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Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

Review: The Beauty Index by Annette Carmichael ◆
Brave New Works #24, Denmark, WA, 3 November ◆
Review by Amy Wiseman ◆

Set in a hauntingly cavernous saw mill just outside of Denmark, the premiere of Annette Carmichael’s The Beauty Index was daring and divine.

Exploring ideas of vulnerability, strength, terror and beauty, the contemporary dance work was created with a cast of Great Southern men, the majority of whom had no prior dancing experience.

The choreography of the work however, demands a powerful, adept cast. Sequences of complex polyrhythms that may have tripped up the most seasoned dancer were performed here with gusto while slower, ritualistic gestures demonstrated restrained intensity and poise.

The choreography demands a powerful, adept cast. Pictured is dancer Zak Launay. Photo: Nic Duncan.

The cast did include two professional performers, Sam le Breton and guest artist Scott Elstermann. A highlight saw their two solos – le Breton’s contorted, quavering terror and Elstermann’s delicate, birdlike beauty – collide in a deft and fierce duet filled with soaring leaps and effortless lifts.

The arresting performance site sits against a wall of natural rock, beautifully lit for the season by Kevin Blyth in gold; the scale and grandeur immense. Performers met the call, running hard across the expanse and clambering up the wall with reckless abandon and courageous energy.

All elements of this work have been fully realised, from Symantha Parr’s distinctive and robust costumes to James Gentle’s stirring industrial soundscape. Indra Geidans and Kevin Draper’s visual design features black and white striped poles and branches. Held and moved by the dancers, these morph and change the domain. Like a visual framework these props parade in snake-like processions, linking into pyramid structures or stacking to create forests and nests, then sweeping the space clean anew.

A deft and fierce duet filled with soaring leaps and effortless lifts: Scott Elstermann and Sam le Breton. Photo by Nic Duncan.

Carmichael, a veteran in regional community contemporary dance projects, has an acute and profound knowledge of her context. From her spoken introduction describing how to watch the work, to the detail and precision executed by her team of dancers, Carmichael’s command of the form was palpable in this season. There was a clarity of intention in the unified ensemble, showcasing individual artistry, but ultimately harnessing the strength, trust and power of one community of men through her vision.

The final image – a cast united, arms outstretched above, reaching and offering, higher and higher – held the crowd in a lengthy spellbound silence before finally dissolving into heartfelt fervent applause.

Pictured top: L-R Scott Elstermann, Zak Launay, Alex Pyke. Photo: Nic Duncan.

The cast of ‘The Beauty Index’: a clarity of intention. Photo: Nic Duncan
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