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A dynamic showcase

Review: Co3 Australia, ‘The WA Dance Makers Project’ ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 13 September ·
Review by Jo Pickup ·

Co3 Australia’s “WA Dance Makers Project” opened the 2018 MoveMe Festival of contemporary dance with a triple bill of new works. As the name suggests, the season has been specially designed to showcase the choreographic talent here in Western Australia – and with the wealth of dance talent on offer in this state, one might imagine curating such a season to be an unenviable task.

Co3 Artistic Director Raewyn Hill relished the opportunity, however, describing her curatorial choices as a chance to bring together “unique and dynamic women” to “celebrate a powerhouse of WA female choreographic talent.” From the creepy to the comedic, her favoured works presented a diverse array of contemporary dance, providing a powerhouse experience for viewers.

The curtain-raiser was a piece by celebrated contemporary dancer Richard Cilli who, though WA-born-and-trained, was obviously an exception to Hill’s female-focused vision for the season. For his “WA Dance Makers” piece, entitled This Is Now, he worked with dancers from WAAPA’s student company, LINK.

From this work’s beginning, the audience is drawn into a dark environment pulsing with fiery heat. Fourteen dancers appear out of the dim, dressed in red and black, to take their place on stage armed with determined, steely glares.

It is, therefore, an interesting twist to see them erupt into a strange melodic word-song – repeating the word “pom” at various pitches and intervals, creating a whimsical barbershop choir. This bouncing melody segues into equally unexpected movement sequences; the dancers are revealed to be sassy, pom-pom toting cheerleaders.

Yet this is no ordinary half-time fan-squad display. This team of high-kickers stabs and thrusts its red accoutrements into the air with a gusto that borders on maniacal. There is certainly a dark underbelly to the group’s glossy, swishing veneer.

Highlights of this work were the quintessential team-USA style routines, replete with disciplined formations and breakaways, performed by the LINKers with a nice mix of splendour and spirit.

A man embracing a woman from behind
The air is filled with a spooky, unnerving tension: David Mack and Tanya Brown in Chrissie Parrott’s ‘In-Lore Act II’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

After a short blackout, it was time to see veteran WA choreographer Chrissie Parrott’s latest creation – In-Lore Act II, another work with a strangely dark atmosphere.

As the stage lights go up, we see a small “family” of characters clad in dusty, old-fashioned Scottish garb, sitting around a large wooden dining table. Their house is stuffy (perhaps haunted?) and the air is filled with a spooky, unnerving tension.

The opening solo (danced by Tanya Brown) presents a tortured spirit-figure in a cream silk-satin nightdress. Under the spotlight, her moves are a mix of the beastly and the beautiful. Flinching and flowing, she appears to be suffering under the weight of something colossal, as if there is something terrible repressed deep inside her.

The piece continues in this eerie vein as six dancers (Ella-Rose Trew, Andrew Searle, Katherine Gurr, Zoe Wozniak, Tanya Brown and David Mack), play out narratives of various strained relationships (between family? lovers? It’s never quite clear). The soundscape, composed by Eden Mulholland, is full of shrill cello strings countered by low- electronic rumblings. These sounds coat the auditorium in a mist of music reminiscent of Wuthering Heights.

Overall, this piece is a rather slow-moving mystery, peppered with occasional thrilling moments when dancers are grouped in trios or duets that allow them to wholeheartedly embrace their characters within the overarching old-lore tale. In this regard, Zoe Wozniak was a stand-out on the night.

The final work, performed after the show’s short interval, was You Do Ewe by Unkempt Dance, a crowd favourite that was a much-needed emotional upswing after the intensity of the first half.

Unkempt Dance is a collective of three female WA choreographers: Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis and Amy Wiseman, and their combined forces consistently produce dance theatre work that is witty, cheerful, and so damn clever! In You Do Ewe they take the audience on a hilarious romp through their Co3 cast members’ inner-psyches, using a single microphone; a series of playful puns, and a bunch of sheeny-shiny acrylic wigs.

The performances by cast members Ella-Rose Trew, Andrew Searle, Katherine Gurr, Zoe Wozniak, Tanya Brown and Mitch Harvey were a delight. Each performer brought a unique flavour to their various roles – which swung from playing effusive, overblown game-show hosts, to being raw, vulnerable versions of themselves.

All in all, it’s a work that proved highly entertaining and wonderfully thought-provoking.

So here’s to more opportunities to showcase the work of WA dance makers in future. This “WA Dance Makers” triple bill was a reminder that our state’s dance artists have so many dynamic ideas to share, not just at MoveMe festival time, but all year round.

“WA Dance Makers Project” closes September 16. The MoveMe Festival continues until September 22.

Pictured top are Andrew Searle and Zoe Wozniak in “You do Ewe” by Unkempt Dance. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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Dance, Features, News, Performing arts, The MoveMe Files

Inside the WA Dance Makers Project

This September, Co3 Australia will launch the 2018 MoveMe Festival with a double dance bill celebrating four dynamic West Australian women, led by the legendary Chrissie Parrott. Nina Levy headed into the rehearsal studio to find out more.

It’s a chilly Thursday afternoon but inside Rehearsal Room 2 at the State Theatre Centre it feels summer-warm and a little sweaty, evidence that the black-clad dancers of Co3 Australia have been hard at work. They’re preparing for the company’s upcoming season, “WA Dance Makers Project”, which will be presented as part of the 2018 MoveMe Festival, and I’m lucky enough to be attending an exclusive studio showing of the works in progress. As the name suggests, this double bill is all about supporting WA choreographers, with the headline work created by State Living Treasure Chrissie Parrott, supported by a new piece from the delightfully quirky Unkempt Dance (Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis and Amy Wiseman), and a curtain-raiser choreographed by WA born-and-trained Richard Cilli, performed by WAAPA’s LINK Dance Company.

With over 90 dance works in her back catalogue, you’d think that Parrott might be running out of ideas, but the glimpse we get of her new work, In-Lore Act II, indicates that this veteran choreographer is still exploring new concepts. While the whimsical gestures and folky accompaniment of the opening trio (performed here as a duo by Katherine Gurr and Zoe Wozniak because the third performer is unwell) might, fleetingly, remind those in the know of 2009’s The Garden, the pace and precision demanded by this fast and furious number give it a very different look.

Chrissie Parrott and dancers
‘I won’t give away the narrative yet because I think when we get to the theatre it will give people the opportunity to write their own.’ Chrissie Parrott (centre) with Zoe Wozniak (left), Mitch Harvey (seated) and Katherine Gurr (right). Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

In the Q&A that follows the showing, Parrott talks about those folky touches. “I have this inkling towards Nordic folklore,” she explains. “The music that you heard is a Swedish folkloric song and there are ideas of some of the mystery and magic that continues to hold in the folklore of those cold, dark places, so that’s fed into this work. It’s got a richness to it that is universal, I think, even though it’s got that Nordic edge to it. That’s why the work is called In-Lore, because it has a folkloric aspect to it.”

In spite of that folklore element, the starting point for In-Lore Act II isn’t a narrative. “The work has never started with a narrative, except for my secret narrative without a story or story without a narrative,” says Parrott enigmatically. “So we’ve started with very simple abstract tasks that you give dancers and then we put them together, we mix and match dancers and develop them into work, until the narrative starts to reveal itself to me.”

Although Parrott says that the narrative has started to appear at the time of the showing (four weeks from opening), she’s not telling. “I won’t give away the narrative yet because I think when we get to the theatre it will give people the opportunity to write their own,” she explains. “You’ll see it and you’ll decide what the narrative is.”

three girls in black dresses
“We’re all for multiple selves.” Unkempt Dance: (L-R): Amy Wiseman, Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Our In-Lore Act II preview is followed by a peek at Unkempt Dance’s new work, You Do Ewe. Comprised of dance artists Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis and Amy Wiseman, Unkempt has been making dance theatre with a comical streak since 2010. True to form, the choreography thus far includes lip-syncing, a hot pink wig, and an acrobatic approach to storytelling.

Those who saw Unkempt’s work for Strut Dance’s 2017 “Short Cuts” season, I Have Health Insurance Now will recall that work’s light-hearted take on what it means to be 30. Listening to the trio talk, it’s clear that there’s a relationship between that work and You Do Ewe.

“Our work for Co3 started from discussions about the phase of life that we’re in,” remarks Lewis. “We’re suddenly very aware of having lots of different roles, different hats we’re all wearing.” Like many independent artists, all three members of Unkempt have multiple jobs on the go, covering a range of skill sets. And so the three got thinking about some advice they’ve heard often, ‘Just be yourself’. “We wanted to unpack that idea,” says Lewis. “’Just be yourself’ is such a loaded statement, really.”

“We weren’t interested in just one ‘authentic’ version of self,” Armstrong adds. “We wanted to discover and explore the different facets of each dancer, and push some of these to a heightened level.”

“We’re also interested in the opportunity to slip into or try on other versions of yourself that might not feel comfortable, but will actually push you in a direction that is exciting or different,” Wiseman concludes. “We’re all for multiple selves.”

You can catch “WA Dance Makers Project” at the Studio Underground, State Theatre of WA, 12-15 September.

Pictured top: Co3 Australia dancers rehearsing Chrissie Parrott’s ‘In-Lore Act II’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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WA Dance Makers Project
Calendar, Dance, Performing arts, September 18

Dance: WA Dance Makers Project

12-16 September @ Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Co3 Australia ·

12 – 15 September, 730pm
14 September, 12pm
16 September, 5pm

Celebrating a powerhouse of female contemporary dance makers, Co3 Australia proudly present WA Dance Makers Project, a double-bill of new and exhilarating dance theatre works, featuring choreography by Australian dance legend, Chrissie Parrott, and the dynamic trio of Unkempt Dance (Amy Wiseman, Carly Armstrong, and Jessica Lewis).

Supporting the next generation of WA talent, ECU’s LINK Dance Company showcase a new work by Richard Cilli as curtain-raiser to WA Dance Makers Project.

More info
W: co3.org.au
E: info@co3.org.au

Image: Emma Fishwick

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