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A tender dance

Review: Anything is Valid Dance Theatre, Dust on the Shortbread ·
MoveMe Festival, 14 September ·
Review by Jo Pollitt ·

Created by Serena Chalker and Quindell Orton of Anything is Valid Dance Theatre (AIVDT), Dust on the Shortbread is a work brought alive by two of Australia’s most vital, articulate and embodied performers, George Shevtsov and Dr Elizabeth Cameron Dalman OAM. With meticulously detailed and beautifully understated direction by Chalker and Orton, their performances were equally robust and vulnerable, subtle and unbridled.

An elderly woman shouting over afternoon tea
The pace, rhythm and energy rises together in unison, or perhaps collision. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman in ‘Dust of the Shortbread’.

As a small group (audiences are limited to 15 per show) we gather on the front porch of an old North Perth home before being invited in to hang up our coats as we walk through the hall to the living room. Beautifully lit with a soft glow from multiple domestic ports, the elderly duo move purposefully through the house in separate journeys, clearly at home in the shared space.

Surpassing cliché, the complexity of dementia is foregrounded through weaving disparate stories, the responsive liveness of the performers, the intimacy of familial dynamic and the dense layering of sound. At times, recorded voices take over from the live, creating a sense of worlds within worlds to accentuate the interior monologue in a sensorial soundscape by Tristan Parr. These overlapping worlds conjure concepts of memory and forgetting, the ease and still surprise of long time love, and the curious absorption of time over years and even seconds.

The couple remain completely contained in character while being unsurprised to see strangers in their living room, at one point whispering conspiratorially with an audience member; at another, completely unaware of our presence – eerily fitting of the ways in which dementia presents to loved ones. The reliving and retelling of lived experience arose differently with each glance, each exchange of weight, each fumble, each turn of the tablecloth and pouring of tea.

They tell dual stories in a single shared conversation, the climax of each finale arriving in shared hilarity, different worlds. The pace, rhythm and energy rises together in unison, or perhaps collision. At one point in the repeated cycle, Shevtsov selects the teaspoons, this time to let them clatter on the reverberating floor in echoes of a lifetime of spoons. The incongruity of his slow demise amid evidence of his sharp wit and childish rock star charm is desperately sad.

An elderly man, dancing
The incongruity of his slow demise amid evidence of his sharp wit and childish rock star charm is desperately sad. George Shevstov in ‘Dust on the Shortbread’.

A stunning duet at the far end of the hallway saw the audience move to glimpse a private vignette and tender dance. A solo from Shevtsov breathes into a story of childhood bonfires, told with increasing urgency as he upturns the furniture with long and determined arms. She tunes the radio, he ignites the record player. Both return to the beginning of the work again amid a status quo of strange transience. Without fanfare the front door is opened and we reluctantly leave the couple in their continuing journey. Their presence is difficult to leave. We convene on the porch again, the quality of the gathering deepened and alive.

This is a quiet work that makes visible the unseen in tableaus of lucid sadness and sophisticated joy. Get a ticket if you can.

Dust on the Shortbread plays until September 22.

Read more about AIVDT.

September is Dementia Awareness Month. The National Dementia Helpline is 1800100500. Alzheimer’s WA is 1300667788.

Pictured top: A tender dance: George Shevtsov and Elizabeth Cameron Dalman in ‘Dust on the Shortbread’.

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