Category: Dance

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

Melbourne Festival 2017: TREE OF CODES

Frenzy and reflection

By Myron My

When choreographer Wayne McGregor, composer Jamie XX, and visual artist Olafur Eliasson come together for a new contemporary dance production, expectations are high. Taking inspiration from Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2010 book Tree of Codes, this production of the same name is a stunning collaboration of movement, lighting, sound, and stage design.

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Interestingly, Foer’s book was inspired by another book, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, a collection of short stories of a merchant family in a small town. Schulz story is full of metaphors, mythology and a blurring of fantasy and reality, and for his book, Foer cut out a large number of words and sentences from Schulz’s stories and re-arranged them to form new stories and ideas. Even the title itself is made up of the letters from Schulz’s book title.

McGregor’s Tree of Codes also uses the idea of imagination and truth, and it begins with a gorgeous opening sequence performed in total darkness with lights attached to the costumes of the dancer as they move their bodies like they were floating balls of light. Along with Jamie XX’s electronic pulsing beats, there’s a sense of a new beginning and mysticism, of some kind of awakening that is about to occur, and that is exactly what we get.

In true McGregor-style, the fourteen dancers are pushed to extremes in a complex and frenetic choreography with bodies constantly moving. The music and visual designs including rotating set pieces and mirrored walls are a feast for the senses, and together create the perfect duality of dreaming and reality, of being and of the metaphysical.

Seated on an aisle and not having the best sightlines for this specific production, the impact of the kaleidoscopic images on stage was not able to be appreciated to its fullest, but it was enough to give an understanding of what was trying to be achieved. The numerous reflections of the dancers on stage highlight time passing by and moving on. At times, the audience itself is reflected onto the stage via the mirrored set pieces, blurring the line between passive viewer of “life” and active participant and asking you to consider your own life and the choices you’ve made.

While there is much to be fascinated and awed by with Tree of Codes, at 75 minutes long I feel the work is stretched too thin as it moves towards its conclusion. Keeping the show around the 60-minute mark could have allowed the intensity of the performances and the effects of the design to remain fresh, with the images constructed on stage and those created in our minds being appreciated to their fullest.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. 
Season: Until 21 October | Fri – Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm
Tickets: Full $69 – $219 | Under 30s $30
Bookings: Melbourne Festival


CoisCéim Dance Theatre Presents THE WOLF AND PETER

Winning fans of all ages

By Zachariah (Age 9)

“The story was about a boy named Peter who wanted to discover the meadow and on his time when he was exploring he came across a wolf and he ran away and the wolf was really good at break-dancing.

My favourite character was the person who played the piano because his hair was really crazy and cool. The dancing made me feel energetic.

I liked it because it was really funny and… I can’t explain it, but I just love it. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

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By Tania Herbert (Aged more than 9)

Brought to Melbourne by Ireland’s CoicCéim Dane Theatre, The Wolf and Peter by David Bolger is a contemporary re-imagining of the classic Prokofiev children’s symphony, Peter and the Wolf. Set in a stylised forest, it’s a surrealist journey into Peter’s little world with lots of modern twists to tell the story in a meaningful way for today’s modern tech kids.

As Peter (played by a woman – Ivonne Kalter – in classic pantomime style) journeys into the forest, he comes face to face with his own fears and fantasies, played out through contemporary dance, from jazz to breakdance.

The music is lead by an onstage piano – which itself plays a central character, with jokes from both pianist (composer Conor Linehan) and piano bringing a lovely integration between the dancers and the music. The stylised animal characters (Lance Coburn, Jonathan Mitchell, Emma O’Kane, Mateusz Szckerek and Matthew Williamson) make sure kids were able to give their imaginations a great workout, and the shift from animals being represented by musical instruments to the animals being defined by their dance style was a clever catch.

While the show is touted as being for 6+, the audience had kids from toddlers to tweens, and the simplicity of the physical comedy yet the complexity of the dancing meant there was something to please all ages – adults included.

Kids in the audience were spellbound, even through the later parts of the show which was largely emotive contemporary dancing as Peter wrestled with the consequences of his actions and his feelings of conflict about the well-being of the wolf (Szckerek).

The Wolf and Peter is a great piece of kids’ entertainment, but also held a lovely and humanising message that we all value the same things – fun, family and freedom.

By Livi (Age 5)

“I went to the theatre and I saw The Wolf and Peter.

My favourite was Peter because he was hiding from the wolf. They did handstands and cartwheels (which I can do) and I loved the head stands.”


CoisCéim Dance Theatre’s The Wolf and Peter was performed on 1 & 2 July at Arts Centre Melbourne.


Dance Massive Presents DIVERCITY

An experience of joy

By Joana Simmons


When you live away from home and reside in the city, on someone else’s land, does it change your relationship to country?”

In Divercity, Bundjalung/Yaegl choreographer Mariaa Randall guides us with dance, colour and conversation to explore this idea. Presented by Arts House and performed Henrietta Baird and Waiata Telfer (who also choreographed) this was one show to catch this season. Set in front of a projection; the movement, dialogue and structure are all impeccably defined. This work is a look at indigenous cultural celebration delivered in a beautifully artistic way.

Individuals self-identifying as women of the audience are invited in first to learn some simple movement and words for ‘woman’ ‘girl’ and ‘feminine’ in the language of their country. It is lighthearted and Randall eases the tension. There was a sense of hesitation initially, but it felt special to be part of the performance, and fostered a sense of community among us. lluminated by an evocative filmic backdrop by video artist Keith Deverell, Baird and Telfer performed traditional and contemporary dance whilst speaking native tongues and English. The choreography is dynamic and looked fantastic with the projection. The use of coloured chalk on their clothes that they swept up and banged in the floor work was stunning. The extension, energy and execution of the movement was breathtaking, and this wonderful intensity was sustained for so long.

The conversational nature of the dialogue draws us in and is at points authentically funny, making the performance enjoyable on so many levels. I was impressed by the stamina of the performers; twisting and rolling into and out of the floor, covered in vibrant colourful chalk, connecting with each other and the audience the whole way through. Randall is a genuine creative star and should be highly commended for bringing this work together. Deverell’s sound design fits well with the projection and movement and allows the spoken word to be heard and the movement to pick up and become complex and thrilling. The space was used well and performers captured from the light from the four follow spots on the corners. The stage is left covered in vibrant colour from the chalk on the performers’ bodies, with the shapes from the tape they pulled up stencilled in the tarquet, and we the audience sit in silence as we soak up and share the clever cultural creation we just experienced.

This show, structured around Aboriginal spiritual and traditional cultures of Women’s Business created and performed by indigenous women, is one that gives us so much inspiration and excitement. Divercity shows us, no matter where we are from, where we are now, what gender we identify with or what our heritage and language is, we all have bodies which can be beautiful vessels for communication and expression.  I loved every part of it- the celebration of community and how movement brings people together: the playful nature and the synchronisity of the projection and language and being made part of the performance. If you got a ticket before it sold out, you too enjoyed a real treat.

Divercity played in March 2017 as part of Dance Massive at North Melbourne Town Hall.

Image by Keith Deverell


Dance Massive Presents DEEP SEA DANCES

Eclectic exploration

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.

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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


Dance Massive Presents TINY SLOPES

Brave and brilliant

By Joana Simmons

Sometimes as we get older, we challenge ourselves less. We don’t always push ourselves to fail and fall. In Tiny Slopes for Dance Massive, director/choreographer Nat Cursio has pushed the cast of dancers to learn to skateboard, and learn about risk, failure, humility and little wins along the way. Set along to an eclectic soundtrack, this impressive and artistic work is a joy from beginning to end. One of Melbourne’s wonderfully-kept historical venues, The Meat Market, tucked just north of the CBD  is a perfect host to this production that has a range of well-thought-out theatrical elements that really spin my wheels.

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We enter the Meat Market and sit looking at an almost-tennis-court-sized tarquet set with four skateboards. One of the dancers balances, jumps and manouvers cautiously around the board as the other three speak about things that they use to do when they were little, like jump off the roof of the shed and ride a tricycle down the windshield of Dad’s car. The snippets of memories are honest, dry and witty about the things they are scared of, what they don’t know about and what they can do. I loved how cleverly these anecdotes were woven through: though there’s no real storyline, they keep the work interesting, truthful and accessible.

Meanwhile, the depth of the stage is as impressive as how the dancers cover it. They use the skateboards as mechanisms for movement, with smooth natural floorwork and rolls; effortlessly skilled and meticulously choreographed.  The skateboards have microphones to capture their clunks and the sound of the wheels spinning, and this is enhanced and reverberated to make a fully stirring experience.  Young teenage girls who can skateboard with much dexterity skim the floor and play the roles of mentors, or past selves, to the four main dancers. The full house applauded as they tackled the ramps and mini half-pipe.

There’s many highlights and wonderful things to learn and take away from this show. Cursio made it from her ongoing interest in vulnerability and resilience, two virtues that are widely explored in this work. It is exciting and empowering to see a group of strong girls form a gang and put a beautiful story onstage. It’s got the athleticism and production of Cirque Du Solei with the artistic quality of a documentary seasoned with a little comedy. I want to commend the cast (Alice Dixon, Melissa Jones, Caroline Meaden, Francesca Meale, Rae Franco, Amelie Mansfield, Pyper Prosen, Pixel Willison-Allen) for their completely honest and genuine performance. It was really refreshing to see movement and performance that wasn’t flashy or self-indulgent: quite simply, it was artistic and accessible.

Travis Hogan’s comprehensive lighting combined with sound by Byron Scullin and ‘everyday awesome’ costumes by Sarah Hall gives this show a sweet aestheic and aural edge. Tamara Salwick as the text/ voice consultant has tastefully put together elements of the show that bring Cursio’s direction and choreography to life.

With no “ta da” ending, it is the choreographic unison and connection between the performers made this a satisfying show. It makes me feel like I too can take up something I’m afraid of, like skateboarding. It’s a privilege to enjoy performances of this nature. If you have never seen contemporary dance and are worried it’s wishy washy writhing in nude leotards, this is a spectacle that defies all of that and exceeds expectations. It’s an absolute delight.

Tiny Slopes played as part of Dance Massive in March 2017.

Image by Gregory Lorenzutti