Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

From the intimate to the comic

MoveMe Festival review: The Farm, Cockfight; Kynan Hughes, Love/Less & STRUT Dance, “Next” ·
State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

The theme of toxic masculinity is getting a lot of (long overdue) play in the Australian cultural landscape of late. With the possible exception of those packs of lycra-clad bicycling dudes, nowhere is this societal trope more evident than in the corporate workspace. It’s this setting that Queensland dance theatre ensemble The Farm has selected for their new work, the aptly named Cockfight. But if you’re worried about being bludgeoned by some unsubtle political posturing, fear not! Cockfight is 90 minutes of hilarious absurdity, wrapped in dance. I have not heard a dance audience laugh this long or this hard in a very long time.

The work opens with a deskbound Gavin Webber, playing with those corporate fidget toys – you know, the prototypes of the ones we now give to kids with ADHD? He’s nervously awaiting the arrival of young upstart, Joshua Thomson. Thomson is the new guard, the successor of the empire Webber built and Webber is none too keen on giving up the swivel chair. What ensues is an epic battle of the male ego – youth vs age; strength vs wit; innovation vs experience. Utilising all the accoutrements of your bog standard office, Webber attempts to intimidate and overshadow his nemesis. Filing cabinets are ravaged, chairs are thrown, desks are repurposed as dancing platforms. There are reams of paper, flung aloft or folded deftly into airborne missiles – one particularly memorable scene sees Thomson catch such a missile neatly in his mouth. Webber congratulates him with that most masculine of accolades – the hearty handshake, which steadily metamorphosises into a full-body, limb-swinging assault.

In another phrase, Thomson finds himself atop the filing cabinet. The next thing we know the two men are whooping around the office, knuckles dragging, chests beating. For a dance work tackling male ego and power, this is perhaps an obvious choice, but the beauty is – I never saw it coming. In a similar twist, the chairs the men are fighting with become antlers as the two bucks battle it out. Again, not surprising but somehow gleefully unanticipated.

It’s impossible to stop watching the charismatic Webber. Now silver-haired, he still has the grace of someone half his age and watchability that must be the envy of any dancer in the country. Thomson is a wonderful foil and with his (dare I say it?) youthful vigour, the better dancer. Together, whether they’re discussing the migration patterns of the Sooty Shearwater or hurling each other through the air, their chemistry bristles.

This is slapstick on the desktop. The gags – and the laughs – are relentless. By the time it was over, it was almost unclear what we had witnessed – was it dance, theatre or comedy? No matter – whatever it was, it was marvellous.

A male dancer holding a female dancer by her arm and leg
Ambitiously physical: Marlo Benjamin & Alexander Perrozzi in Kynan Hughes’s ‘Love/Less’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Independent local choreographer Kynan Hughes and that invaluable hub of contemporary dance in WA – STRUT dance – have produced a showcase of fine offerings as part of the MoveMe Festival. The program includes a full-length piece, produced and choreographed by Hughes, alongside two short works presented by STRUT (performed on alternate nights) – #thatwomanjulia by Natalie Allen and Sally Richardson and the one I saw, Blushed by Yilin Kong. The latter is an unashamedly sensual exploration of femininity performed by Kong in three sections. Kong’s movement is exquisite and the 20-minute work, while erring on the side of repetitive, is beautiful to watch.

Love/Less is the second full-length work from local choreographer Kynan Hughes. While the first, 2017’s Valentine, received mixed reviews, this new offering demonstrates that Hughes is coming into his own.

Inspired by the death of Hughes’ father, Love/Less has actually been in development for five years. In the program notes, the choreography is credited as a joint effort between Hughes and his dancers – Rachel Arianne Ogle, Marlo Benjamin and Alexander Perrozzi. It’s an ambitiously physical work, demanding great athleticism of the performers, all of whom rise admirably to the task. While there is not a strong narrative thread, the work’s movement and its flawless execution by the dancers easily holds the audience’s interest. Ogle is always extraordinary to watch and she is in peak form here. I’m sure she doesn’t mean to do it, but her onstage magnetism is so strong at times it tends to overshadow anyone performing alongside her. That was not the case on this occasion – when Benjamin (who I had not had the pleasure of seeing before) started in on her solo, I was gobsmacked. Like some sort of hypermobile elf, Benjamin’s control of her vessel is so impressive, her economy of movement so incredible, I could have watched her all day.

Aided by an evocative soundtrack by Sascha Budimski and gorgeous lighting from Joe Lui, Love/Less is a truly remarkable feat of dance. Dance for dance’s sake, if you will.

You can catch both these programs at the State Theatre Centre of WA until September 22. 

Pictured top: Hilarious absurdity, wrapped in dance: Gavin Webber and Joshua Thomson in ‘Cockfight’. Photo: Darcy Grant.

a girl in a crouched, swirling position
Rachel Arianne Ogle is extraordinary to watch. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
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William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia dancer Andrew Searle
Children, Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A winning reinvention

Review: Frank Enstein, The Farm with Co3 Australia ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 12 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When I first heard that Co3 Australia was remounting Frank Enstein, I was sceptical. A retelling of Mary Shelley’s gothic classic by Gold Coast-based duo The Farm, the work made its premiere in WA just a year ago and it felt too soon to watch it again.

My fears, however, were unfounded. Watching Frank Enstein “2.0” (to borrow Co3 executive director Richard Longbottom’s nickname for the show) it was apparent that this is, indeed, a new version of the work rather than a simple reproduction.

The bones of the story are the same as last time. Frank’s a lonely inventor with a physical impairment who creates monsters in an effort to find friends. It’s a tale about acceptance, of both others and ourselves. Frank’s workshop, with its electric generator, crate of mannequin parts, fluorescent signs and AstroTurf surrounds, is also familiar.

So far, so recognisable, but there’s one key difference this year. Two of the five characters, Frank and his romantic interest Liz, are played by teenagers rather than adults. While the recast was made for practical rather than creative reasons (lack of availability of the original Frank, Daniel Monks), the decision to replace them with young performers has worked a charm.

As in the first rendition, both Frank and Liz are a sweet mix of awkwardness, enthusiasm and eccentricity. Casting them as teenagers gives a context for their idiosyncrasies that makes them more relatable.

William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia guest artist Luci Young
William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia guest artist Luci Young. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

Guest artists William Rees (Frank), 16, and Luci Young (Liz), 15,  have put their own spin on their respective characters. Both gave highly engaging performances on opening night, at once comical and sensitive.

As Frank, Rees had the audience giggling as he ricocheted between triumph and terror, interacting with his newly enlivened creatures. Like Monks, Rees has a physical disability, in his case restricting the use of his left arm. As in the first version of Frank Enstein, the difference between Frank’s arms is acknowledged in a moment that is deft and poignant, without being overly sentimental.

Young’s Liz was full of delightful bravura, whether tossing her head wildly to the instructions of an “advanced at-home dance class” issuing from her old-school ghetto blaster or losing herself in a spine rippling solo, performed with an exuberance and abandonment beyond her years.

As well as cast changes, there have been adjustments to both the narrative and choreography, making this version of Frank Enstein that little bit darker and kookier. The “vacuum cleaner scene” was, if anything, even funnier on second viewing, as various body parts fell victim to the power of suction. I don’t seem to recall a disco scene in last year’s version, but it shone golden this time.

Once again, guest artist Andrew Searle and Co3 Australia’s Zachary Lopez and Talitha Maslin were sensational as the three monsters. Wonderfully funny in their interactions with one another and with Rees and Young, it was in their solos that we saw their incredible physicality as movers. Searle moved through his mass of spirals with his trademark grace. Lopez both amused and amazed as a series of crazed vibrations overtook his body. And Maslin appeared inhuman, her limbs contorting at seemingly impossible angles.

Finally, mention must be made of the sound design, with its evocative layers of melody and machinery, created by James Brown with Laurie Sinagra.

Kudos to the creators of this work, The Farm’s Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood, as well its cast – Frank Enstein 2.0 won me over.

Frank Enstein plays until 15 April and is suitable for ages 8 to adults.

Read Seesaw’s interview with Co3 Australia’s artistic director Raewyn Hill to find out more about Frank Enstein.

Pictured top: William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia dancer Andrew Searle. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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