Three dancers, all covering their eyes. One wears grey shiny leggings and is naked aside from that. One wears a bottle green criushed velvet unitard One wears hot pink shiny leggings and a black shirt
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Provocative and challenging

Review: Jo Lloyd, Confusion for Three ·
PICA Performance Space, 15 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Jo Lloyd is a Melbourne-based independent choreographer and one who has interested me for a couple of years now. It was in 2016 that I had my first chance to see Lloyd’s work; she was the choreographer for Nicola Gunn’s quirky and clever Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster, presented at PICA as part of Fringe World. Lloyd’s witty and perceptive choreography capitalised on Gunn’s exuberance and was as integral to the storytelling as the script. The absurdity, the unexpectedness of the movement appealed to me enormously. Reading about Lloyd’s other work, it seemed that this is characteristic of her style. So when I saw that Lloyd’s Confusion for Three was coming to Perth, I was excited.

The name Confusion for Three is apt. There are three dancers (Rebecca Jensen, Shian Law and Lloyd) and there is confusion on many levels. For me, the most striking of the confusing elements was aesthetic. Clad in clashing colours, patterns and textures (think shiny hot pink leggings, a bottle green crushed velvet unitard teamed with a red shirt), the dancers perform movement that is deliberately awkward.

From corners of the startlingly white stage, the dancers either eye one another (and fleetingly the audience) warily, or ignore the other dancers completely. Duane Morrison’s evocative soundscape is ominous, rumbling and hissing. One by one, the dancers traverse the blinding whiteness, with movements that are angular, stuttering, uncomfortable. At times, bodies intersect but these meetings feel like unwanted entanglements rather than unions.

Two dancers how a third upside down. There appears to be a struggle.
Bodies intersect but these meetings feel like unwanted entanglements rather than unions. L-R: Shian Law, Jo Lloyd, Rebecca Jensen. Photo: Christophe Canato.

The discomfort is heightened by the bright lighting that ensures there is no cloak of darkness to protect the audience. Though it’s the dancers who shed their layers to finish naked from the waist up, it almost feels like we’re the ones who are exposed.

Reading the program notes by dramaturg Anny Mokotow, there is no question that this discomfort is intended. “Confusion,” she says, “… is a conversation on the state of the body as a contemporary beast, one that ventures to challenge aesthetics.” Later she says, “Confusion is a physical language, a means of communication that will always remain in process. The process continues, the confusion never quite sorted.”

There are occasional moments of harmony, levity and relief. Towards the end, the dancers clamber up a series of suspended straps to form a twisting and swinging rope of bodies. Peppered throughout are moments of humour. “There’s no story,” Shian Law confides quietly to the front row. Other moments teeter perilously between slapstick and violence. Are we meant to laugh? Again, I think the uncertainty is intended.

I found Confusion for Three perplexing – but clearly that is what it hopes to achieve. As a work that seeks to provoke and challenge our assumptions about the aesthetics and purpose of movement, Confusion for Three is successful. The three dancers, too, are to be commended for their po-faced intensity and commitment to movement that is often harsh and unforgiving.

Nonetheless, I found it hard to engage with the concept. Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoy watching dance that is designed to appeal aesthetically in some way, whether it be through movement quality, spectacle or comedy. Confusion for Three was, however, warmly and enthusiastically applauded on opening night, so maybe you should come down to PICA and see for yourself?

Confusion for Three plays PICA Performance Space until November 17.

Pictured top L-R: Jo Lloyd, Shian Law, Rebecca Jensen. Photo: Christophe Canato.

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Two dancers playing with autumn leaves
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A wonderful thing in Wellies

Awesome Festival review: Indepen-dance, Four Go Wild in Wellies ·
PICA Performance Space, 3 October ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

There’s not a thing wrong with a little fun, and if you’re a wee bairn of three, or four, or five, that means play.

A girl dressed in a green beanie, yellow raincoat and green wellington boots, kicking one leg high in the air
The games that kids play are the stuff of Indepen-dance’s ‘Four Go Wild in Wellies’ (pictured in 2016).

And the games that kids play are the stuff of the Scottish dance company Indepen-dance’s Four Go Wild in Wellies, a tiny drop of colour that brightens up the Awesome Festival for little ‘uns and those who dote on them.

Wellies is simplicity itself. Four orange one-person tents disgorge four kids (played by adults Hayley Earlam, Emma Smith, Neil Price and Adam Sloan in yellow, red, green and orange).

They play games, or variations of games, every child knows. Tag, statues, hide and seek. They get tired and go back to their tents. Lights out.

That’s not all there is to it, though. As we watch them play we see those traits that kids learn and begin to master as they play. Aggression and co-operation. Teasing and sympathy. Enmity and forgiveness. All those small lessons in life, those human strengths and weaknesses, that help define us.

For all its modesty, Wellies is neatly constructed (by director Anna Newell and choreographer Stevie Prikett) and sounds and looks just fine (set and costumes by Brian Hartley, music – a sweet continuing tune on, I suspect, the electronic forms of banjos, mandolins, accordions, balalaikas, bass and drums, composed by David Goodall).

Earlam and Smith are lithe, energetic dancers, and Price and Sloan, both of whom have Down Syndrome, perform with zest and humour.

It’s worth noting that we are seeing more and more productions featuring people with Down Syndrome – Julia Hales’ Perth Festival hit You Know We Belong Together (making a welcome return in Black Swan’s 2019 season) and Back to Back Theatre’s Lady Eats Apple at the 2017 Festival are two outstanding recent examples.

This recent growth in opportunities for people with Down Syndrome to create and perform is due, in part, to vastly improved opportunities, more generally, for those with Down Syndrome – thanks to a combination of social advances and a significant increase in life expectancy.

It’s a wonderful thing to witness in Wellies.

Four Go Wild in Wellies plays the PICA Performance Space until October 6.

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A woman wearing a clown nose, dancing with a shadow
Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Finding light in melancholy

Awesome Festival review: Rachael Woodward, Valentine ·
PICA Performance Space, 1 October ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

It’s not often that grief and loss are central themes in theatre for children, but these are the concepts at the core of Rachael Woodward’s Valentine, which premiered at PICA this week, as part of the 2018 Awesome Festival.

On one hand, Valentine is your typical children’s theatre show, complete with fairytale-like narration, mesmerising puppetry and slapstick performance style. But it’s the raw and literal way the work deals with loss that surprises. The titular character loses her grandfather and, in the process, loses her heart. It’s close to home for most adults and for Woodward as well. The character of Grandpa is an amalgamation of her own grandparents.

Brought to life through a combination of clowning and shadow puppetry, the work sees Valentine (played by Woodward) alone on stage, while Grandpa (puppeteer Rhiannon Petersen) exists as a shadow behind a curtain, along with the scenery. Petersen and Woodward perform with perfect synchronicity, like cogs in a well-oiled machine.

With bold, black and white images, and red accents, the simple set is charming. Shadows run seamlessly, and were relished by my junior companions. The show is interactive in parts, an excellent device to use in a room full of children. Comedy is another valuable resource in children’s theatre and thankfully there is humour here, too, bracketing the sorrow. As the subject matter would suggest, Valentine is really very sad.

It is Woodward’s charm on stage, however, that gives the work its punch. She captivates audiences young and old with her engagement, range of emotion and honesty, all of which are conveyed without speech.

As an adult watching Valentine, I found it heart wrenching. I was a little uneasy about how a room full of children would react when confronted with such real and intense emotion, but the young audience members drew on the happy moments. They adored the interactive elements; a simple game of catch with members of the audience was an unexpected highlight.

Despite the melancholic themes, my young friends savoured the comedy and saw the lightness in the performance. And that sums up the lesson that Valentine hopes to teach us, that shutting your heart to pain and sadness means that you also miss all the warmth and happiness in the world. We have to embrace the full spectrum of our feelings, because then we have a life worth living.

Although Valentine‘s two show run is finished, the Awesome Festival runs until October 12. 

Pictured top are Rachael Woodward and and Rhiannon Petersen in “Valentine”.

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'Burrbgaja Yalirra - Three Short Works' - Marrugeku Production 2018 - PICA - 6th June 2018 / Photography © Jon Green 2018 - All Rights Reserved
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Not damnation but hope

Review: Marrugeku, “Burrbgaja Yalirra” (Dancing Forwards) ·
PICA Performance Space, 9 June ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

How can we look to the past to change the future?

That’s a question that Marrugeku’s triple bill, “Burrbgaja Yalirra” (Dancing Forwards) seems to be asking. All three of the short, solo dance theatre works programmed refer to stories of the past; stories of contact between humans and spirits, between Aboriginal people and invaders. As the title suggests, however, the gaze of the program is firmly forwards, learning from what has been and looking at what is to come.

Broome/Sydney based dance theatre company Marrugeku has a tradition of collaboration on numerous levels, bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, contemporary and traditional dance, urban and remote dance communities, and various artistic disciplines. “Burrbgaja Yalirra” is no exception and the program includes an intricate web of creative co-credits, headed up by the company’s co-directors Dalisa Pigram (seen in the critically-acclaimed Gudirr Gudirr at the Studio Underground back in 2015) and Rachael Swain.

All three works share one set, a series of three concrete flats, designed by Stephen Curtis. Simple but effective, the industrial-looking slabs are softened by cracks that bring to mind meandering creek beds. Those flats leap into life, seething with colour, in the first work on the program, Ngarlimbah. Conceived, written and performed by Kimberley-based Aboriginal dancer, poet and painter Edwin Lee Mulligan and co-directed by Pigram and Swain, the work is a rich tapestry of dance, paintings, text and music. Mulligan’s paintings, animated by Sohan Ariel Hayes, depict traditional stories and Mulligan’s own dreams. In combination with his poetic narration and deft movement, and layers of music by Sam Serruys and Dazastah, the images plunge us into a Dreamtime and dream-like world.

miranda wheen
Intense, charismatic and precise: Miranda Wheen in ‘Miranda’. Photo: © Jon Green.

Like Ngarlimbah, Miranda, conceived and performed by Miranda Wheen and co-choreographed by Wheen and Belgian-based dancer/choreographer Serge Aimé Coulibaly, draws on both personal and shared stories, including that of Wheen’s namesake character in Picnic at Hanging Rock. It then takes a somewhat tangential turn (although the logic is explained in the notes) to explore the challenge that white Australia faces in moving forward from its past.

While Miranda feels somewhat disjointed because of the tenuous links between its key concepts, Wheen’s performance is highly engaging; intense, charismatic and precise. Now she struggles, arms and legs akimbo, like a rock climber. Now she moves robotically, popping and locking her way across the stage. Now she bourees, a balletic ghost. Now she shouts at us with increasing hysteria, to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land. Now she gestures obscenely, her face comically grotesque. Throughout, Matthew Cox’s lighting casts appropriately spooky beams and shadows, while Sam Serruys’s composition builds and diminishes tension.

Eric Avery jumping
A joy to watch: Eric Avery in ‘Dancing with Strangers’. Photo: Jon Green.

The final work on the bill, Dancing with Strangers, was also the longest, and my favourite. Conceived, written and performed by Aboriginal dancer and musician Eric Avery, directed and co-choreographed by Avery with Belgian choreographer Koen Augustijnen and co-composed by Avery with Serruys, Dancing with Strangers has at its centre the story of Avery’s great, great, great, great grandfather seeing the first fleet as it sailed past Yuin country on the south coast of NSW. Avery’s description of the “whales ridden by white ghosts”, initially mistaken as “returned ancestors” is gut-wrenching.

Like the previous works, Dancing with Strangers deftly weaves together dance, theatre and music, with the added layer of Avery’s live violin. There is something dancerly in the movement of any musician playing an instrument, but Avery transforms the violin and bow into instruments of dance in their own right; the bow whipping, the violin twisting. A swift and powerful mover, Avery is a joy to watch.

While Dancing with Strangers explores the impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal people, its final message is not one of damnation but of hope; its spoken word finish talks about what could have been but also what might still be.

“Burrbgaja Yalirra” is a moving and uplifting triple bill. Catch it at the PICA Performance Space until June 16.

Pictured top: Edwin Lee Mulligan in ‘Ngarlimbah’ Photo: Jon Green.

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