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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Frank Enstein
April 18, Calendar

Dance: Frank Enstein

11 – 15 April @ State Theatre Centre of WA , Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Co3 Australia ·

School Matinees: Thu 12 and Fri 13 April
Evening Performances: Wed 11 – Sat 14 April, 7.30pm and Sun 15 April, 5pm

Made by The Farm in collaboration with Co3 Australia

Frank could be a genius. Just one more ‘i’ and he’d be an Einstein!

Frank’s a lonely guy who wants to make his imaginary friends real. Harnessing electricity from a storm he creates his world from nothing but his imagination and the garbage in his lab. Battling a physical impairment, Frank creates monsters to fulfill his desire to be normal and to be accepted by others. Can he control what he creates? And who is the real monster anyway? Frank Enstein is a retelling of the classic tale for children and adults – magical dance-theatre illuminating a path to self-acceptance.

The Farm’s wicked sense of humour together with the extreme physicality of Co3 Australia’s dancers combines magic and dance to create a show for the child in all of us.

Suitable for all ages: recommended Ages 8+ (when accompanied by an adult)

Duration: 60 minutes (no interval)

More info: https://co3.org.au/frank-enstein-2018/
Email: info@co3.org.au

Top: The monsters Frank brings to life. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia dancer Andrew Searle
Children, Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A winning reinvention

Review: Frank Enstein, The Farm with Co3 Australia ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 12 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When I first heard that Co3 Australia was remounting Frank Enstein, I was sceptical. A retelling of Mary Shelley’s gothic classic by Gold Coast-based duo The Farm, the work made its premiere in WA just a year ago and it felt too soon to watch it again.

My fears, however, were unfounded. Watching Frank Enstein “2.0” (to borrow Co3 executive director Richard Longbottom’s nickname for the show) it was apparent that this is, indeed, a new version of the work rather than a simple reproduction.

The bones of the story are the same as last time. Frank’s a lonely inventor with a physical impairment who creates monsters in an effort to find friends. It’s a tale about acceptance, of both others and ourselves. Frank’s workshop, with its electric generator, crate of mannequin parts, fluorescent signs and AstroTurf surrounds, is also familiar.

So far, so recognisable, but there’s one key difference this year. Two of the five characters, Frank and his romantic interest Liz, are played by teenagers rather than adults. While the recast was made for practical rather than creative reasons (lack of availability of the original Frank, Daniel Monks), the decision to replace them with young performers has worked a charm.

As in the first rendition, both Frank and Liz are a sweet mix of awkwardness, enthusiasm and eccentricity. Casting them as teenagers gives a context for their idiosyncrasies that makes them more relatable.

William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia guest artist Luci Young
William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia guest artist Luci Young. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

Guest artists William Rees (Frank), 16, and Luci Young (Liz), 15,  have put their own spin on their respective characters. Both gave highly engaging performances on opening night, at once comical and sensitive.

As Frank, Rees had the audience giggling as he ricocheted between triumph and terror, interacting with his newly enlivened creatures. Like Monks, Rees has a physical disability, in his case restricting the use of his left arm. As in the first version of Frank Enstein, the difference between Frank’s arms is acknowledged in a moment that is deft and poignant, without being overly sentimental.

Young’s Liz was full of delightful bravura, whether tossing her head wildly to the instructions of an “advanced at-home dance class” issuing from her old-school ghetto blaster or losing herself in a spine rippling solo, performed with an exuberance and abandonment beyond her years.

As well as cast changes, there have been adjustments to both the narrative and choreography, making this version of Frank Enstein that little bit darker and kookier. The “vacuum cleaner scene” was, if anything, even funnier on second viewing, as various body parts fell victim to the power of suction. I don’t seem to recall a disco scene in last year’s version, but it shone golden this time.

Once again, guest artist Andrew Searle and Co3 Australia’s Zachary Lopez and Talitha Maslin were sensational as the three monsters. Wonderfully funny in their interactions with one another and with Rees and Young, it was in their solos that we saw their incredible physicality as movers. Searle moved through his mass of spirals with his trademark grace. Lopez both amused and amazed as a series of crazed vibrations overtook his body. And Maslin appeared inhuman, her limbs contorting at seemingly impossible angles.

Finally, mention must be made of the sound design, with its evocative layers of melody and machinery, created by James Brown with Laurie Sinagra.

Kudos to the creators of this work, The Farm’s Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood, as well its cast – Frank Enstein 2.0 won me over.

Frank Enstein plays until 15 April and is suitable for ages 8 to adults.

Read Seesaw’s interview with Co3 Australia’s artistic director Raewyn Hill to find out more about Frank Enstein.

Pictured top: William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia dancer Andrew Searle. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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Frank Enstein
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts

A tale of two companies

Raewyn Hill, artistic director of Co3,  takes Nina Levy behind the scenes of the contemporary dance company’s upcoming season of Frank Enstein, a darkly comic retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic tale, with a message for young and old.

RaewynHill by Naomi Lee
Raewyn Hill. Photo: Naomi Lee.

WA’s Co3 and Queensland’s The Farm may be dance companies based on opposite sides of Australia but their respective directors go back a long way. The common link is Townsville-based company Dancenorth (An aside: if you were lucky enough to catch Attractor at this year’s Perth Festival then you saw Dancenorth in action). Gavin Webber, now co-director of The Farm, was artistic director of Dancenorth from 1997-2005. “And I took over Dancenorth when he left,” explains Co3 director Raewyn Hill. “When I left Dancenorth, Gavin had just arrived back from Berlin, and was setting up The Farm on the Gold Coast [with co-director Grayson Millwood].” It was 2014, the same year that Co3 was established in WA.

As the two newest contemporary dance companies in Australia, it made sense to collaborate, continues Hill. “Because we’d had such a long artistic association I invited Gavin to be one of our guest choreographers for  Co3’s launch season. Then the opportunity came about for a full-length work. Gavin and Grayson had been talking to me about Frank Enstein and I decided it was a great time for it.”

Frank Enstein
‘Gavin and Grayson are constantly push the boundaries in terms of concept and in terms of content delivery’. Pictured: Co3 dancer Talitha Maslin rehearsing ‘Frank Enstein’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

And so, in April 2017, Frank Enstein premiered in WA. Webber and Millwood are no strangers to our state capital – they toured to Perth as Splintergroup with lawn in 2006 and roadkill in 2009, and collaborated with Ochre Contemporary Dance Company to present Good Little Soldier last year – and those who have seen the pair’s work will know it ranges from blackly comic to downright disturbing. Frank Enstein sits at the lighter end of their spectrum. As the name suggests, the work references Mary Shelley’s famed nineteenth century novel, with a lone scientist who creates a monster (or three)… but Frank Enstein is full of quirky touches. A monster pops out of a smoking wheelie bin, a vacuum hose wreaks suction-based havoc… it’s classic Webber and Millwood, lavishly kooky.

Gavin Webber. Photo: Stefan Gosatti
Gavin Webber. Photo: Stefan Gosatti
Grayson Millwood. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.
Grayson Millwood. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

“Gavin and Grayson are… some of the bravest, most courageous artists working currently. They constantly push the boundaries in terms of concept and in terms of content delivery,” muses Hill. “They have a very distinct style of work, a very clear and established aesthetic in terms of movement language, design and working process. They come with an enormous amount of personality, an enormous amount of desire to create something original, they have this incredibly ability to tackle big subjects and balance them with humour and irony.”

Frank Enstein will have its second outing in Perth this April, but the production won’t be quite the same as last time. In the premiere season, the cast was entirely composed of adults, with Daniel Monks taking the lead role of Frank and Brianna

Kell as the young woman who discovers the inventor and his creations. This time those two characters will be played by teenagers, William Rees, a young actor based in Canberra, and Luci Young, a West Australian dancer and Co3’s Act-Belong-Commit CoYouth Ensemble member.

The recast took place because Monks was not available to do the repeat season. “That led to lots of different conversations about the work and where it could go next,” explains Hill. “We were drawn to idea of creating the characters using younger performers, to bring a new voice and perspective to the work.” For Hill, incorporating young performers was a philosophical decision too. Co3 was formed by amalgamating Buzz Dance Theatre and STEPS Youth Dance Company, two companies that focused on working with young dancers and young audiences, and Hill is conscious of upholding that heritage. “Youth and education are a big part of the company’s legacy, but I also believe that’s where our future is,” she reflects. “I hold that responsibility really strongly, to nurture the next generation of dancers. That idea of the younger dancers joining the company dancers onstage will continue as the company develops.”

Frank Enstein
‘We were drawn to idea of creating the characters using younger performers, to bring a new voice and perspective to the work.’ Pictured: William Rees rehearsing ‘Frank Enstein’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

As well as strengthening the link between generations of performers, the recast has seen the work develop and change, says Hill. “The way we work as a company is that the personality and character of the performers plays a big part in how the work is developed. So there are big changes to the work because of the cast changes. Luci and William bring an enormous amount to the work in terms of their life skills and where they’re at, in relation to the subjects that Frank Enstein deals with. Gavin and Grayson have drawn on that and also on their particular personalities.”

Like the works made by Co3’s predecessor companies, Frank Enstein is pitched at both children (eight and above) and adults, with its story line about Frank, a lonely guy who wants to bring his imaginary friends to life. Managing a physical impairment, Frank longs for acceptance by others… a concept that we can all relate to, says Hill, no matter what our age. “That idea of the struggle to find our place, our worth… we all experience that regardless of age, race, religion,” she reflects. “A 10 year old’s concept of fitting in and finding place and worth is actually the same as an 80 year olds, just on a different level. The work is a reminder, too, to be a little less judgmental and a little more accepting of others around us. It’s as much about acceptance of others as about self-acceptance.”

Frank Enstein plays the State Theatre Centre of WA, 11 – 15 April.

Pictured top are (L-R): Luci Young, Andrew Searle and William Rees, rehearsing the 2018 season of ‘Frank Enstein’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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