Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

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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Two elderly people dancing
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts, The MoveMe Files

Close to home

What is it like to slowly but surely lose your memories? For most of us, it’s an unimaginable concept but a new dance theatre work, Dust on the Shortbread, invites us into the home of a person with dementia, to explore what happens when the moments that have shaped your life begin to crumble.

Ahead of the premiere of Dust on the Shortbread at the 2018 MoveMe Festival, Nina Levy spoke to one of the work’s co-creators, Serena Chalker.

It’s summer 2012, at the height of Fringe World. In a vintage caravan, my mum and I sit alongside three strangers, as two dancers negotiate the cramped confines, slotting their torsos into unexpected kitchenette spaces. This is Life in Miniature by Perth’s Anything is Valid Dance Theatre (AIVDT), the dance performance set in a space so small that it’s performed to just five audience members per session. In spite of the fact that dancing in a caravan sounds like a contradiction in terms, it’s Life in Miniature’s physicality that makes the work utterly compelling.

Using non-traditional sites for dance performances is a central part of AIVDT’s remit and the company has performed in a variety of surprising places, from laneways to an office block. “We’re interested in what a site can offer dance that a theatre can’t, and in utilising the stages that the world already has, so that you can look at those spaces in a new way, or you can have an experience with dance that you wouldn’t have in a theatre setting,” explains AIVDT co-director, Serena Chalker.

That wasn’t the catalyst for establishing the company, though, says Chalker. AIVDT started out life ten years ago, as “a rag-tag group of second year dance students at WAAPA”, she says with a grin. The group, which included current co-directors Quindell Orton and Chalker, was simply interested in improving the visibility of contemporary dance. “We had this idea that there would be a bigger audience for dance if only people could actually see it, and get over this issue of going into the theatre,” Chalker elaborates. “We started doing improvs in the city. Funnily enough there is a big audience for dance if you put something where people don’t expect it.” It was from here that Chalker and Orton’s interest in alternative sites developed.

While AIVDT’s home is still Perth and both Chalker and Orton are still officially based here, since presenting Life in Miniature at Fringe World, the pair have worked extensively in Europe, under the banner of AIVDT and as individual artists. Consequently, we haven’t seen AIVDT works in recent times… but that’s about to change, with their new work Dust on the Shortbread playing the MoveMe Festival this September. Featuring two acclaimed Australian performers, founder of Australian Dance Theatre Elizabeth Cameron Dalman OAM and WA actor George Shevtsov, Dust on the Shortbread explores the way in which dementia impacts one’s sense of identity and intimate relationships. As is traditional for AIVDT, the setting is non-traditional and intimate. The work will be performed inside a house in North Perth, for an audience of just 15 per session.

Two people sitting at a table, not looking at each other
‘Something that came up in the work is this tension between vitality and fragility in an older body.’ George Shevtsov and Elizabeth Cameron Dalman in ‘Dust on the Shortbread’.

For Chalker this topic strikes close to home; she lost her father to dementia in 2013. Understandably, then, when she and Orton began developing the work two years later, they didn’t want to rush. Not only was Chalker’s grief was still very fresh, but the pair felt they needed to plenty of time to research before beginning the creative process. “Lots of topics require research but there are some that, due to sensitive subject matter, take more thought about the best way to go about it without offending people, or glossing over it, or trivialising it,” Chalker explains.

While the intimate setting and the use of physical theatre to explore the non-physical are trademark AIVDT concepts, working with critically acclaimed senior performers is something new for the company. In dance, too, it’s unusual to see older performers on stage. “I think we, like society, underestimate what [older] people can do,” reflects Chalker. “You start diving into the creative process and you realise how much you can push.

“Something that came up in the work is this tension between vitality and fragility in an older body. [George Shevtsov and Elizabeth Cameron Dalman are] extremely capable performers. They bring such a wealth of experience and knowledge, and knowledge in the body. This is why we (Chalker and Orton) and couldn’t perform the work ourselves. We don’t have that lived experience. It wouldn’t be authentic.

“But it’s not a one-way street, we’re not just basking the glow of these great performers. We work with a lot of improv and tasks that come from a looser point than they have worked with before. So it’s definitely been exchange. They’ve been great; we’ve given them all sorts strange things and they’ve dived into it. They’re both very generous people.”

“Dust on the Shortbread” plays the MoveMe Festival September 11-15 and 18-22 at a secret venue in North Perth.

Pictured top: Elizabeth Cameron Dalman and George Shevtsov in “Dust on the Shortbread”.


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Dust on the Shortbread
Calendar, Dance, Performing arts, September 18

Dance: Dust on the Shortbread at MoveMe Festival

11-15, 18-22 September @ North Perth (details provided at time of booking)  ·
Presented by Anything Is Valid Dance Theatre  ·

Imagine your life unsaved, unhappened. How do we go on when we begin to lose touch with the moments that have shaped our lives? How do we define ourselves when the memories we build together start to crumble?

Award-winning company Anything Is Valid Dance Theatre returns to the MoveMe Festival in 2018 with Dust on the Shortbread. Performed inside a suburban house for an intimate audience of just 15, Dust on the Shortbread offers a window into how Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease impacts our sense of identity and intimate relationships.

You are invited to experience two of Australia’s most celebrated performers, together for the first time – Dr Elizabeth Cameron Dalman OAM, founder of Australian Dance Theatre and beloved WA actor George Shevtsov. From the creative team that brought you Life in Miniature, this captivating new work takes you into the heart of the home to grapple with what may be a future reality for many of us.

Tender, funny and poignant, this intimate dance theatre performance peers behind a facade presented to friends and family even as the things we hold on to begin to slip through our fingers.

More info:

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