Perth Festival event. I look forward to future collaborations between these two wonderful companies.

“In Synch: Ballet at the Quarry” runs until March 2.

Pictured top: Julio Blanes and Carina Roberts in ‘X-it’. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Dancers of West Australian Ballet and Co3 Australia in ‘Reincarnation’. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.
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Cross-cultural collage

Perth Festival review: Beijing Dance Theatre, Dancenorth Australia, Jun Tian Fang ensemble,Genevieve Lacey, Gideon Obarzanek & Max de Wardener, One Infinity ⋅
His Majesty’s Theatre,  February 7 ⋅
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ⋅

Concert dance performance is a tricky beast. Dance productions tend to use recordings. If live musicians are present, they tend to be either peripheral, or fully incorporated into the scenography as physical performers in their own right. One Infinity is a bit of both, and is consequently uneven; enjoyable but flawed.

Director Gideon Obarzanek positions us in two opposite seating banks surrounding a rectangular strip running left to right. Five musicians are located at the edges of the strip. Dancers (from Beijing Dance Theatre and Dancenorth Australia) only enter the central area twice for what are the most successful sections, with the dancers and instrumentalists literally sharing the space. Otherwise the dancers are located in the seating banks, with a key dancer whom audiences are encouraged to physically echo being seated at the very top. The main group of dancers are however two levels down from this. It is therefore not possible to focus on any of the numerous elements within One Infinity. When each audience group joins the elevated performer in weaving our arms within fairly simple movements, the idea seems to be to just “go with the flow” within a dispersed and encompassing vision. The relationships between the live instrumentalists, electronic musical interludes, and the dance however vary from the banal to the opaque.

Genevieve Lacey’s breath-takingly subtle recorder playing. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti

The problem may lie in the musical composition by Max de Wardener and Genevieve Lacey. Lacey is a breath-takingly subtle recorder virtuoso. Here she performs opposite four Chinese classical musicians from the Jun Tian Fang music ensemble. Three play a rarefied form of horizontal unbridged Chinese harp or zither, the guqin (Wang Peng, Zhuo Ran, Zhang Lu), and a fourth is on bamboo flute (Xiao Gang). Peng is the guqin master who trained Ran and Lu. He performs two exquisite solos which showcase classical modes of string bending, sharp and light attacks, and so on. His acolytes perform one additional solo each. Ran plays like a slap bass guitarist, his contribution pushing the instrument into harder, more extreme outcomes. Lu by contrast has a slightly differently tuned instrument, her notes having a beautifully microtonally frayed edge, each tending to hang and resonate into vibrating fractures. While these younger performers do indeed also play with Lacey, their more striking solos rest largely outside of the larger structure.

The electronic elements, verging into noise at times, feel like they come from a different composition. There is some cross-fertilization as Lacey’s extraordinary, heavy and wooden sounding bass recorder echoes (and may have been sampled) within the electronic accompaniment, but the music by and large exists as discrete blocks.

Obarzanek consequently struggles to provide a substantive choreographic dramaturgy. The section on the floor where the dancers begin by shaking, bouncing, then sawing at the space as though swimming, finally breaking out of lines and across the strip, is the most interesting and the only section where one can actually watch the dancers while also observing the extraordinary musicians. The rest of the choreography however reinvents some of the oldest clichés about Oriental and/or mystical movement. Dancers are seated behind each other with arms intertwined like Hindu gods, or fold in and out around a central point like a blossoming rose. It is attractive enough, and Obarzanek wants it simple, but it is frankly unexciting and does not compare to other instances of similar choreography by say Akram Khan let alone experts in Indian classical dance.

It is perhaps significant that Obarzanek uses the mandala as his inspiration, a spiritual visual motif associated principally with Buddhism and especially its Tibetan mystical forms. The guqin however has traditionally been associated with the Confucian/Daoist scholarly class of the Chinese Imperial court and was originally not even intended for performance, rather being a personal form of meditation and contemplation. It is therefore not surprising that this kind of music, which calls for extremely focused attention in the listener, does not blend well with the more visually florid motifs of the mandala.

Members of the Jun Tian Fang music ensemble playing the guqin. Photo Sarah Walker

One Infinity is therefore a curate’s egg. The guqin performances are quite simply jaw-dropping as well as being very modern in expression despite the long classical tradition to which Peng and his students are heir. I would moreover happily go again to hear Lacey’s beautiful, spiralling recorder. Parts of the choreography are strong, and the audience interaction is well handled. But the question of what this show actually is has not been fully addressed. Is it a concert, in which the dance functions as marginalia? Is it a show about audience participation and immersion? Is it a meditative choreographic experience in which the music functions as the accompaniment but not focus (this seems closest to the end result)? Or is it something else again? One Infinity includes superb elements, but it does not gel.

One Infinity continues until February 10.

 

Pictured top: dancers and audience move together in One Infinity. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti

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Spirits united by love and loss

Perth Festival review: STRUT Dance and Maxine Doyle with Tura New Music: Sunset ·  
Sunset Heritage Precinct, 7 February ·
Special guest review by WAAPA 2018 graduate Giorgia Schijf* ·

The totality of the Sunset experience begins from your commute to the unique site, winding through Perth’s ostentatious Western suburbs, overlooking the glimmering Swan River. The luxurious mansions decorating the neighbourhood are juxtaposed by the abandoned Sunset Old Men’s Home, where this magically unsettling dance theatre piece lives.

Artistic director of Sunset Maxine Doyle was inspired by the empty, silent space of the Sunset Heritage Precinct. She saw a place waiting to be filled with the voices of its past, saying, “Art brings those buildings to life and diffuses it with…a new beginning.”

Upon arrival, a man in a tuxedo greets you with the sombre sound of a violin. You file into the main location of the century-old building, red dirt spilling out of the walls; dust diffusing into the air, leaving a mysterious haze. You proceed into an old dining hall lined by muted blue and yellow walls; a stage, a canteen and a pile of chairs outline the space. This is where majority of the performance unfolds.

A pleasant nurse dressed in whites (Bernadette Lewis) offers the audience tea and biscuits upon arrival, I accept the offer. The slightly cold tea is unsettling, a perfect match to the ominous climate of the room.

Lines are blurred between performer and audience from the start and viewers indulge in a 360-degree experience. The audience is entertained by an array of characters from different times and places. The STRUT dancers masterfully inhabit the distinctive personas, all united by the universal feeling of loss.

A dance begins upon the old-school stage, of a young girl prancing and twirling as if stuck in a dream. Nimble dancer Viola Iida embodies the spirit of a lost daughter, who is summoned by a veiled, mysterious woman, her malevolent presence central to the disturbing nature of the piece.

Now, an imagined resident of the Sunset sanctuary, named Alfred Ganz and played by Humphrey Bower, recites a poem. His memories are the soundscape for a weeping mother in black (Natalie Allen). As she stumbles at the loss of her child, her sense of grief is vivid and poignant.

A woman sits in a window frame, in the dark.
Window frames become a portal between the living and the dead. Pictured is Viola Iida. Photo: Toni X

Her affliction follows her into a solo where she flails and flies across a wall lined in windows. Luminescent vignettes of the remaining characters glide behind the glass, like moving Renaissance paintings. The windows are now a portal between the living and the dead, as figures fly in and out of the frames to try and save Allen from her harrowing flounder. It’s beautifully evocative image.

The ghostly figures infiltrate the space as the energy of the piece crescendos; a miniature live orchestra is revealed and provides a stirring soundscape. Dancers circulate the room, relentlessly falling, throwing their bodies towards each other.

A procession of dancers emerges calmly amongst the virtuosic movement. One by one, each dancer stares deep into the eyes of each audience member, sharing their grief through the intimate gaze.

Guided by the haunting voice of lead vocalist (and composer/sound designer) Rachael Dease, the piece ends outside, amongst a garden of lights. The audience finishes gazing up at the performers, who stand on a hill, staring longingly at the river. I was so transfixed by my surroundings that I couldn’t believe the show was over.

The perfect marriage of dance, design and music transported me to another time and place, a place that smelt of tears, sounded of breaking hearts and was filled with spirits united by love and loss.

Truly unforgettable, a must-see.

Sunset plays Sunset Heritage precinct until February 17.

* Giorgia Schijf is a 2018 WAAPA Dance graduate and the winner of  the WAAPA Dance Prize for the most outstanding written review of a dance performance, 2018. This is a special award for the WAAPA dance student who made the most outstanding contribution to the field of dance criticism throughout their studies at WAAPA. The award, made possible by Seesaw Magazine and Perth Festival, allows the award winner to review a 2019 Perth Festival dance work, and have that review published in Seesaw Magazine.

Seesaw is delighted to publish Giorgia’s work.

You can also read Seesaw editor Nina Levy’s review of ‘Sunset’ here.

Pictured top: Sarah Maelor. Photo: Simon Pynt.

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Doyle’s ghostly dreams delight

Perth Festival review: STRUT Dance and Maxine Doyle with Tura New Music, Sunset ·
Sunset Heritage Precinct, 7 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

The world of Maxine Doyle’s dance theatre work Sunset at first seems benign. On arrival, we are instructed to “follow the fairy lights” to a charmingly makeshift reception area, complete with bar and outdoor tables. A violinist (Brian Kruger) plays and as he wends his way towards one of the dilapidated old buildings that make up the Sunset Heritage Precinct, we follow him, Pied Piper style. So far, so whimsical… but once we are ushered inside, it’s a different story.

UK-based Doyle, who has collaborated with WA’s STRUT Dance to create Sunset, is renowned for her immersive theatre works. True to form, there’s a sense of falling down the rabbit hole as we cross the threshold of the now-decommissioned Sunset hospital. We are shepherded through to the performance space, passing rooms that are awash with red dirt – “I almost expect a body to be buried inside,” whispers my plus one – before arriving in a large hall, scattered haphazardly with vintage metal chairs on which we may sit.

Ghost-like, a dozen or so characters waft and wander amongst us, a white uniformed nurse, a glitter-gilded man, a stumbling drunk, a black clad glamour-girl. Accompanied by a string quartet playing original compositions by Rachael Dease, vignettes happen in various locations, so that we’re constantly swivelling to see the next instalment. At first the atmosphere is Tim Burton-esque, funny with a strong dash of spooky to keep you on your toes. On the stage, a dancer (Viola Iida) performs a balletic solo with a mini-corps (corpse?) of three skeletons. Behind the kitchen counter, a manic cook (Timothy Green) prepares a cake, as dancers’ limbs slip and slide in and out of view.

Amidst the audience, the one named character, Alfred Ganz (Humphrey Bower), recites heavily accented poetry and reminisces about days past. The mood shifts and saddens as ghosts from the past seem to rise and envelop us. The string score is at once poignant and discomforting. At the moonlit windows, figures creep, collapse and recover in a sculptural and spectral parade. Drums sound from unseen speakers – it’s as though the rafters of the building are rumbling. Even when the characters unite for a joyous folk-style romp, it’s undercut by the minor key mournfulness of the string quartet.

Rachael Dease’s rich and haunting vocals are key in creating the sense of otherworldliness that pervades this work. Brendan Hanson’s voice, in contrast, brings warmth and nostalgia to the proceedings. The pair’s final, plaintive duet is achingly beautiful and a highlight of the evening. Dease is to be congratulated on her evocative score  (which I would purchase, should a recording be made, hint hint) and sound design.

This work is beautifully and sensitively performed by the cast of twelve dancers and actors, and five musicians, and there are numerous moments that could be named as stand outs. In particular, though, Natalie Allen’s brief whirling solo had a bird-like intensity that was compelling, while Sarah Mealor was spectral in hers, a dark wraith weaving a spell on the audience.

Doyle and her creative team lead us into a place of ghostly dreams and haunting memories. It’s well worth a visit… but if you haven’t booked you’d better get in quick.

Sunset plays Sunset Heritage precinct until February 17.

Pictured top: A joyous folk-style romp. Photo: Simon Pynt.

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