Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Standards continue to rise

Review: WAAPA 2nd and 3rd year dance, ‘Rise’ ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 4 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

With a stellar line-up of choreographic names on the bill for the WAAPA dance department’s May season, I took my seat in the Geoff Gibbs Theatre with anticipation. The program that followed more than lived up to expectation.

Sarah Ross and Alexander Diedler in ‘A Fraction of Abstraction’, by Sasha Janes. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

First up was A Fraction of Abstraction, created for its cast of 11 third year dancers by visiting Perth-born, US-based choreographer Sasha Janes. With all performers – male and female – costumed in stylish black leotards teamed with elegant skirts, the mood of this work is racy in more senses than one; playful (even flirtatious) but competitive. Set to a selection of pieces from the maelstrom of strings and percussion that is John Adams’ Book of Alleged Dances, A Fraction of Abstraction is, for the most part, comprised of fast-paced duets, frantic canons and teetering off-centre balances,  all  beautifully executed by the third year dancers on opening night.

I say “for the most part”; a poignant pas de deux, set to Johan Johannsson and Hildur Guonadottir’s yearning “Flight From the City”, punctuates the work’s centre. Packed with complicated lifts, the female dancer seems almost to swim around her partner. Despite a few shaky moments (opening night nerves perhaps?) dancers Alexander Diedler and Sarah Ross managed the challenges of this difficult and lengthy duet with impressive focus.

Second year students performing Claudia Alessi’s ‘Holding on to Fall’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Up next was Holding on to Fall, a contemporary work choreographed by Claudia Alessi, exploring the concept that “falling is inextricably linked to holding on”. The work – by necessity – has a large cast, created for the current second year Bachelor degree students, who number more than 20. That’s a lot of bodies and though the stage feels cluttered at times, at others, the numbers provide power. This is particularly noticeable at work’s start – we see the dancers clustered in a slow-moving pyramid, their arms reaching as one, while Elvis sings of being “lonesome tonight”. This moment has a nostalgic appeal, gesturing, perhaps, to a desire to hold on to the past. In this scene and throughout, all dancers performed with intensity and commitment. Mention must be made, too, of the haunting vocals of singer Lucy Schneider.

Also striking are the solos performed on a single point harness that hangs from the fly loft, allowing the dancer to swing suspended, about a metre from the floor. Of particular note was Niña Brown’s solo, which saw her surge into a handstand that tipped as the rope swung her back so that she lay, prone, her hair trailing like Millais’ Ophelia.

‘Shade’ by Kim McCarthy. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

After interval, the mood turned autumnal, with Shade by WAAPA lecturer Kim McCarthy. Made for 16 second year students, gently falling leaves form a backdrop to this neoclassical work, which is set to a selection of richly textured  music, mostly by contemporary composers Johan Johannsson and/or Hildur Guonadottir.

Clad in shades of russet, amber and mustard, the dancers tumble and spiral, rond and roll. Various pas de deux see female dancers tossed and spun. Trios comprised of one male to two female dancers have the men working double time, switching from partner to partner at lightning speed. Like the first work of the evening, the fast pace of this work is demanding and the second year students rose to the challenge with style and grace.

Third year dancers performing “Liminal” by Lauren Langlois. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

Rounding out the evening’s entertainment was Liminal, a new work created for 18 third year students by Perth-born, Melbourne-based dancer and choreographer Lauren Langlois. Though the movement for the work has been created in collaboration with the dancers, it has, nonetheless, the inimitable stamp of its maker. As a performer Langlois is known for the furious energy that she emanates on stage. On opening night that manic magnetism was transferred to her young cast, who gave a mesmerising performance.

Liminal “explores symbiosis and transformation inspired by fractal patterns in nature” and the patterns in this work are compelling, from the clump of twitching, turning heads in the opening, to the line of tightly interlinked arms that spirals and undulates like a giant, robotic caterpillar. In shades of midnight blue through to pale turquoise, Anna Weir’s costumes lend an aquatic feel to proceedings, while the soundscape, created by 2018 WAAPA graduate and recent Fullbright scholarship winner Azariah Felton, fills the air with a kind of crackling magic, an abstracted storm.

This is a particularly pleasing program of work from WAAPA’s dance department. Highly recommended.

“Rise” plays until May 10.

Pictured top: Third year students performing Lauren Langlois’s ‘Liminal’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

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Rise WAAPA dance
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Students rise to the challenge

Review: WAAPA Dance: Rise ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 5 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When it comes to reviewing dance at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, I feel I should declare a bias. Not only did I complete my own dance training at WAAPA (albeit nearly 18 years ago… eep), but for several years I taught dance history there too.

But, to be honest, having had so much to do with the department means that, if anything, I am harder to impress. While the standard is always high, I have seen a LOT of these programs. And they tend to be relatively long. So I approached “Rise”, a mixed bill of works performed by second and third year dance students, with a combination of nostalgia and hope.

I wasn’t disappointed.

First on the program was Between the Lines, choreographed by Jayne Smeulders and performed by third year classical major students. Smeulders, who has recently been appointed to the WAAPA staff, has created a challenging work for the students… and true to the name of the program, on opening night the cast of 11 rose to the challenge.

Set to three movements from Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No 1 in D Major, Between The Lines sees the dancers slice and dice the music, with razor sharp fouettes, jetes and arabesque lines. Interspersing these “lines” are moments of softness and stillness. While the  speed and detail of the ensemble sections require technical precision, the various pas de deux are particularly difficult and were performed on opening night with guts and verve. In particular, a duet by Marcell Stiedl and Katarina Gajic was impressive.

Rise WAAPA
Sara Ouwendyk, Alexander Diedler and Jordhan Gault in “Between The Lines’ by Jayne Smeulders. Photo: Jon Green.

Next up were the second year contemporary major students, performing Together, together, created by New York-based choreographer Ori Flomin in 2017, for Second Avenue Dance Company in NYC.  Exploring the concept of community, and people’s dependence on one another, Together, together, is an ensemble work both physically and thematically. The opening moments set the tone. Scattered across the stage and clad in soft, muted pastels, the dancers stand in silence. Minutes pass before they slowly melt to the ground.

While the work picks up in terms of momentum, that sense of the primacy of the group dynamic remains throughout. Music begins to play, synthesised and insistent. Like a live sculpture, the group appears to inhale and exhale. A beat kicks in and the dancers gradually respond until they are a storm of writhing limbs. Now they are a human chain, now they nest in pairs, now they form a clump, bathed in a cloud of light; individuals always subsumed by the whole. While the students coped well with the demands of the work, I began to long to see individual personalities.

WAAPA Rise
Moving as one: second year students performing Ori Flomin’s ‘Together, together’. Photo: Jon Green.

The mood lightened after interval, with Daniel Roberts’s Under Construction, performed by second year classical major students. Though the program notes sound heavy – the title is a reference to building one’s life as a recently retired dancer (Roberts) or as a dancer (the  students) – this contemporary ballet is quite the opposite. With a repeating barista motif, portable tables and  chairs, and coffee shaded costumes (latte to espresso), there’s a humorous café-style undercurrent running through Under Construction.

WAAPA Rise
Shiny, shimmering dancers catapult across the stage in Natalie Allen’s ‘Panthea’.

Grande jetes and pirouettes aplenty ensure that this work feels a little Center Stage, but there are some more serious choreographic moments too. In particular, the final section of the work sees the ensemble in a kaleidoscopic pas de deux series. While the dancers didn’t demonstrate the polish of the third years, they performed with an appealing exuberance.

And so to the final work of the evening, Natalie Allen’s Panthea. Created for the third year contemporary major students, and inspired by the Oscar Wilde poem of the same name, Panthea is sensual and seductive.

Against a backdrop of disco-style lights and beats, and wildly shimmying dancers, we are invited into a celestial world by a comically sexy hostess (Olivia Hendry). While it’s definitely funny, the humour in this work is delivered with a light touch. The music, composed by WAAPA student Annika Moses, morphs gently into a more ambient soundscape, the sounds of running water and insects bringing to mind a lush, natural setting, through which the shiny, shimmering dancers catapult.

For the movement is trademark Allen; rocketing and powerful, and the third year students seemed to be channelling her unmistakable style. While all 19 dancers (all women) are to be commended for their performances, Alexandra Kay and Amy McCarthy were especially  notable.

“Rise” runs until May 11. It’s a diverse and entertaining program that’s well worth a look (and it finished before 10pm).

Pictured top is Daniel Roberts’s “Under Construction”, performed by second year students.

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WAAPA Rise
Calendar, Dance, May 18, Performing arts

Dance: Rise

5-11 May @ Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA, Mt Lawley ·
Presented by the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts ·

WAAPA’s first dance season for 2018 showcases new works by visiting international choreographer Ori Flomin, Melbourne-based dancer/choreographer Daniel Roberts, and well-known local artists Jayne Smeulders and Natalie Allen.

Rise will be performed by WAAPA’s 2nd and 3rd Year Dance students in WAAPA’s Geoff Gibbs Theatre from Saturday 5 May through to Friday 11 May at 7.30pm.

With these four eclectic dance works on the program, Rise promises to be an evening of contemporary dance at its most exciting.

PERFORMANCE INFORMATION: RISE
GEOFF GIBBS THEATRE, ECU, 2 Bradford St, Mount Lawley
Tickets $28 / $23 Concession and Friends
Sat 5, Mon 7, Tue 8, Wed 9, Thu 10 May, Fri 11, 7.30pm
Choreographers: Ori Florim, Daniel Roberts, Jayne Smeulders and Natalie Allen
Performed by: WAAPA 2nd and 3rd Year Dance students
BOOK NOW: Tel: (08) 9370 6895 or online at: waapa.ecu.edu.au/boxoffice

More info: waapa.ecu.edu.au/boxoffice

Photo: Christoph Canato

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