Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Dancing in the dark

Review: Link Dance Company, In the Dark ·
PS Art Space, 4 September ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

What are you afraid of? I remember, as a kid, a recurring nightmare involving a Sesame Street skit about a camel that materialises out of cracks in a wall. Fear is acutely personal terrain – what freaks one person out, makes another laugh. These various hobgoblins form the content of the latest production from WAAPA’s Link Dance Company, aptly titled In the Dark.

Director and choreographer Michael Whaites has chosen the perfect venue for this exploration of our personal bugbears. The PS Art Space (the PS is for Pakenham Street) is a gem of Freo’s West End. With its giant double wooden doors fronting the historic facade, polished concrete floors and pillars, it’s a starkly evocative place. Upstairs, there are countless nooks and crannies to explore, accessed via some wonderfully creaky wooden stairs. The place has a distinctly creepy vibe at night and Whaites makes inventive use of the space, aided by the talented Joe Lui as lighting and sound designer.

The first half of the performance is set downstairs. Eight dancers thread, glide and writhe around the concrete pillars. Smoke wafts over the audience, seated in suitably uncomfortable wooden chairs. There’s no obvious narrative here, we’re presented with fear in many forms with allusions to fairytales, phobias and childhood anxieties. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, ominous, intense. This pressured feeling is spoiled slightly by a series of addresses from the dancers, microphone in hand. Asking dancers to become actors is always risky and here, despite their eagerness, the performers falter and the words fall flat.

Better then, to focus on the physical prowess on display. Dancers sprint around the edges of the space in an attempt to escape. There may be wolves, there is certainly the risk of violence, but just as things teeter into wildness – a reprieve. A small band of pipers enters through the double doors, blasting their bagpipes as the dancers quieten. It’s a bit out of place (I don’t know about you, but I associate bagpipes with stirring nostalgia – and I’m not even Scottish!) but the audience seems glad of the change in tone.

The fear re-asserts itself with the exit of the pipers and the audience is split up and led upstairs. While the performance downstairs seemed disjointed and dreamlike, upstairs is another matter. Backlit with shadows, the dancers perform solos in various corners of the dark room, the audience wandering freely between scenes. The wolf is back, in the lupine form of Thomas Mullane and there’s a wonderfully menacing duet which he performs with Bethany Reece, another standout performer.

Then, all goes dark. There’s something fabulous about being in the dark with strangers. All light is extinguished and we are left, wonderfully spooked, waiting for the next piece of action.

Like any canny director, Whaites leaves the best ‘til last. Having mainly showcased the individual talents of his group, he now brings them together in an ensemble sequence that is the clear highlight of the evening. Ensemble work is tremendously difficult to pull off, and risky because of this, but when it works there’s little better in dance. Intricate footwork, deft rhythmic moves… the dancers’ exhilaration is gorgeously infectious. Moving as a whole, the dancers stomp and swoop, conquering their fears together. We file out into the cold night, spent.

In the Dark runs until September 7.

Photo: A still from footage by Emma Fishwick.

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