Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

LINK warms up for world stage

Review: LINK Dance Company, ‘The Body Politic’ ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 23 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

I’m always curious to see LINK Dance Company’s May season. Part of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Art’s Dance department, LINK is designed for postgraduate students, as a fourth year of training to “link” the tertiary and professional sectors. With a fresh cohort starting every year, the annual May performance is our first chance to see the company’s latest crop of dancers in action.

As is traditional, this year’s debut season is a triple bill. Entitled “The Body Politic”, the choreographic line-up – an attractive mix of local and international talent – only added to my anticipation ahead of opening night, as did a sneak peek at a rehearsal last month.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The program opens with an aesthetic that is at once space-age and retro. Eight dancers are clad in sleeveless, A-line skirted silver (including the one male dancer – I’m loving the recent shift away from gendered costumes). The action takes place on the perimeter of, and within, a large circle of light. Composed by WAAPA lecturer Michael Terren, the score of electronic strums lends a touch of sci-fi to proceedings. This is Shrink, a new work by local emerging choreographer Scott Elstermann.

A scene from Scott Elstermann's Shrink
Scott Elstermann’s ‘Shrink’, performed with engaging precision. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Watching this work it’s easy to see why Elstermann was the first Australian to win a coveted Pina Bausch Fellowship. There’s a dance-off, of sorts, as tension builds between those dancers moving with an organic, breathy movement style and those whose style is comically mechanical; a robotic blend of jazz and aerobics. Gradually the automatons take over, framing and re-framing around a single dancer until all have been absorbed into a droid-like dance of snappy claps and gestures.

And then almost imperceptibly – even magically – things are being pared back, until the focus is on the dancers’ fingers, and movement and music bring to mind automated insects. Shrink is a smart work, and it was performed with engaging precision and attention to detail by the 2019 company.

Next up is Chasing-breath, choreographed for LINK by visiting Israeli choreographer Niv Marinberg, with sound design by Brett Smith. The program notes for this work – which talk about the effect of emotion on our perception of time, and the effects of feeling breathless on our movement and behaviour – belie its glorious humour.

From the outset, the mood is potentially seedy. To the seductive sounds of Egyptian composer Umm Kulthum’s “Enta Oumry”, dancers – dressed for a night out – variously strut, slump or stagger across the back of the stage, which is stripped to its bricks and lined with various bottles plus two champagne glasses. As the work unfolds, to David Fray’s moody and distinctive interpretation of one of Bach’s Keyboard Concertos, various dancers move in slow motion, their limbs unfurling into prolonged balances that are disturbed as another dancer (Thomas Mullane) careers amongst them.

Things deteriorate. Now a dancer (Emily Tuckwell) is spitting what look like mint balls, while another (Giorgia Schijf) takes a swig from one of the bottles to become a human fountain. The increasing contrast between the mood of the dancers (unrelenting silliness) and the mood of the music (sombre) only heightens the entertainment value. On opening night, its clear that both audience and performers were enjoying it very much.

Mesmerising: Raewyn Hill's 'Carnivale.3'. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.
Mesmerising: Raewyn Hill’s ‘Carnivale.3’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Closing the bill is Carnivale.3, choreographed by Raewyn Hill, artistic director of WA’s state flagship contemporary dance company, Co3 Australia. Like previous iterations of this work, Carnivale.3 is a 15 minute feat of endurance, designed, says Hill, to create group cohesion amongst the dancers as they navigate its challenges.

That sense of group cohesion radiated from the cast of eight as they forged their way through the loose-limbed leaps, deep lunges, rippling, rolling jumps and triumphant wordless cries of this mesmerising work. Rather than tiring as the work progressed, the dancers seemed to become strangely energised by the fatigue they must have felt; as Eden Mulholland’s rousing score built in intensity, so too did their performance.

“The Body Politic” is a credit to LINK Artistic Director Michael Whaites. Running at about an hour, the pacy and engaging program showcases the considerable talents of this year’s LINK dancers. It’s pleasing to note that the company is about to take this impressive triple bill on tour to France – do try to catch the show before they head off.

“The Body Politic” closes May 25.

Pictured top is a scene from Niv Marinberg’s “Chasing-breath”. Photo: Stephen Heath.

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