Category: Dance

Review: Colossus

A celebration of mass and movement

By Lois Maskiell

The Melbourne Fringe’s vibrant and often overwhelming program is renowned for engaging audiences with undiscovered and emerging artists and now, with the introduction of the Take Over! program, a leading independant artist is added to the mix. Award-winning contemporary dance choreographer, Stephanie Lake, is this year’s recipient with Colossus. Presented in partnership with Arts Centre Melbourne, this large-scale work sees Lake’s unique dance-language harness young talent in a captivating and electric production.

Fifty bodies lie motionless in a circle on the floor. Ambient noises begin to awaken their limbs, their fingers curl slowly, and soon they begin to pulsate. Striking visual formations like this feature frequently and with so many bodies on stage, Lake has an astute ability to sculpt clear sequences that appear almost spontaneously out of carefully orchestrated chaos.

Equally absorbing are the dancers from the Victorian College of the Arts and TriPP Transit Dance who are diverse in age and talent. Standout duets showcase Lake’s choreographic style as we see unlikely duos push, pull, attract and resist one another. It is a beautiful illustration of human relationships at their most abstract and fundamental level.

Running side-by-side Lake’s choreography are composer, Robin Fox’s voltaic soundscapes. At times dancers are in complete unison with Fox’s sound effects, while at others they resist moving with the music. Their bodies appear to be instruments in their own right, contributing to a celebration of mass and movement.

In one instance the dancers assemble as if in a school photograph and a voice over, presumably Lake’s, delivers sharp instructions. “Float left hand up…Stop,” she commands. This winds up in laughter as the audience witnesses the dancers diligently follow directions. I can’t help but think that Lake is casting an ironic glance at the act of choreographing and how so much of the creation process involves giving or following instructions.

Bosco Shaw’s lighting design and Harriet Oxley’s costumes are both stark and simple. Adorned in a black and comfortable attire, the dancers are left to freely move about the stage. Shaw’s lighting transitions from cold white to warmer tones and compliment switches in Lake’s repertoire. The final moments erupt in a rhythmical and percussive number where performers demonstrate their talent and sheer passion for dance. Watching these young artists give Lake’s compositions their unbridled and unrestrained energy is truly part of the wonder.

Colossus is a feverish display of action-reaction forces between bodies set to an electric musical score. After experiencing these poignant formations emerge out of a swarm of dancers, I was left feeling as if Colossus was like observing life play out in a crowded city.

 

Colossus is being performed at Arts Centre Melbourne until 30 September.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photograph: Mark Gambino

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Review: The Australian Ballet School Showcase

A chance to witness Australia’s up and coming classical dancers

By Leeor Adar

Entranced from the moment the curtains open upon the dancers, it is evident that there is no such thing more beautiful than the artistry and skill of the ballet.

The Australian Ballet School prides itself on its high quality training opportunities for talented young performers, and I am thrilled to say that the talent very much shines in the 2018 Showcase directed by Lisa Pavane. Dancers from Level 1 – 8 perform under the direction of some of the best teachers Australia has to offer, and the pieces vary from contemporary to fairy tale, flamenco-inspired to the tongue-in-cheek.

The Showcase opens with a tiny ballet dancer lifting the veil upon the scene, and we begin with the masterwork of choreographer Paul Knobloch, an Australian Ballet School alumnus with the capacity to arrange 121 dancers into stunning visual formations with the Grand Défilé (a grand parade in literal translation). The Défilé is really a glorious start to this production, as the choreography is just gorgeously cinematic in its scope. Knobloch has an enormous task on hand, but manages to make this a triumph. This was the perfect opportunity to let any doubt of the calibre of the young performers disappear into the tulle.

If the audience had any doubts about the extent The Australian Ballet School could stretch its flavour, the Alegrías choreographed by Areti Boyaci which featured on stage Spanish guitar by Werner Neumann established the Showcase as something to be reckoned with. The flair with which the performers managed keep to the 12 beat rhythm of the flamenco was an excellent choice for exhibiting the performers’ versatility.

The Don Quixote, Dryads, Act II was a charming nod to tradition, featuring Ludwig Minkus’ music, with extraordinary costumes. I enjoyed the sweep into fantasy, but admittedly craved something bolder, which I had begun to really expect after such enticing earlier numbers. I was delighted by the Wolfgang Dance choreographed by the excellent Simon Dow to Mozart’s Allegro from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (which we know as ‘A Little Night Music’). The Level 4 students were brilliant and able to bring an enormous humour and spirit to the performance, which featured baroque white wigs and many laughs from the audience.

A standout performance for me was the wonderful troupe of male dancers in the Knobloch choreographed Valetta. Knobloch establishes himself as a master of ballet ensemble here, and the dancers are absolutely breathtaking moving works of art as they perform the classical movement which featured the flair of the late 1950s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals.

The final act featured the elegant and fluid wonder of the Ballo Barocco, choreographed by Stephen Baynes, featuring the beautiful music of Bach. Initially created for Level 8 dancers, the Level 6 dancers took on this piece with astonishing mastery. Heart Strings was a poignant series of dances choreographed by Margaret Wilson showcasing the experiences of the Level 6 students. With humour and incredible maturity, these pieces were navigated by the students, with notable standouts in Enter the Protagonists and the Bullied.

The final performance of the night, the Danza de la Vida choreographed by Simon Dow borrowed from the tango traditions of Argentina. I found this performance a nice piece to cap the Showcase, however there was a pool of talent that I felt had been under-utilised. Despite that, it was an elegant way to end the evening, and certainly proved that The Australian Ballet School harnesses and hones the astonishing talent of its young performers.

The Australian Ballet School’s 2018 Showcase is headed next to Canberra for a showing on the 22 September. Tickets can be purchased online. 

Photograph: Supplied

Review: Le Sacré

Daring and exciting fusion of circus arts and classical ballet

By Lois Maskiell

The National Institute of Circus Arts has joined forces with the Australian Ballet School in the bold, large-scale production, Le Sacré. With over forty bodies on stage, directing this large work, which fuses two distinct art forms as well as showcases diverse student talent, is no easy feat.

The directorial team includes NICA’s Movement and Performance Coordinators Zebastian Hunter and Meredith Kitchen along with Simon Dow, the Resident Choreographer at the Australian Ballet School. With additional creative input from Francois-Eloi Lavingnac, these collaborators have devised a piece using all the right key ingredients. Though despite the advertised aim to expose the themes inherent in Nijinsky’s the Rites of Spring, I found that the narrative development left any deep exploration of its themes to the wayside.

What was identifiable was two distinct parts: the first filled with riotous dance scenes and the second filled with smaller acts and the ceremonious choosing of the young girl or sacrificial victim. One ingenious directorial choice was how the ballet’s story is transferred from a pagan world of ritual to a twisted ball where power constructs are playfully altered through a camp aesthetic mixed with a techno sensibility.

The technical abilities of these bold, young students are manifold. Their talent is abundant, particularly during smaller group acts that made me wish for more solos. Standout performers include Georgia Webb, a chameleon of skill whose aptitude for acrobatics is as dynamic as her skill on lyra, rue cyr and hand balancing. Straps performer, Troy Griffiths had an intriguing presence, covered in tattoos and endowed with grace and flexibility, he was a brilliant embodiment of circus’ power to subvert the mundane to something extraordinary.

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Stark and beautiful choreography was found in a visually poetic rue cyr act that featured three wheels. Jessie Carson on dance trapeze was serene and of a penetrating icy calm. Her timing was in complete unison with her apparatus and like a seasoned performer she didn’t reveal a hint of exertion in her execution.

The ballet dancers doused the show with energy and elegance, approaching their form without such distinct specialisations as found in circus. With powerful leaps and complex foot work, the differences between the two art forms were exposed. An exceptional skipping rope act involved classical ballet steps accomplished in the minute gaps of the rope’s swing. The pas de deux and pirouettes in the second half were exact and powerful.

The stirring result of circus arts and classical ballet coming together in such a novel and bold production as Le Sacré is exiting to say the least. Collaborations like this do push boundaries and it would be wonderful to see more in the future.

Le Sacré is being performed at the National Institute of Circus Arts until 23 June. Tickets can be puchased online.

Photographs: Aaron Walker

Chunky Move presents Common Ground

Inventive and potent performance carried by two brilliant interpretations

By Lois Maskiell

In Chunky Move’s latest production choreographer and director Anouk van Dijk’s sets focus on the essential – the relation between two. This Melbourne-based company renowned for its inventive productions full of energy and intensity surprises again with this masterful duet.

Performers Tara Jade Samaya and Richard Cilli begin walking around the room with their eyes locked on each other. Their immediate bond forms the centre-point of this piece and appears to be a living entity in itself, exposed by their constant commitment to Dijk’s striking choreography.

A vortex of emotions and inventions unfolds as each segment transitions almost secretly to the next with the aid of atmospheric lighting design by Paul Jackson and the often subtle, yet powerful music of Jethro Woodward. Moods creep up on you before even realising the previous section has ended.

Dijk’s concept springs from the duet as a utopian ideal and feuds between political leaders. Noting the birth of ballet in 17th century France in the program as well as Louis XIV’s use of ballet to promote his power, Dijk references the history of dance. Though unlike 17th century ballet, Dijk’s choreography sacrifices poise and elegance for momentum and force, creating images that arouse a strong emotional and conceptual response. Dijk’s wonders what if Louis XIV had been performing his ballets with a strong female lead?

Strong indeed is Tara Jade Samaya. In a remarkable moment where the dancers bound up and down like hungry animals, it’s Samaya who has the physical prowess: jumping higher than her male counterpart. In a moment where they move through a series of positions like a couple in bed, Samaya is neither more or less dependent on her partner Cilli: they embrace each other equally.

Where words cease and movement dominates a playground of meaning and emotions is found. The dynamic between these performers is a broad space that jointly points to the relationship between world leaders, as well as the relationship between lovers.

Exploring the complexity of equality between two bodies, Common Ground is an inventive and electric duet interpreted by two talented performers.

Common Ground runs 26 April – 5 May at Chunky Move Studios, before being performed at The Drum, Dandenong 8 May. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Pia Johnson

Melbourne City Ballet Presents Sleeping Beauty

Beauty and grace on display in an opulent fairytale world

By Christine Young

Melbourne City Ballet’s touring production of the almost 130-year old ballet Sleeping Beauty is a beautiful, breathtaking performance inspired by the original choreography of ballet master Marius Petipa. The ballet company’s founding artistic director Michael Pappalardo has choreographed a stunning first-rate production, which showcases the talents of an ensemble cast, that ranges in skill level from emerging to principal artists.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s original score, the ballet is performed in a prologue and three acts closely based on the classic fairytale Sleeping Beauty. When the red curtain at Darebin Arts Centre draws open, the audience is invited into the opulent palatial world of a King and Queen preparing for the christening of their daughter, Princess Aurora.

This is a fairytale world full of beauty, grace and serenity animated by five fairy godmothers and their leader, Lilac Fairy (Alexandra Rolfe) who dances with outstanding skill and agility. Lilac Fairy is the positive, stabilising force responsible for bringing blessings and peace to the royal family before and after the uninvited evil fairy Carabosse (Alexia Cannizaro) casts the curse on Princess Aurora.

 

Ms Cannizaro as Carabosse is a delightful villain (if that’s possible!) who is tall, nimble and perfect for the role. Award-winning ballerina Ariana Hond as the 16-year old Princess Aurora gives the standout performance of the production. Ms Hond’s dancing is flawless and the only disappointment is that Princess Aurora doesn’t have more stage time. Audience members can look forward to incredible pirouettes and impressive control as well as strength and dexterity from this young dancer.

In fact, Mr Pappalardo is spot-on with all casting choices which shows he fully understands the strengths of his dancers. Principal artists, Yuiko Masukawa and Brendan Bradshaw appear in smaller roles but their extensive experience creates a lasting impression.

Princess Aurora’s suitor, Prince Désiré is performed by junior artist Henry Driver whose overall performance was strong, but he faltered a little in his initial pas seuls (solos) – this didn’t stop him from smiling though. Mr Driver recovered well for the remainder of the ballet, delivering a perfect pirouette in a later moment. Overall, this production is beautiful and graceful and I loved the lavish, Baroque-style costumes, which were just as alluring as the dancing itself.

Sleeping Beauty is being performed at Darebin Arts Centre until 22 April before touring Victoria via Wangaratta, Frankston and Geelong until 5 May. Tickets can be purchased online.

Melbourne Festival 2017: WE LOVE ARABS

Political tensions, conflicts in art, relentless satire – and dance

By Myron My

In exploring identity politics and prejudice, We Love Arabs has a Jew and an Arab creating a new piece of contemporary dance piece to serve as a bridge between Middle-Eastern feuds. This satirical social commentary cleverly explores stereotypes and the powers that are at play when discussing race and cultures and to what extent art can create change in the world. 

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Hillel Kogan plays the role of a Jewish choreographer (as he is in real life) who initially explains to us the importance of this work, and how it will cross boundaries, and the deep thought he has put into its construction, and what he wants to do with it, and what he wants to accomplish with it. Before we even see any of this performance on stage therefore, we can already deduce that this work is not going to do or be anything that Kogan’s character envisions it will, and it’s not because he is a bad person, but because the Kogan on stage has essentially revealed how unaware and uninformed he is to be creating this type of work.

Kogan’s first obstacle is finding an Arab dancer, and from out of nowhere Adi Boutrous appears. As when he was alone on stage however, Kogan continues to verbally dominate the work, leaving Boutrous to passively stand and listen. The newcomer is barely given an opportunity to speak or contribute towards the creation of the performance, despite it being about him just as much as it is about Kogan. He is there to do as he is told, and Kogan’s lack of collaboration exposes his ignorant condescension towards Boutrous and his people.

The clever, self-conscious script exposes constant satirical tensions between artistic intent and cultural understanding: for example, while this piece was professedly intended to connect the two men, Kogan’s character spends much of the time focusing on their differences. He draws a Star of David on himself and an Islamic crescent moon on Boutrous’ forehead so the audience will be able to distinguish who’s who. However Boutrous reveals the multitude of problems in such labeling when seconds later he meekly announces that he is Christian. At another point, Kogan spends a considerable amount of time trying to pronounce his dancer’s surname and wishing that he’d had a more ‘traditional’ Arabic name like Mohammed.

The work is thus more performance art than traditional dance with the choreography balanced upon graceful and controlled movements that are filled with tension and frustration, especially when Kogan barks orders to the silent Boutrous about how and when to move his body. In this way, Kogan the actual creator uses the choreography to highlight the differences that his ignorant on-stage persona fails to understand or acknowledge. When Boutrous seems to have any form of control or power through his movement, you see how this autonomy does not accord with what Kogan’s character wants to create and how he perceives things, highlighting the issues that arise when creating work about other cultures, races, ethnicities, or minority groups, but refusing to actively collaborate with them.

We Love Arabs explores the sweeping generalisations and lack of insight that people who have the best intentions at heart can act upon, resulting in more harm than good being accomplished. At the same time, the show is also a satirical and self-deprecating look at political art and whether it can make a change in the world. Whichever way you choose to approach it however, We Love Arabs is an engaging and entertaining piece of inspired performance art that actually says something worth listening to.

We Love Arabs played at Malthouse Theatre between 18 – 22 October 2017.

Melbourne Festival 2017: 7 PLEASURES

Familiarity and confrontation in the flesh

By Myron My

It’s interesting how much uncomfortable conversation sex and nudity can create, and how many people can easily feel confronted by seeing a breast or a penis. So when you’re seeing a performance art piece in which the dancers are nude for the entire show, it can usually lead to some awkward moments. However, Mette Ingvarsten is well aware of this fact, and in 7 Pleasures she immediately knocks down the obvious issue before the performance has even begun, or before anyone in the audience is given a chance to realise it has begun.

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Ingarsten’s work explores the pleasure – and the pain – the body can provide and the difficulty in being able to enjoy one’s own body when faced with constriction and conflict. The set design for 7 Pleasures is simple and familiar, a living room with a few chairs, a table, coffee table and a pot plant. Its familiarity is what sets you at ease… except for the giant sculpture of naked bodies forming in a back corner.

Slowly, the performers begin to move as one, like lava seeping down a volcano as they envelop any furniture that lies in its way. While there are breasts, vaginas and penises on display, the bodies lose their gender through the course of the movements with arms and legs intertwining with each other until it’s almost impossible to tell where one person’s body ends and another begins. There is no music or noise during this sequence except for the contact the bodies make with each other and the set pieces. This play with sound and music adds to the themes explored and when these bodies reach peak liberation (and orgasm), Peter Leanaert and Will Guthrie‘s music and soundtrack creates a tribal-like feel with the near-destruction of Ingvarsten and Minna Tikkainn‘s set.

The final part of the show looks at body politics and the policing of bodies, with half the performers dressed head to toe in black and the other half still naked. There is a struggle between the two as they each fight for what they believe is right. The choreography still has the entrancing rhythm Ingvarsten has maintained throughout the piece but she also manages to imbue it with a violence that is both beautiful and horrifying to watch.

7 Pleasures is a highly intimate work that acknowledges the sexual joy the body is capable of providing. However, the pleasure that it refers to is more from the self-discovery and the surprises that our own bodies can give us if we are brave enough to go exploring.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. 
Season: Until 22 October | Fri – Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: Full $59 – $69 | Under 30s $30
Bookings: Melbourne Festival

Image by Marc Coudrais