By Joana Simmons
For ten days in March, Dance Massive brings us a program of all things dance, from the athletic to the obscure. Presented by Arts House, Dancehouse and Malthouse Theatre in association with Ausdance Victoria, the curated and commissioned program features local and international artists who have created works to engage and connect with. Through the international medium that is movement to music, across this program we are given a chance to rediscover our belief in the joyous and the extraordinary privilege of feeling alive. Rebecca Jensen’s Deep Sea Dances takes us to the depths of the sea, exploring the ecosystems that unfold as a dead whale sinks to the depths. Set to a live soundtrack and silence, the large cast come together to prioritize transition and transformation.
Beginning with a work that recreated the rolling waves set to the breath of the ensemble, we the audience found ourselves sitting at the edges of the warehouse dive deep. The use of cannon and release of the head gave the real water lapping at your ankles’ feeling. From there, however, I was lost. I’m unsure whether, excuse the pun, I was out of my depth, but for the next 45 minutes the same movements were repeated over and over again to minimal music. It felt like a self-indulgent and exhaustive way to prove a point. I appreciated how the performers mixed up their placement onstage, and the timing; but the movement itself was so loosely executed and frequently repeated I was unsure whether I was at a professional or student production. The costume was unflattering and sneakers were worn by all which cut off leg lines and led to some quite clunky movement. When the pace picked up, there were some good moments, however as a whole the use of repetition, lack of any extension or definitive lines or any facial expression made me, and the woman opposite me who had nodded off, feel completely excluded.
Still, credit must be given to the production in some regards as some bold choices have been made. Rebecca Jensen and Marco Cher-Gibard’s sound design is a big feature with some of the music being played live on a synth machine and keyboard by Jensen herself. It is also very exciting the way the roller door of the warehouse is bought up and the light from the street spills into the space as the dancers emerge, this time wet and clad in some slick-like fabric. They walked with pace and direction from one side to the other; which was engaging at first, but again went on for an exaggerated amount of time. Matthew Adey’s production design was simple and effective. The yellow tarquet made plenty of squeaks and music to the dancers’ sneakers, and the use of the industrial fan at the end was memorable….maybe because it was the end.
We live in a world where there is an oversaturation of media, art, film, video and theatre. Apparently we are time-poor and “connected” but also disconnected. I found this performance difficult to connect with at all based on how there was no eye contact with the audience or facial expression, and while I could understand the movement, I couldn’t understand the way it was going on for so long. If this was an experimental first performance for students, then those things are excusable. If this is trying to prove a point by challenging us to understand something deeper than what is being delivered, then great; I’m sure there are people who are out there who love having the splash of cold water on the face that is confronting theatre. However, considering the tickets are above $30, I would at least like to be able to trust that my time and money would be well-spent with attending a performance that left me feeling something other than confused and frustrated. Nevertheless, movers and shakers have to move and shake around all sorts of mediums to spark change. This is a show that has plenty of moving and shaking and, judging from the fact the performance I saw was sold out, there is a market of people who are going to appreciate it.
Deep Sea Dances was performed as part of Dance Massive in March 2017.
Image by Eliza Dyball