Calendar, Dance, December 18, November 18, Performing arts

Dance: In SITU

29 Nov – 1 Dec @ Girls School Creative Precinct ·
Presented by Tura New Music & Strut Dance ·

In SITU – A Dance Platform is an annual season of original site-specific works from WA independent dance artists. This year, In SITU is staged in the hidden corners of the Girls School Creative Precinct. A blend of sound, dance & architecture, come along on a journey of discovery in this historic site. This is an intimate and roaming show, with only 30 audience members at a time.

Curated and presented by Emma Fishwick and Kynan Hughes in association with Strut Dance, Tura New Music & Artrage, In SITU is part of an ongoing commitment to nurture the development of local artists.

More info
W:  www.tura.com.au/tura-program/in-situ/
E:   admin@tura.com.au

 

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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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MoveMe Festival
Calendar, Dance, Performing arts, September 18

Dance: MoveMe Festival 2018

11 – 22 September @ State Theatre Centre and Surrounds ·
Presented by Ausdance WA ·

MoveMe Festival 2018 will make a huge splash across the State Theatre Centre of WA and nearby between 11 and 22 September, showcasing new contemporary dance work from the state’s leading independent choreographers, dancers and more. MoveMe Festival 2018 offers dance that is everything from captivating and thoughtful to unashamedly hilarious and exhilarating.

You are invited to take full advantage of new and innovative contemporary dance through MoveMe Festival 2018. We’ve created MoveThree, a 10% discount offer when you purchase tickets to three festival shows – Co3 Australia’s WA Dance Makers Project, Kynan Hughes’ Love/Less with STRUT Dance’s NEXT, and The Farm’s Cockfight.

Take advantage of discount offers to other festival programs, Dust on the Shortbread and WAB’s Dracula.

SeeMe is a program of free events across the festival including site-specific works and showings of Sunset (STRUT Dance) and Amity (Talitha Maslin and Dane Yates).

DUST ON THE SHORTBREAD
Anything is Valid Dance Theatre
Secret location at a suburban house in North Perth
6:30 p.m. 11 – 15 & 18 – 22 September
Tickets $30 – 35*

WA DANCE MAKERS PROJECT 2018
Co3 Australia
Studio Underground
7:30 p.m. 12 – 15 September
12:00 p.m. 14 September
5:00 p.m. 16 September
Tickets $35*

LOVE/LESS
New trio by Kynan Hughes
Studio Underground
6:00 p.m. 19 – 22 September
Tickets $30 – $35*

NEXT
STRUT Dance
Presented with Love/Less at Studio Underground

COCKFIGHT
The Farm
Heath Ledger Theatre
8:00 p.m. 19 – 22 September
Tickets $35*

More info
W: moveme.org.au
E:  dance@moveme.org.au

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Cruelty over love

Review: Valentine by Kynan Hughes ◆
The Blue Room Theatre, 16 November ◆
Review by Suzanne Ingelbrecht ◆

When does the retelling of old stories become pointless? When are stock caricatures best left to the dustbin of history? It’s a conundrum that Kynan Hughes bravely tries to tackle in a quest to find new meaning for our contemporary society from scenarios in the stylised artform, commedia dell’arte.

The stories themselves are as old as human time. Desire, shame, violence, grief play out in the Blue Room’s main space in a melee of dance, mask play, puppetry and dialogue. The characters in Hughes’ Valentine are classic commedia dell’arte: Pierrot, Columbina, Brighella and artful Harlequin, the zanni trickster servant whose will to control the unfolding artifice is ultimately undermined when all his players desert him.

The best moments – as one would expect from a company of highly trained, professional dancers – come in the dance choreographies to Tristen Parr’s throbbing, pulsing score, although the movement work sometimes felt constrained, as if the dancers longed to bust out of their cramped theatre container but couldn’t. One of the most fascinating vignette moments was Pierrot becoming some sort of weird Conjoined Twin with four gyrating legs. That and the vision of Steve Wintercroft’s angular masks drifting through the space during the work’s moments of yearning and loss became a signature focus of the work for me.

Less satisfying were the moments of dialogue when the dancers tried to become actors. These were the moments when Hughes tackled the whole artifice of story by pulling his character players out of role to discuss what the point of this particular story was. It had its comic moments, particularly for those of us working in performing arts who got the gags relating to the parlous nature of the industry and its relationships. But it did not leave me with a sense that telling old scenarios has any point other than to show, yet again, that nothing really changes. Even if Columbina is no longer a helpless, subservient pawn of male desire by play end, thus ensuring a measure of female agency, Valentine ultimately reveals that human cruelty wins out over love every time: that there really is too little love in the world. It’s a hollow feeling I have too often these days when I leave the theatre.

Hughes and his company of Natalie Allen, David Mack and Rachel Arianne Ogle have worked hard on this multi-discipline experiment and deserve kudos for their work. In any progression, Valentine would benefit from a larger space to work within and more thought given to what the point of it all is. Perhaps rather than trying to suggest that finding contemporary meaning to old stories is the way to go, the joy might be in exploring the old stories for their own sake and playing up to the company’s notable strengths in dance and puppetry.

Valentine is playing at the Blue Room Theatre until December 2.

Pictured top is Natalie Allen in ‘Valentine’. Photo: Pixel Poetry.

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The road to Valentine: Kynan Hughes

Ahead of the premiere of his first full length work, Valentine, choreographer and dancer Kynan Hughes talks to Nina Levy about his life in dance.

I first met Kynan Hughes at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). The year was 1998 and we were both starting first year. Although 16 year old Hughes was the baby of the group and I was nearly the oldest at the grand old age of 23, I rarely thought about the age difference when we worked together. A deft and beautiful mover, Hughes was an old soul, sensitive and highly creative. I never thought to ask him why he chose to leave school early, perhaps because it was clear from the start that he was going to flourish at WAAPA.

In fact, he tells me 20 years later, the decision to leave was fuelled by his absolute conviction that he wanted to dance, coupled with an intense dislike of school. “I was desperately unhappy at high school,” he remembers. “I liked learning things, but I didn’t like everything else about it.”

Growing up dance was a ‘necessity’ for Kynan Hughes. Photo: Jenni Large.

WAAPA was a revelation to Hughes. “I feel like I hit the jackpot with my year group. I had a really supportive home life and a really supportive peer group who were more than happy to have a 16 year old running around with them. It was the first time that I felt great in the education system.”

It dawns on me, somewhat belatedly given our two decades of friendship, that I have also never asked Hughes how he came to dance in the first place. “My story about how I got started is fun in one way and about necessity in another,” he tells me. “When I was about 18 months old I came down with this thing called Kawasaki disease… it’s a relatively rare auto-immune disease. It slowed my movement development, which meant that as a child I wasn’t very physically adept. Sport at school was hell for me. Climbing on monkey bars I really sucked at. All those things that are a great joy, I had trouble with. So as a little guy I wasn’t very physical at all.”

The turning point? Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. “When I was 8, I was in the lounge room at a friend’s place watching TV and ABC put on a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film. And I loved it. I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen. My mum remembers me going home that night and shuffling around and pretending to tap dance.

“Shortly after that I was at a birthday party, and all the mums were in the kitchen. A new dance school was offering adult tap dance classes and one of the mums said, ‘I’ll only do it if Kynan’s mum does it,’ and my mum surprised the other mum by saying ‘Sure!’”. The class happened to be on night dad had to teach late at TAFE, so I was taken along to the class and because I had just seen Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I wanted to join in. So I did… and that was how it all started for me.

I don’t know what I’d be like as an adult, in my body, if I hadn’t done dance.

Soon Hughes was taking ballet and jazz classes as well. “My mum was really worried because she had spent my entire life to that point dealing with the distress that comes when you’re not as physically co-ordinated as other kids. As an adult she told me, ‘You were so excited and I was so worried it would be another thing you couldn’t do,’ but it actually helped. In that way it was a necessity. I don’t know what I’d be like as an adult, in my body, if I hadn’t done dance.”

It’s not surprising that Hughes finds it difficult to imagine life without dance. He has worked with an impressive range of companies and artists, including Leigh Warren and Dancers (where he got his first break), Dancenorth, Buzz Dance Theatre, Natalie Weir, Emmanuel Gat, Kenneth Kvarnstrom, Chrissie Parrott, Sue Peacock, James Berlyn, Sally Richardson and Natalie Cursio… and, of course, three years with Sydney Dance Company (SDC).

Hughes dancing with Charmene Yap at Sydney Dance Company. Photo: Jez Smith.

Hughes tells the story of his successful audition for one of the country’s most prestigious dance companies with customary self-deprecating humour. Although he had always wanted to dance with SDC, when an audition opportunity came up shortly after the appointment of current director Rafael Bonachela, he felt like it was “out of [his] league”. After encouragement from friends, he sent in his application on the day of the deadline. An invitation to audition arrived the next day.

At the time he was working with Leigh Warren and Dancers in Adelaide. “So I flew in to Sydney and I walked into the room and there were all these hardcore, amazing dancers in their unitards,” Hughes recalls. “The audition was intense. We did a ballet class first. I was right at the front of the room because it was alphabetical and that was where “H” landed up, right in front of the panel and I thought, ‘I’m screwed. Ballet at this point? Not my strong suite.’ I think I was in the third class of the day – they had a huge number of people auditioning. So I wrote myself off, and thought, ‘At least I can look around Sydney.’

“But I didn’t get cut. So we went into repertoire, and each time there’d be a cut, I’d think, ‘Ok, this is it. And then we got to the end of the day and they said, these are the people we’re keeping for tomorrow’ and my name was called out. I got back to my hotel – it was an airport hotel because I thought I’d be flying out fairly shortly – and I was so sore, so chronically sore! I remember getting into the bath and thinking, ‘How am I going to dance tomorrow?’

I remember getting into the bath and thinking, ‘How am I going to dance tomorrow?’

“The next day we rocked up at nine in the morning and it was a two-hour Cunningham technique class. I was like, ‘Well this will be it. I can hardly walk…’ but to my surprise I was still not shunted out the door. So we did more repertoire. Then we finished the day with improv and I think that’s probably what got me the the job. I think Raf was looking for people who could really contribute to the creative process.”

Hughes danced with SDC for three years,  2009 – 2011, and describes his time with the company as a whirlwind. “It’s a machine,” he observes. “It’s wonderful, it’s terrible, it’s all-encompassing. You get home, you eat, you sleep, you go back the next day and you dance really hard. It’s amazing to be a part of that. I watch the company now, and I have to pinch myself to remember I did do that. It doesn’t seem possible now.”

While Hughes’ entry into SDC was a fairy tale, his decision to retire from company life and return to Perth was wrapped in reality. “The decision to leave was twofold,” he explains. “I hit 30 and I went, ‘Ow. It’s much harder [physically] than it was a year ago. I’m not bouncing back as easily as I was.’ And the schedule was punishing.

“The other factor was that my father passed away. I had the sudden realisation that I had not been around my family for about 12 years. My father’s death affected me really deeply in terms of that realisation of how brutal change can be. I needed to step back, re-connect with family and my body needed to have a break from that level of intensity.”

Hughes has always been fascinated with masks. Pictured is Natalie Allen in ‘Valentine’. Photo: Pixel Poetry.

While the reasons for coming home were not happy ones, Hughes has no regrets. He has found employment as an independent dance artist and as a teacher with the WAAPA dance department. “I feel I’ve been able to give back to the community here by teaching at WAAPA. I got so much from WAAPA as a student, it was so formative, that the thought that I can give a little bit back is quite lovely,” he reflects. Dancing for local independent choreographers and directors, such as Sue Peacock, Chrissie Parrott and Sally Richardson, he relishes the contrast between life as an independent dance artist and life as a company dancer. “You get to do what you want as an independent! That’s a great joy,” he explains. “Of course, I learned so much in company situations… but it’s empowering being able to choose where you put your energy.” There are challenges, though, he adds. “Being an independent affords you a freedom that you don’t have in a company, but what you get in freedom you lose in security. In a company you have an income and you have a schedule. I miss a schedule. You know your life is planned. All you need to do is sleep, eat and stretch.”

In a company you have a schedule. You know your life is planned. All you need to do is sleep, eat and stretch.

Thinking back to our WAAPA days, Hughes was a keen choreographer, so it’s no surprise that another advantage of being an independent is that it allows time for him to pursue making his own work. Currently he is in the thick of rehearsing his first full-length work, Valentine, which will be performed by Hughes with renowned dancers Natalie Allen, David Mack and Rachel Arianne Ogle. Shaped by the characters of commedia dell’arte – the innocent, the bully, the manipulator, the object of desire – Valentine explores loneliness and desire through dance, theatre, puppetry and mask play. “Commedia is something I’ve always been fascinated with,” remarks Hughes. “And mask work… you know when you make those paper plate masks in primary school? I loved doing that. Commedia is interesting because it’s so influential. You still find the characters and archetypes in film and literature today, the journey man, the fool, the Pierrot. It’s pervasive across all art-forms.”

Commedia dell’arte is about story-telling but many of the traditional stories are problematic from a contemporary perspective, particularly in terms of the way women are represented, says Hughes. “There are interesting questions that arise from using an old story with such inherent problems in a modern-day context. The work hopefully starts to interrogate some of those things like, what is ok to retell? Should we be finding new stories to tell? Maybe they are cautionary tales – maybe we tell them to illustrate how we don’t want to be. Stories are really powerful. The power of narrative is persuasive – we see Trump trying to control narrative, political parties trying to control narrative, take news. Art can interrogate that, asking how does this story apply to us now? What do we need to do it to for it to carry weight?

“So Valentine looks at commedia like that, it distils everything that’s been and questions whether it’s something we still want to talk about, or whether it’s something we can leave behind.”

You can catch Valentine at the Blue Room, 14 November – 2 December.

Top: Kynan Hughes, photographed by Jenni Large.

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