Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Standards continue to rise

Review: WAAPA 2nd and 3rd year dance, ‘Rise’ ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 4 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

With a stellar line-up of choreographic names on the bill for the WAAPA dance department’s May season, I took my seat in the Geoff Gibbs Theatre with anticipation. The program that followed more than lived up to expectation.

Sarah Ross and Alexander Diedler in ‘A Fraction of Abstraction’, by Sasha Janes. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

First up was A Fraction of Abstraction, created for its cast of 11 third year dancers by visiting Perth-born, US-based choreographer Sasha Janes. With all performers – male and female – costumed in stylish black leotards teamed with elegant skirts, the mood of this work is racy in more senses than one; playful (even flirtatious) but competitive. Set to a selection of pieces from the maelstrom of strings and percussion that is John Adams’ Book of Alleged Dances, A Fraction of Abstraction is, for the most part, comprised of fast-paced duets, frantic canons and teetering off-centre balances,  all  beautifully executed by the third year dancers on opening night.

I say “for the most part”; a poignant pas de deux, set to Johan Johannsson and Hildur Guonadottir’s yearning “Flight From the City”, punctuates the work’s centre. Packed with complicated lifts, the female dancer seems almost to swim around her partner. Despite a few shaky moments (opening night nerves perhaps?) dancers Alexander Diedler and Sarah Ross managed the challenges of this difficult and lengthy duet with impressive focus.

Second year students performing Claudia Alessi’s ‘Holding on to Fall’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Up next was Holding on to Fall, a contemporary work choreographed by Claudia Alessi, exploring the concept that “falling is inextricably linked to holding on”. The work – by necessity – has a large cast, created for the current second year Bachelor degree students, who number more than 20. That’s a lot of bodies and though the stage feels cluttered at times, at others, the numbers provide power. This is particularly noticeable at work’s start – we see the dancers clustered in a slow-moving pyramid, their arms reaching as one, while Elvis sings of being “lonesome tonight”. This moment has a nostalgic appeal, gesturing, perhaps, to a desire to hold on to the past. In this scene and throughout, all dancers performed with intensity and commitment. Mention must be made, too, of the haunting vocals of singer Lucy Schneider.

Also striking are the solos performed on a single point harness that hangs from the fly loft, allowing the dancer to swing suspended, about a metre from the floor. Of particular note was Niña Brown’s solo, which saw her surge into a handstand that tipped as the rope swung her back so that she lay, prone, her hair trailing like Millais’ Ophelia.

‘Shade’ by Kim McCarthy. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

After interval, the mood turned autumnal, with Shade by WAAPA lecturer Kim McCarthy. Made for 16 second year students, gently falling leaves form a backdrop to this neoclassical work, which is set to a selection of richly textured  music, mostly by contemporary composers Johan Johannsson and/or Hildur Guonadottir.

Clad in shades of russet, amber and mustard, the dancers tumble and spiral, rond and roll. Various pas de deux see female dancers tossed and spun. Trios comprised of one male to two female dancers have the men working double time, switching from partner to partner at lightning speed. Like the first work of the evening, the fast pace of this work is demanding and the second year students rose to the challenge with style and grace.

Third year dancers performing “Liminal” by Lauren Langlois. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

Rounding out the evening’s entertainment was Liminal, a new work created for 18 third year students by Perth-born, Melbourne-based dancer and choreographer Lauren Langlois. Though the movement for the work has been created in collaboration with the dancers, it has, nonetheless, the inimitable stamp of its maker. As a performer Langlois is known for the furious energy that she emanates on stage. On opening night that manic magnetism was transferred to her young cast, who gave a mesmerising performance.

Liminal “explores symbiosis and transformation inspired by fractal patterns in nature” and the patterns in this work are compelling, from the clump of twitching, turning heads in the opening, to the line of tightly interlinked arms that spirals and undulates like a giant, robotic caterpillar. In shades of midnight blue through to pale turquoise, Anna Weir’s costumes lend an aquatic feel to proceedings, while the soundscape, created by 2018 WAAPA graduate and recent Fullbright scholarship winner Azariah Felton, fills the air with a kind of crackling magic, an abstracted storm.

This is a particularly pleasing program of work from WAAPA’s dance department. Highly recommended.

“Rise” plays until May 10.

Pictured top: Third year students performing Lauren Langlois’s ‘Liminal’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

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