Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Dancing in the dark

Review: Link Dance Company, In the Dark ·
PS Art Space, 4 September ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

What are you afraid of? I remember, as a kid, a recurring nightmare involving a Sesame Street skit about a camel that materialises out of cracks in a wall. Fear is acutely personal terrain – what freaks one person out, makes another laugh. These various hobgoblins form the content of the latest production from WAAPA’s Link Dance Company, aptly titled In the Dark.

Director and choreographer Michael Whaites has chosen the perfect venue for this exploration of our personal bugbears. The PS Art Space (the PS is for Pakenham Street) is a gem of Freo’s West End. With its giant double wooden doors fronting the historic facade, polished concrete floors and pillars, it’s a starkly evocative place. Upstairs, there are countless nooks and crannies to explore, accessed via some wonderfully creaky wooden stairs. The place has a distinctly creepy vibe at night and Whaites makes inventive use of the space, aided by the talented Joe Lui as lighting and sound designer.

The first half of the performance is set downstairs. Eight dancers thread, glide and writhe around the concrete pillars. Smoke wafts over the audience, seated in suitably uncomfortable wooden chairs. There’s no obvious narrative here, we’re presented with fear in many forms with allusions to fairytales, phobias and childhood anxieties. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, ominous, intense. This pressured feeling is spoiled slightly by a series of addresses from the dancers, microphone in hand. Asking dancers to become actors is always risky and here, despite their eagerness, the performers falter and the words fall flat.

Better then, to focus on the physical prowess on display. Dancers sprint around the edges of the space in an attempt to escape. There may be wolves, there is certainly the risk of violence, but just as things teeter into wildness – a reprieve. A small band of pipers enters through the double doors, blasting their bagpipes as the dancers quieten. It’s a bit out of place (I don’t know about you, but I associate bagpipes with stirring nostalgia – and I’m not even Scottish!) but the audience seems glad of the change in tone.

The fear re-asserts itself with the exit of the pipers and the audience is split up and led upstairs. While the performance downstairs seemed disjointed and dreamlike, upstairs is another matter. Backlit with shadows, the dancers perform solos in various corners of the dark room, the audience wandering freely between scenes. The wolf is back, in the lupine form of Thomas Mullane and there’s a wonderfully menacing duet which he performs with Bethany Reece, another standout performer.

Then, all goes dark. There’s something fabulous about being in the dark with strangers. All light is extinguished and we are left, wonderfully spooked, waiting for the next piece of action.

Like any canny director, Whaites leaves the best ‘til last. Having mainly showcased the individual talents of his group, he now brings them together in an ensemble sequence that is the clear highlight of the evening. Ensemble work is tremendously difficult to pull off, and risky because of this, but when it works there’s little better in dance. Intricate footwork, deft rhythmic moves… the dancers’ exhilaration is gorgeously infectious. Moving as a whole, the dancers stomp and swoop, conquering their fears together. We file out into the cold night, spent.

In the Dark runs until September 7.

Photo: A still from footage by Emma Fishwick.

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

LINK warms up for world stage

Review: LINK Dance Company, ‘The Body Politic’ ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 23 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

I’m always curious to see LINK Dance Company’s May season. Part of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Art’s Dance department, LINK is designed for postgraduate students, as a fourth year of training to “link” the tertiary and professional sectors. With a fresh cohort starting every year, the annual May performance is our first chance to see the company’s latest crop of dancers in action.

As is traditional, this year’s debut season is a triple bill. Entitled “The Body Politic”, the choreographic line-up – an attractive mix of local and international talent – only added to my anticipation ahead of opening night, as did a sneak peek at a rehearsal last month.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The program opens with an aesthetic that is at once space-age and retro. Eight dancers are clad in sleeveless, A-line skirted silver (including the one male dancer – I’m loving the recent shift away from gendered costumes). The action takes place on the perimeter of, and within, a large circle of light. Composed by WAAPA lecturer Michael Terren, the score of electronic strums lends a touch of sci-fi to proceedings. This is Shrink, a new work by local emerging choreographer Scott Elstermann.

A scene from Scott Elstermann's Shrink
Scott Elstermann’s ‘Shrink’, performed with engaging precision. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Watching this work it’s easy to see why Elstermann was the first Australian to win a coveted Pina Bausch Fellowship. There’s a dance-off, of sorts, as tension builds between those dancers moving with an organic, breathy movement style and those whose style is comically mechanical; a robotic blend of jazz and aerobics. Gradually the automatons take over, framing and re-framing around a single dancer until all have been absorbed into a droid-like dance of snappy claps and gestures.

And then almost imperceptibly – even magically – things are being pared back, until the focus is on the dancers’ fingers, and movement and music bring to mind automated insects. Shrink is a smart work, and it was performed with engaging precision and attention to detail by the 2019 company.

Next up is Chasing-breath, choreographed for LINK by visiting Israeli choreographer Niv Marinberg, with sound design by Brett Smith. The program notes for this work – which talk about the effect of emotion on our perception of time, and the effects of feeling breathless on our movement and behaviour – belie its glorious humour.

From the outset, the mood is potentially seedy. To the seductive sounds of Egyptian composer Umm Kulthum’s “Enta Oumry”, dancers – dressed for a night out – variously strut, slump or stagger across the back of the stage, which is stripped to its bricks and lined with various bottles plus two champagne glasses. As the work unfolds, to David Fray’s moody and distinctive interpretation of one of Bach’s Keyboard Concertos, various dancers move in slow motion, their limbs unfurling into prolonged balances that are disturbed as another dancer (Thomas Mullane) careers amongst them.

Things deteriorate. Now a dancer (Emily Tuckwell) is spitting what look like mint balls, while another (Giorgia Schijf) takes a swig from one of the bottles to become a human fountain. The increasing contrast between the mood of the dancers (unrelenting silliness) and the mood of the music (sombre) only heightens the entertainment value. On opening night, its clear that both audience and performers were enjoying it very much.

Mesmerising: Raewyn Hill's 'Carnivale.3'. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.
Mesmerising: Raewyn Hill’s ‘Carnivale.3’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Closing the bill is Carnivale.3, choreographed by Raewyn Hill, artistic director of WA’s state flagship contemporary dance company, Co3 Australia. Like previous iterations of this work, Carnivale.3 is a 15 minute feat of endurance, designed, says Hill, to create group cohesion amongst the dancers as they navigate its challenges.

That sense of group cohesion radiated from the cast of eight as they forged their way through the loose-limbed leaps, deep lunges, rippling, rolling jumps and triumphant wordless cries of this mesmerising work. Rather than tiring as the work progressed, the dancers seemed to become strangely energised by the fatigue they must have felt; as Eden Mulholland’s rousing score built in intensity, so too did their performance.

“The Body Politic” is a credit to LINK Artistic Director Michael Whaites. Running at about an hour, the pacy and engaging program showcases the considerable talents of this year’s LINK dancers. It’s pleasing to note that the company is about to take this impressive triple bill on tour to France – do try to catch the show before they head off.

“The Body Politic” closes May 25.

Pictured top is a scene from Niv Marinberg’s “Chasing-breath”. Photo: Stephen Heath.

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4 dancers in formation
Calendar, Dance, May 19, Performing arts

Dance: The Body Politic

22 – 25 May @ Geoffs Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA, Mount Lawley ·
Presented by LINK Dance Company ·

“Collectively we are powerful,” says Michael Whaites, Artistic Director of LINK, WAAPA’s graduate dance company. “That’s the theme for The Body Politic, which showcases our talented dancers in imaginative contemporary dance pieces from a trio of exceptional choreographers.”

The Body Politic is an exciting triple bill of new dance works choreographed on the LINK Dance Company by visiting Israeli choreographer Niv Marinberg, Co3 founding Artistic Director Raewyn Hill, and WAAPA graduate Scott Elstermann, the first Australian to win a prestigious Pina Bausch Fellowship.

The Body Politic will be performed in WAAPA’s Geoff Gibbs Theatre from 22-24 May at 7.30pm with a matinee on Saturday 25 May at 2.00pm.

Tickets $28 / $23 Concession and Friends
Bookings: Tel: (08) 9370 6895 or online at: www.waapa.ecu.edu.au/boxoffice

More info:
www.waapa.ecu.edu.au/research-and-creative-activity/performance-groups/link-dance-company

Pictured: The Body Politic, credit Christophe Canato

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Link dancers performing in Ori Flomin's Mangoes, earrings and a glimpse of hope.
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Welcome to the breeding ground

Review: Link Dance Company, “Differently Equal” ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 23 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

I’m always excited to see LINK Dance Company’s May season because it’s the first opportunity to check out the latest crop of dancers selected to be part of the WAAPA Dance Department’s one-year pre-professional program. As the name suggests, LINK is designed to bridge the gap between tertiary training and the world of professional dance. A glance through LINK’s archives  reveals that it’s been a springboard for many of WA’s current dancers and choreographers, including Co3’s Tanya Brown, Talitha Maslin, Antonio Rinaldi, Ella-Rose Trew and Zoe Wozniak, and independent dance artists Laura Boynes, Bernadette Lewis, Emma Fishwick and Isabella Stone, as well as the three members of Unkempt Dance (Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis, Amy Wiseman), just to name a handful.

Welcome to the breeding ground.

This year’s cohort of 15 emerging dance artists includes graduates from Adelaide College of the Arts (AC Arts), Queensland University of Technology and WAAPA, so it’s fitting that the first item on the “Differently Equal” programme, The Wedding, is a new work by 2009 AC Arts graduate Tobiah Booth-Remmers. A somewhat surreal experience, the work opens with a wedding scene that quickly morphs into chaos, as the guests collapse like dominoes, rolling across the stage as though caught in an invisible tsunami. Against Azariah Felton’s beat driven soundscape, pairs of dancers rail against one another.

Link dance company performing Tobiah Booth-Remmer's The Wedding
As layers of costume are peeled off one by one, the dancers’ movements become increasingly unrestrained, as though the layers of polite behaviour are being removed: Link Dance Company performing Tobiah Booth-Remmer’s ‘The Wedding’. Photo: Christophe Canato.

As layers of costume are peeled off one by one – under long sombre-coloured coats are feather embellished black garments, and under those, black underwear – the dancers’ movements become increasingly unrestrained, as though the veneer of social niceties is being removed. The work was performed with wild abandon by the company members.

After interval came The Wall – Several Illusions of the Wall by Chinese choreographer Xiao Xiang Rong, performed by 12 visiting students (unusually, with seven men to five women) from Beijing Normal University (BNU). The “Wall” in this work takes various formats. An actual wall houses a dancer, lodged amongst foam bricks. The dancers make walls of their bodies, their curved arms and legs mimicking the spaces of the now-collapsed foam brick wall. Dancers standing shoulder to shoulder become a human barricade against a powerless individual.

BNU students performing The Wall
In muted blues and greens, the 12 young performers from BNU were lithe and athletic, frequently moving as a well-rehearsed whole. Photo: Christophe Canato.

In muted blues and greens, the 12 young performers were lithe and athletic, frequently moving as a well-rehearsed whole through turns with arms held as if in surrender, or deep hinges with legs akimbo. The final scene has a strange and mournful beauty as dancers’ hands emerge, plant-like, through the crevices of the foam bricks, to contemporary, almost ghostly, strings and vocals.

The LINK dancers returned to the stage for the final work, Mangos, earrings and a glimpse of hope, by New York-based, Israeli choreographer Ori Flomin. Created for this season, it’s whimsical piece with an eye-catching opening. A carefully placed strip of light adds both drama and humour to the first scene as the supine dancers’ body parts poke, often comically, into the luminous light-shaft.

Flomin ups the silliness factor in the next scenes. With the dancers changed from cream coloured onesies into street clothes with a zany edge (think outsize sunglasses, shiny fabrics, pops of colour), the next section sees ballet, tap, jazz, character crammed together what seems like a playful montage/homage to the suburban dance school (if you see the show, keep an eye out for the flamboyant Jessie Camilleri Seeber here). Finally, it’s every dancer for themselves, in a kind of fruit-themed therapy session.

“Differently Equal” provides an engaging introduction to the new LINKers, and their guests from BNU. Kudos, too, to composer Azariah Felton, lighting designer Matthew Marshall and set and costume designer Rozina Suliman, whose creations for the two LINK works mark them as emerging talents in their respective fields.

“Differently Equal” plays the Geoff Gibbs Theatre until 25 May.

Pictured top: A playful montage/homage to the suburban dance school: LINK Dance Company performing Ori Flomin’s “Mangos, earrings and a glimpse of hope”. Photo: Christophe Canato.

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Calendar, Dance, May 18, Performing arts

Dance: Link Dance Company’s “Differently Equal”

23-26 May @ Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA ·
Presented by Link Dance Company ·

Daring, surprising and different: WAAPA’s graduate dance company perform exciting new works choreographed by guest artists Ori Flomin (USA) and Tobiah Booth-Remmers (Australia). The LINK dancers will also perform an original work from Xiao Xiang Rong (China) with dance students from Beijing Normal University, as part of an ongoing cultural exchange program.

Choreographers: Tobiah Booth-Remmers, Ori Flomin and Xiao Xiang Rong
Performed by: LINK Dance Company

Performance Details
Venue: Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA, 2 Bradford Street Mt Lawley
Performance dates: 23rd May 7:30pm, 24th May 7:30pm, 25th May 7:30pm, 26th May 2:00pm,
Ticketing information:
$28 – Full
$23 – Concession/Friends

More info: www.waapa.ecu.edu.au

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