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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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Woman in a yellow dress, in a plank position
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts, The MoveMe Files

The MoveMe Files: Yilin Kong

Yilin Kong first performed her self-devised solo Blushed at Strut Dance’s 2017 “Short Cuts” season, where it was described by Seesaw’s Nina Levy as “sculptural”, “dynamic” and “gloriously articulate”. So it’s no surprise that Blushed was selected to be further developed for performance in Strut Dance’s “Next” season. Nina Levy found out more about this solo, ahead of the presentation of “Next” at the upcoming MoveMe Festival.

Yilin Kong
Yilin Kong

Nina Levy: Tell me about Blushed.
Yilin Kong: Blushed is an extended version of a solo created for STRUT’s 2017 Short Cuts. The [original] solo was a self exploration of physicality and emotion around my own relationship to my femininity. Femininity exists everywhere and is a part of every person and there is always a particular stereotype and expectation with the understanding of the word. I am curious about the complexity and scale of femininity that can exist and be represented within history, nature, culture and atmosphere. I myself have an interesting relationship with my understanding of my own femininity and often find myself thinking things that are taboo or contradictory, or feeling the sense that the feminine voice isn’t loud or heard.

The work last year stood in two parts, looking at the idea of landscape and sculptural structures on the body and then at the feminine and the groundedness within the woman. This time round I have revisited both sections, and am adding a third, that will take us into another world, looking at the ethereal yet alien. So this work will be comprised of three episodes in three different worlds.

NL: What inspired you to make Blushed?
YK: I decided to create a solo as a challenge and an exploration of physical research, playing with and pushing my boundaries. This is the first time I have created on myself at a performance level and it has been an interesting experiment on understanding my perspective, expectations and trust in myself. There’s definitely a real test but also liberation in holding the majority of the responsibility.

Girl dancing in yellow playsuit
‘All the material for this solo came from states of improvisation.’ Yilin Kong in ‘Blushed’.

NL: Who else is involved in Blushed?
YK: Niharika Senapati is making one component of the music. Not only does she make sound but she is also my soundboard for ideas and provides general encouragement and positivity if I feel like I’m losing any sort of direction. I’ve also had other close artists come through to help keep my perspective while working away by myself. It’s very easy to lose track of yourself, being alone all day!

NL: Talk me through the creative process of making Blushed
YK: Another reason why I was interested in working solo was to try a different creative process to what I would usually play in. All the material for this solo came from states of improvisation. I found myself in a place/state/atmosphere and settled and played for a while and then re-learned the bits that I found interesting and relevant. There is so much intricate detail and idiosyncrasy in movement that is generated in the moment and I find it so much more integral and interesting to play and shape with. And working on myself, I can really push myself physically to find new pathways and ideas. I do think it’s quite a skill to be able to learn from idiosyncrasies, and have only just started to get the grasp of it, without taking hours on about 30 seconds!

I am also interested in the layers of performance and how much we can be with our audiences. Playing solo has been a useful way to consider building a relationship with my audience, as I don’t have other bodies in the space to interact with.

NL: What excites you about presenting Blushed at MoveMe?
YK: It’s a first work of mine to be performed at a festival to ticketed audiences and the first time I’m performing my own work. I feel incredibly exposed and vulnerable which is nerve-wracking but also exciting and so beautiful at the same time. I think I’m excited to share my choreographic voice with people outside of my immediate work community and family. When I was first making this solo last year, it was quite cathartic and a big part of my personal growth, so the work feels very special and considered. I hope that audiences can take something away from it, whether they connect to me as a performer or my journey, or just to the images or atmosphere present.

‘There is so much intricate detail and idiosyncrasy in movement that is generated in the moment.’ Yilin Kong in ‘Blushed’.

NL: Have you performed at the MoveMe Festival previously?
YK: Yes, I performed in the last MoveMe Festival [in 2016], in STRUT’s presentation of Ohad Naharin’s Decadance. That performance has definitely been a highlight of my performing career, not only because the work is so iconic and such a joy to perform and share with audiences, but because being a part of a festival creates such a buzz, in both the arts community and the community around Perth. On multiple occasions I enjoyed  going home on the bus and listening to strangers talk about the different shows they had had the opportunity to experience and how it allowed them the opportunity to see something different and local. I think it’s so important that festivals such as MoveMe are around, as there are so many local artists and makers who have a voice and work to share. I feel very passionate and privileged to be so involved in the festival.

NL: What are you looking forward to seeing at MoveMe?
YK: I am very curious about Dust on the Shortbread by Anything is Valid Dance Theatre (AIVDT). This work has been in progress for a little while and I’m very interested to see the outcome.

I also haven’t had much experience with intimate works especially in intimate and familiar site specific spaces so am curious to experience it. I am also intrigued by the two prominent performers, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman and George Shevtsov, as I am familiar with both but haven’t seen perform in a creative space like this and can imagine their presence and performance to be quite special and poignant. I think Serena and Quindell [of AIVDT] are incredibly interesting and intelligent creatives so I’m also excited to see their work again.

Yilin Kong’s “Blushed” will be presented as part of Strut Dance’s “Next”, alternating with Sally Richardson’s #thatwomanJulia, and plays the Studio Underground, together with Kynan Hughes’s Love/Less, 19-22 September.

Pictured top: Yilin Kong in ‘Blushed’ at ‘Short Cuts’ in 2017.

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