4 female dancers posing against ocean backdrop
Calendar, Dance, February 2020, March 2020, Performing arts

Dance: Chorus

29 Feb & 1 Mar @ Silverstream Wines, Denmark ·
Presented by Annette Carmichael Projects ·

Dance that unites against violence.
A powerful ensemble of women from Denmark, Albany, Perth, Mandurah, Bunbury and Ravensthorpe create this original performance about tenderness, strength and solidarity from award-winning choreographer Annette Carmichael.

Tickets $15-$35. Book at annettecarmichael.com.au
Outdoor licensed venue, no BYO alcohol, bring blankets or low seats.  Gates open at 6pm, performance commences at 7.30pm. Accessible venue, please contact us for further information.

More info
W: www.annettecarmichael.com.au
E:  hello@annettecarmichael.com.au

Pictured: Sumer Addy, Jasmine Heslop, Holly Carter and Nya Dennison. Credit: Holii Carmody

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Storm Helmore, Bernadette Lewis, Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Dance double bill goes off with a bang

Review: Scott Elstermann and Shona Erskine, “Bang! Bang!” ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 28 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

November has been a boon month for dance in Perth, with no less than seven shows presented by various companies, organisations and independent artists. Packing a powerful punch, dance theatre double bill “Bang! Bang!”, by local indie choreographers Scott Elstermann and Shona Erskine, makes a fitting grand finale to this unofficial dance festival.

Scott Elstermann. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Scott Elstermann alternates between elegance and frenzy in ‘Love you, Stranger’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

As the gunshots of the title foreshadow, it’s murder that ties this double header together. The first work on the program, Shona Erskine’s Love you, Stranger, is a chilling exploration of the consequences of public shaming. Though we know this to be a contemporary issue, Erskine takes us back in time, to the fates of three Australian women – Martha Rendell (1871-1909), Audrey Jacobs (1905-?) and Ellen Thompson (1835-1887) – all brought to trial for murder.

Performed by three dancers (Storm Helmore, Scott Elstermann and Bernadette Lewis), each representing one of the accused women, Love you, Stranger interweaves stark solos with detailed ensemble work. It’s lightly seasoned with text (written by Vahri McKenzie, voiced by Jo Morris) that hints at horror of various kinds.

Representing Rendell, accused of murdering her step-children, Helmore is neat, deliberate, intricate. As the “seduced and then publicly snubbed” Jacobs, Elstermann alternates between elegance and frenzy. Arms flinging wildly, Lewis, as Thompson, seems to be fending off an attack from an invisible foe; later it seems as if her own gasps floor her. Joe Paradise Lui’s soundscape provides an ominous backdrop; a melange of repeating notes and deep drawn-out undertones, punctuated by whispers and breaths.

It’s a glimpse into the abyss; dizzying, compelling. Erskine tells me she has plans to develop this work, and I’m keen to see what comes next.

Bernadette Lewis, Scott Elstermann and Storm Helmore. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Detailed ensemble work: Bernadette Lewis, Scott Elstermann and Storm Helmore in ‘Love you, Stranger’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

It’s during the brief interval, complete with snack-bearing usherettes (Laura Boynes and Lilly King), that we are drawn into Scott Elstermann’s Act 2, Scenes 1-4, a mad-cap ride that takes murder less seriously. Elstermann’s work is inspired by Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and, having filled that particular hole in my pop-culture knowledge the night before, I was wondering how the concept would play out.

Bernadette Lewis and Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Laura Boynes and Bernadette Lewis in one of many moments of physical comedy. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Well, in summary, it is Wes Anderson’s style, cleverly transformed into contemporary dance. While you don’t need to have seen the film to appreciate this work (my plus one assures me), Anderson buffs will, I think, be thrilled by the result.

Unsurprisingly there’s audio from the film, but it’s the way it’s animated on stage that’s so effective. With his terrific team of dancers – Laura Boynes, Storm Helmore, Lilly King and Bernadette Lewis – Elstermann captures the cartoon-like nature of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s many fight and chase scenes, rendered all the more hilarious by the liveness and the proximity afforded by the intimate Blue Room Theatre space. From the sunrise-stained opening to a luminous aqua wash, Chris Donnelly’s lighting pays exquisite homage to the film’s famed saturated hues.

Boynes, Helmore, King and Lewis are superb. It’s not just the crisp perfection of their many slapstick scenes of physical comedy, but their wildly mobile faces that move, plasticine-like, into ever more comical configurations.

The only serious thing to say about this work?

You gotta see it. I don’t care whether you’re a contemporary dance aficionado, a newbie or indifferent.

And I reckon it will sell out, so don’t delay.

“Bang! Bang!” runs until December 14.

Pictured top are Storm Helmore, Bernadette Lewis and Laura Boynes in ‘Act 2, Scenes 1-4’.

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Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Juan Carlos Osma as Lewis Carroll in ALICE (in wonderland). Photo by Scott Dennis (14).JPG
Ballet, Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Whimsical and wonderful: an Alice for all ages

Junior reviews: West Australian Ballet, Alice (in wonderland) ·
His Majesty’s Theatre ·
Reviews by Bethany Stopher (13) and Saskia Haluszkiewicz, aged 9 ·

Opening night, Thursday 21 November
Review by Bethany Stopher
Alice (in wonderland), performed by the West Australian Ballet, is a creative, vibrant ballet, full to the brim with humour and imagination. It is thoroughly enjoyable and perfect for a young audience.
The choreography is not strictly ballet; some of its features are neoclassical or contemporary. This keeps it fresh and different. The sequences are playful and fun, perfectly enhancing the characters from Lewis Carroll’s novel. It also has the hint of silliness and is definitely humorous in places, from the Cheshire cat, to the seductive red roses. The dancers use their voices, which is unusual for a ballet, but very effective in this case. Septime Webre has done an excellent job.
The scenery is outstanding. The plain white room and chair at the start of the show, give little clue of the imaginative props and scenery that are to come. Set designer James Kronzer has certainly gone above and beyond, making every scene as picturesque as possible. Suspension wires are used multiple times, in jaw dropping ways, during the performance. One of the highlights of this, for me, was when Alice “grew” after sampling the bottle labelled “drink me.” It looked so effective, especially as the adult “doors” are replaced by child guests to show how giant Alice is in comparison.
The scenery is also very portable and this is convenient, as there are many different settings, which have to be changed quickly.  There is even a touch of puppetry (artistically created by Eric Van Wyk), including a mini Alice, which is spun round to give the impression of falling, and a humongous Jabberwock puppet, which is controlled by many of the dancers. The scenery and effects are magical.
On opening night all the dancers were immaculate. Chihiro Nomura (Alice) stole the show for me. Apart from her flawless technique, she had a childlike quality and an abundance of expression, perfect for the role. I also admired the bird partnership of the dodo (Oscar Valdes) and the eaglet (Dayana Hardy Acuna). Oscar had such control in his pirouettes and elevation in his jumps. Dayana had a beautiful expression – you could see the joy that she has from dancing. Glenda Garcia Gomez (The Queen of Hearts) played the dominant and vicious queen with attitude and a dramatic snarl on her face. The child stars were given a large presence on stage, performed well and were adorable; the audience went “aww” every time they entered the stage. One thing that I found interesting is that the characters mirror Alice’s family in the real world. This gave me a deeper understanding of the story that was unfolding.
All the costumes are perfect for Wonderland; bright, colourful and quirky. I loved the White Rabbit’s costume, as he wore huge fluffy ears and a waistcoat with clocks on it. The children’s costumes are really fluffy and cute. The costumes have been designed so exquisitely by Liz Vandal  that all the characters look like they have stepped right out of the book. The costumes are also very clever; when the cards are “painting” the white roses red, the white petals peel off to show crimson ones! However, it appeared as though some of the costumes were uncomfortable to dance in. For example, the flamingo costumes looked spectacular, but it must have been hard to dance as gorgeously as they did with a ginormous flamingo beak on your head! I also found that some of the costumes had a plastic texture. Some of the costumes suited this, but others seemed a bit too shiny.  Overall, though, the costumes are creative and add to the thrill.
Alice (in wonderland) is a must-see. It can be enjoyed by all ages, as it is completely suitable for kids, and their attention will be hooked from the moment the curtain rises until the curtseys. It is the kind of ballet that makes you want to see it again and again. The season ends on December 15, so get your tickets before they sell out!
Friday 22 November
Review by Saskia Haluszkiewicz, aged 9
West Australian Ballet’s production of Alice (in wonderland) is a new version of Lewis Carroll’s famous children’s book, and captures the imagination of people’s minds with colour, dance and comedy.
The costumes (designed by Liz Vandal) are full of colour and life, and beautifully capture the detail and tradition of the period the book was written. Many have described the costumes as a “visual feast”. One part of the ballet has a scene where Alice is walking through a magical forest when she sees a caterpillar on a toadstool smoking a pipe. Through dance we can see that the caterpillar is talking to Alice. Then it shows the natural cycle of a caterpillar by turning into a butterfly. The wings are a majestic blue and are so big, they fill up the entire stage! This is one example of the effort put into making these costumes. Another highlight is when Alice grows so tall, she is nearly touching the top of the proscenium with Alice’s feet dancing at the bottom.
The choreography (Septime Webre) is interesting, exciting and clever. It is a mix of traditional ballet and contemporary movement and even includes a Chinese dragon style puppet of the Jabberwock.
The cast includes students of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and 15 child dancers, along with WAB’s principals, soloists and demi soloists.
The main characters are Alice, The White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter and the Queen and King of Hearts. Other characters are the Fishy Footman, The Tweedle twins (who at one point flew through the air on a tandem bike), the flamingos and the Playing Cards.
Overall, I think this is a wonderful ballet performance for people all ages. It is whimsical, fun and imaginative, showing perfectly the potential of storytelling through the art of dance.
Pictured top: Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Juan Carlos Osma as Lewis Carroll in ‘Alice (in wonderland’). Photo: Scott Dennis.
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A sea of beautifully executed moves

Review: Brooke Leeder and Dancers, Radar ·
The B Shed, Fremantle, 21 September ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

The creaking, wooden glories that are the sheds of Fremantle port are one of the city’s secret beauties. What mysterious maritime activities go on inside C-Shed? What about D-Shed? Most of the sheds are off-limits to the public, a fact that seems suddenly heartbreaking when you attend a performance in B-Shed. These cavernous spaces create rustically sparse settings, ideal for dance or theatre. This year’s Fremantle Biennale makes fabulous use of these unique venues, but really, the public should be able to share in these spaces on a more regular basis. At the very start of Brooke Leeder’s Biennale contribution, Radar, giant wooden doors are pushed back, revealing a dimming sky on sea, terns restive on pillars. There was even the grand replica of the Leeuwin, an unwitting backdrop to the performance.

Leeder is well known in the Perth community, both as an independent choreographer and as a gifted teacher of dance. This work, created in collaboration with percussionist Louis Frere-Harvey and lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirier, harnesses the talents of 23 of Leeder’s dance students from John Curtin College of the Arts, ranging in age from 12 to 17, as well as five professional dancers. With so many bodies, particularly when most are dancers-in-training, synchronised phrasing is very difficult. Throw in live percussion and you have a mammoth task ahead of you. Consequently, I was holding my breath for much of the show.

O ye of little faith!

The thrum of a densely electronic soundscape kicks off proceedings as two dancers thread through a brisk portside breeze. With an echoing thud, the trio of percussionists (Frere-Harvey, Rosie Taylor and Joel Bass), join the fray, building a menacing, aural cloud that fills the space. Black-clad dancers file in from the port, pairing with a partner in a fluid formation of geometric shapes. Arms scissoring through the air, legs all angles. Just as suddenly as the percussion began, it all stops. The dancers dart away, fish-like.

A new throng emerges from the wings – a younger set, mostly from year seven and eight. Is it just me who finds young performers so poignantly transparent in their motives? Look at me! We all want to be seen, I guess… young performers just wear it on their sleeves. The breeze buffets the wooden walls creating a ghostly effect as the dancers wind their way through the space. Undersea blips, the hum of a motor. The youngsters are joined by the older crew and then, in a wave of movement, comes the synchronicity. Lines of bodies, diagonally spread across the floor, alternating in their motions. Recognising the difficulty of synchronicity perhaps, Leeder opts for wave-like motions, movements spilling through the corps like water. I was worried for the nervy 12-year-olds, (Goddamn girl, leave the mothering at home!) but they nailed it. Driving drums, low lights, a sea of beautifully executed moves.

At its best moments, Radar reminded me of a rough-hewn iteration of Didier Theron’s work Harakiri. With just five professional dancers amidst a pool of students (however accomplished), this is a formidable achievement. It was hard to take my eyes off two of the pros in particular, Scott Elstermann and Lilly King. Not just their seamless execution, it was their unflinching commitment and confidence in seeing this ambitious enterprise through. Nerves? What nerves?

The single mis-step was an extraneous narrative piece towards the end. A police siren sounds, a girl falls, a boy saves her. There was nothing wrong with the dancing but the narrative felt awkward and unnecessary in a work that dealt primarily in abstractions. It’s a minor quibble and one quickly forgotten as the dancers re-emerged onto the stage for one last thrilling dance en masse.

It was over. The dancers filed out through the vast doors, into the darkened harbour, golden-lit with portlight. I breathed again as the audience rose as one, in cheering acclaim of Leeder and her collaborators.

Radar runs until November 24.

Read an interview with Brooke Leeder.

Pictured top is Lilly King and cast members of ‘Radar’. Photo: D. Wright.


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Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Matthew Lehmann as the Cheshire Cat in ALICE (in wonderland). Photo by Sergey Pevnev (3)
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Ending the year on a high note

Review: West Australian Ballet, Alice (in wonderland) ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 21 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

West Australian Ballet (WAB) is ending the year on a high with its season of Alice (in wonderland).

A charismatic concoction of mad-cap music, surreal design, aerobatic puppetry and ballet that blends neoclassical and contemporary styles with a giant dollop of crazy, the success of this work lies in the collaboration between choreographer Septime Webre (artistic director of Hong Kong Ballet) and his creative team, composer Matthew Pierce, costume designer Liz Vandal, puppet designer Eric Van Wyk, set designer James Kronzer and lighting designer Clifton Taylor.

Though not a new production – Webre’s Alice was first performed by Washington Ballet in 2012 – WAB’s rendition feels fresh, under the guidance of répétiteur Johanna Wilt, WAB artistic director Aurélien Scanella and conductor Jessica Gethin (a small cheer was heard on opening night as this local conductor took to the podium to lead West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra).

Though closely based on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Webre’s Alice holds the plot lightly, instead letting its dreamlike quality drive the ballet. From the outset, too, it’s clear that this work is as much about music as it is about dance. The prologue, in which we see Alice (Chihiro Nomura) daydreaming “as her family swirls about around her chaotically”, is underpinned by a score that’s a bit jazzy, a bit 70s. More than a backdrop, the music animates the scene; sliding into slo-mo as a family photo goes off-kilter, giving voice to a yelp as Alice’s highly-charged mother (Glenda Garcia Gomez) grabs her sweetly dopey husband (Matthew Lehmann) by his head. As the score unfolds it’s jam-packed with styles and references, perfect fodder for Gethin who is renowned for the breadth of her repertoire.

Julio Blanes as the White Rabbit and Glenda Garcia Gomez as the Queen of Hearts in ALICE (in wonderland). Photo by Sergey Pevnev
Julio Blanes as the White Rabbit and Glenda Garcia Gomez as the Queen of Hearts. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Puppetry, too, is central to this ballet, aided by wires that allow the dancers to fly (with direction from Dylan Trujillo of Flying by Foy). As well as traditional puppetry – most notably the Jabberwock, an imposing red-eyed creature operated by seven dancers – the dancers become puppets themselves. When Alice cries her “pool of tears”, she and the Dormouse (Mayume Noguromi) bob and tumble, courtesy of a team whose outlines can be seen through the blue banners of fabric that comprise the water. Later, the acrobatic caterpillar (Alexa Tuzil) is held aloft by many hands as she undulates and contorts through a circus-like routine. There’s no attempt made to hide the magic but that brings another level of humour; the scene in which Alice “grows” is comic gold on cables… but you’ll have to see the show to be in on the joke.

One of Alice’s many charms is the linking of the “real-world” characters to those in Wonderland. First as Alice’s mother and then as the Queen of Hearts, Garcia Gomez was hilariously terrifying on opening night, while Lehmann played her dim and down-trodden partner (Father then King) with foppish charm. All four characters are beautifully costumed by Vandal (as is the whole work); a stylised rose-inspired headpiece adds a touch of 1920s glamour to the Queen, while both Father and King sport heart-shaped glasses that perfectly suit their silliness.

With Swan Lake references in choreography and score, the lanky, neon pink flamingos were a huge hit with the opening night audience, but the puffy baby flamingos – danced with precision and character by a team of child guest artists – almost stole the show with their nodding heads and youthful enthusiasm. That said, Oscar Valdes and Dayana Hardy Acuna gave them a run for their money. Neat as a button, Hardy Acuna was charming as the Eaglet, but it’s the Dodo who gets the show-stopping moves in this scene, performed by Valdes with his customary panache.

Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Matthew Lehmann as the Cheshire Cat in ALICE (in wonderland). Photo by Scott Dennis (4)
Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Matthew Lehmann as the Cheshire Cat. Photo: Scott Dennis.

From here it’s difficult to select favourite scenes; all delight. There’s Alice’s meeting with the Cheshire Cat, (the versatile Lehmann) who oozes sexual innuendo, the strings simpering as he rubs his body against Alice. It’s a touch creepy but too silly to take seriously. Alice’s pas de deux with the Cat is full of complicated throws, catches and balances, handled by Nomura and Lehmann with aplomb.

There’s the Mad Hatter Tea Party, with its backdrop of artificially bright gerberas, it’s electronica reference (from the 90s?), the creepily colourful Mad Hatter (an irrepressible Juan Carlos Osma), the hyper March Hare (Adam Alzaim)  and the gorgeously grooving Dormouse (Mayume Nogorumi, delightfully recognisable as Grandmother).

And then there’s the Garden Party… and Vandal’s crisp and clever deck-of-cards tutus and art-deco-styled roses (sharply danced by Polly Hilton, Claire Voss, Alexa Tuzil) who risk their lives by fraternizing with the King… but you know what? You’ll just have to see if you can snaffle a ticket to find out more.

As the White Rabbit, Julio Blanes flitted in and out of the story with a leap and a grin. Special mention must be made of the aforementioned child guests, who impressed in various scenes. Last but certainly not least, in the title role Nomura charmed the opening night audience with her unfailing warmth, wit and grace.

Alice (in wonderland) is a must-see show… but you’d better book ASAP, it’s bound to sell out.

Alice (in wonderland) runs until December 15.

Find out what our junior critics had to say about Alice (in wonderland).

Pictured top: Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Matthew Lehmann as the Cheshire Cat. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

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A captivating season and a fitting farewell

Review: WAAPA 2nd and 3rd year dance students, ‘Verge’ ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 16th November ·
Review by Lauren Catellani ·

This year’s “Verge” season, from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ dance department, is an expansive celebration of dance, with four diverse works passionately performed by the students. “Verge” is an annual mixed bill program of classical and contemporary dance that showcases both the graduating and second year students, and this year’s program is well constructed and provides an opportunity for audiences to appreciate dance in both its past and present forms.

The evening kicks off with Coppelia Suite, a montage of scenes from the famed Romantic ballet, remounted by WAAPA’s Kim McCarthy and Danielle Hunt. The audience is greeted with an energetic live performance of the Leo Delibes score – arranged by Gennaro Di Donna and performed by Di Donna, Caitlin Malcolm, Peter Evans and Robyn Blann – which sparks engagement and adds intensity throughout. The curtain rises on an enchanting village scene. Warmly lit, the stage is adorned with strings of flowers that complement the autumn-hued villager costumes beautifully.

‘Coppelia Suite’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

McCarthy and Hunt’s arrangement of excerpts from this comical ballet exudes playfulness and joy as the dancers perform the lively Harvest Festival and pageant day scenes. With storytelling a crucial part of this particular ballet I yearned for more vibrancy and facial expression from the supporting dancers positioned around the stage, in order to match and boost the impressive soloists. Among many exceptional dancers, standout performers were Brent Robert Carson, Beatrice Manser, Chloe Hinton, Ruby Gibbons and Sarah Ross.

Following Coppelia Suite, second year Bachelor of Arts students performed Cass Mortimer Eipper’s Black Gold. A new contemporary work exploring the growing culture of excessive consumerism and the human capacity for gluttony and oppression, the work cleverly interlaces  abstracted images and sounds relating to the global oil industry to explore its theme.

Cass Mortimer Eipper’s ‘Black Gold’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Mortimer Eipper’s choreographic style is thrilling and the dancers, dressed in bold red jumpsuits, perform a unique collection of eccentric and robust movements. A rhythmic marching in unison that transforms stylistically throughout the work is a repeating motif that  drew me into a deep trance. Performing with unwavering commitment, the students’ embodiment of the movement style was impressive, with notable performances from Campbell Gateley, Samantha Smith and Jack Tuckerman. During the interval that followed, the energy and excitement in the foyer – sparked by this bold work – was palpable.

A small group of third year dancers, selected by audition, re-commenced the show with Leigh Warren’s award winning 1997 work Shimmer, remounted here by Delia Silvan (original cast member and founding member of Leigh Warren & Dancers) and Kynan Hughes (also a former company member). This contemporary work was inspired by Graeme Koehne’s musical score Shaker Dances and the Shaker movement itself, a Protestant sect that emerged in America in the late 18th century. Named for the style of the dancing that was part of their faith, the Shakers were also known for their belief in celibacy and in gender equality.

Leigh Warren’s ‘Shimmer’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

In Shimmer, six dancers perform under spotlights and in gendered couples. On opening night Natassija Morrow, Estelle Brown, Millie Hunt, Nathan Turtur, Nathan Crewe-Kuge and Brent Rollins executed the movement in a detailed manner, a credit to Silvan’s direction. Warren’s choreography displays both confidence and modesty, and the costumes are used to show both concealment and spontaneous sexual freedom, a harmonious duality around which the work – intriguingly – revolves.

The third year students closed the show with Ludum Vitae,  a contemporary work choreographed by Belgium-based choreographer Helder Seabra. The work’s chaos and disconnection is hinted at in an ironic voice-over at the beginning, and only makes any sense at its conclusion. The dancers begin and end in an exhausted physicality. Stumbling, slumped and crawling around in a circle, they move though varying states – vigorous convulsing, careful and consoling gestures and high impact fight scenes. Seabra’s choreography is an impressive demonstration of physicality and displayed the power of these dancers as a group.

“Verge” is a captivating season and an impressive farewell to the graduating dancers as well as to Nanette Hassall, who is retiring after 24 years of dedicated service as head of the WAAPA dance department.

“Verge” runs until November 23.

Pictured top is “Ludum Vitae” by Helder Seabra, performed by graduating students from WAAPA’s dance department. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

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Bold new works make for dark double bill

STRUT Dance and the State Theatre of WA, “And Then Some” ·
Studio Underground, 13 November ·
Review by Tanya Rodin, mentored by Nina Levy ·

A double bill of independent dance boldly slapped its opening night audience at the State Theatre Centre of WA. Entitled “And Then Some”, the program is part of a new initiative from STRUT Dance, The Blue Room Theatre, the State Theatre Centre of WA and Co:3 Australia, and offers two emerging choreographers the opportunity to present work on the Studio Underground stage. The two works presented in inaugural iteration of “And Then Some” are by emerging Australian choreographers Scott Ewen and Lewis Major.

To have independent choreographic works developed and performed in Perth is always exciting, even more so when supported by some of the major players in the performing arts sector.

So why the use of the word “slapped”?

I understand the desire to create art that holds a mirror to the world, and that such works are often smeared with a dark tone, but I am finding myself starting to crave a little laugh, a little joy, a little hope, that could also potentially bring change.

Introduced by a witty, pink-wigged host (Olivia Hendry) the program begins with Scott Ewen’s Wasps at War, a work exploring the notion of competition, fighting and the decisions in between. It buzzes into being with two dancers (Dean-Ryan Lincoln and Rhiana Katz), each mesmerised by the wrapping of cloth bandages tightly around their wrists, preparing for the battle of limbs to come. With whipping wasp hands and warped wasping ballet, two more dancers (Scott Ewen and Lilly King) seem to be pressing pause and play, entangling and rearranging as they “strive for ascendency”.

I enjoyed watching, and wanted to see more of, the play with the bandage. It entwines and morphs the space between the dancers, as if adding extra limbs, extra contact, extra support or extra leverage. The four dancers move together with strength, clarity and precision, and then shift into slapping, shoving and suppressing.

As an audience member, I am usually not so interested in movement “tricks”… but Ewen has a way of fluidly blurring the lines so that “tricks” explode – impressively – out of nothing, as if he flies into fight and then dissipates. At times, however, I am not sure I believed the fight between the dancers.

Composer Dane Yates, a regular collaborator with dance and movement-based works, has a way of enticing the audiences into the complexities of rhythm, form and tension in movement, and his scores for these two works are no exception. Lighting designer Fausto Brusamolino illuminates the stage beautifully across the double bill, demonstrating the breadth of his visual palette, from eye-squinting haze to flashes of piercing light.

Second on the bill, Lewis Majors’ Platypus appears comical at first, with a dancer in an animal suit (the platypus of the title?) that stands in the spotlight staring back at us. A voiceover announces that this is an “important work of art”, before we are plunged into darkness and a bone-shaking cacophony of sound.

The lights come up, and we see six women in simple pink dresses, (a stellar cast of Jasmin Lancaster, Nikki Tarling, Sophia van Gent, Tra Mi Dinh, Zoe Wozniak and Sarah Wilson), who stand and stare, powerfully holding the space. The light fades in and out, revealing some things but not everything, until just one dancer (Zoe Wozniak) remains, back curled, swaying, silently calling the others to join the tribe-like movement.

These six women seem to command the space to move for them as they curve in and out of the floor. The cohesion and complexity of choreographic patterning in the group is impressive, especially given the relatively short rehearsal period.

But Major subtly scatters small warning signs that something is not right. The women transform into fierce-eyed creatures, circling the space. There’s a dramatic shift in tone with scenes that had me squirming in my seat; the women fighting then being hit by the faceless animal/man, followed by almost ritualistic torture, complete with replica guns. By the end I was left in shock, staring at the dishevelled man, still in the animal suit, gasping for air.

Leaving the theatre after the show, I found myself pondering the violent images in my mind, and questioning why. The clue “Epstein didn’t kill himself”, in Major’s program notes, sparked me researching when I got home and I encourage you to do the same. In a world full of brokenness and danger, I recognise that portraying this destruction might be a way to make us think, question, and then, perhaps, take action. But as a dance artist myself, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to be in that rehearsal process. Seeing my contemporaries being beaten or holding a gun (albeit replica) to someone’ s head was shocking. It seems it was Major’s intention to shock, but I wasn’t clear what conversation he hopes to spark, and at what cost.

Though I loved seeing two athletic works performed by two casts of powerhouse dancers, for me this double bill is a heavy combination. “And Then Some” is an exciting new initiative, but for me it truly was dark in the Studio Underground on Wednesday night.

“And Then Some” runs until November 16.

Pictured top: Lilly King (front) and Scott Ewen in Ewen’s “Wasps at War”. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
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An intricate layering of art forms

Review: Steamworks Arts, 歸屬  Gui Shu (Belong) ·
PICA Performance Space, 13 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Described as a fusion of dance, music, sound and video projection, 歸屬 Gui Shu (Belong) is a layered work in more senses than one. Four dancers move amongst semi-sheer fabric banners, onto which video footage is projected. Through these corridors of fabric and imagery we catch glimpses of local composer Tristen Parr and Taiwan-based sound artist Yenting Hsu, both of whom play live. The dancers’ costumes are layered too; a mesh wrap will later be removed to reveal an earthy spectrum of colour beneath.

According to the show’s writer/director Sally Richardson, 歸屬 Gui Shu “explores interrelations of life, cities and globalisation…” and a sense of interconnectedness pervades the work. The different disciplines contained in 歸屬 Gui Shu dance around one another, a series of solos, duets and trios delicately and intricately interwoven by Richardson. Though the effect delights me, it doesn’t surprise me; Richardson is renowned for her innovative work across disciplines. In 歸屬 Gui Shu, not only has she  brought together artists from several artistic genres, but from two countries, Australia and Taiwan.

L-R: Yilin Kong, Laura Boynes, Yiching Liao & Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
The different disciplines dance around one another. Pictured L-R: Yilin Kong, Laura Boynes, Yiching Liao & Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

The video footage, too, hails from both countries, meandering dreamily through urban and suburban spaces in Perth and Tapei. Created by Ashley de Prazer, these images – gorgeously saturated with colour and detail – interact with both the fabric and the dancers. A delicate pattern of wild grasses forms a mask on dancer Yilin Kong’s face through which she peers; later her skin seems awash with flames. At another point, the dancers gently manipulate the fabric banners and the contracting or expanding projections add a ghostly quality, harking back to the work’s developmental stages (for those of us who were lucky enough to see these).

Tristen Parr. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Tristen Parr’s electric cello has a remarkable sound range. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Parr’s electric cello has a remarkable sound range, from the more familiar haunting strings to a throaty rumble reminiscent of a didgeridoo. At times it’s hard to tell (especially when he is obscured by the fabric curtains) where Parr’s playing ends and Hsu’s synthesized soundscape begins, so cleanly are the two woven together. Hers is a melange of deconstructed natural and urban sounds, from the soothingly aquatic to the rumbling of an unseen engine.

We hear Hsu’s voice too. In a favourite moment of mine, she recites a poem alternately in English and Mandarin, accompanied by projected imagery of various hands gently pressing the bare skin of a dancer. The words are haunting in more than one sense:

… In this world of ghosts
The unbearable remains unknown
As long as you remember me
I will never disappear…

The dancers (two from Perth, Laura Boynes and Yilin Kong; two from Taipei, Yiching Liao and Hsiao Tzu Tien) perform variously in solos, duets and quartets. It’s hard to pick standout sections as I found it all engaging, but one that sticks in my mind sees the four dancers’ arms moving flame-like; flickering, flaring and receding. In another, the dancers navigate each other’s bodies at close range, a kind of “dance of the crowded carriage” performed against a backdrop of what looks like station platforms and shopping centre interiors. It’s unsurprising to note that the four dancers are credited with the choreography; the fluid ripples, folds and lunges seem deeply ingrained in their bodies.

L-R: Laura Boynes, Yiching Liao, Yilin Kong & Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
A moment of karaoke. Pictured L-R: Laura Boynes, Yiching Liao, Yilin Kong & Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

The only part of 歸屬 Gui Shu that didn’t gel for me was a brief karaoke-style break. Though it was, unquestionably, funny (and the opening night audience seemed to enjoy it very much), I found it jarring in relation to the hypnotic quality of the rest of the work.

This is a minor niggle, however. 歸屬 Gui Shu is a gentle but compelling work that had me mesmerised for its 60 minute duration. The icing on the cake was checking out the accompanying video installation after the show, in which one can recognise footage and connect the two works.

Highly recommended.

歸屬 Gui Shu runs until November 16. 

The accompanying video installation runs until December 22. Both are part of a broader intercultural program, entitled “Between Landscapes”, running at PICA until December 22.

Pictured top is Hsiao-Tzu Tien. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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Dance, Music, News, Reviews

Navigating an uncertain path

Review: Strut Dance and Tura New Music, “In Situ 2019” ·
Cyril Jackson Senior Campus, 6 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

I’ve always loved the premise of “In Situ”. An annual program of site-specific works by Perth-based independent choreographers and composers, “In Situ” has taken audiences on adventures through various local buildings since its 2014 premiere in Uncle Joe’s Mess Hall (a café-cum-barbershop in the Perth CBD), including Fremantle Arts Centre (2015), the State Theatre Centre of WA (2016), St George’s Cathedral (2017) and East Perth’s Girls School creative precinct (2018).

Curated by Serena Chalker and Geordie Crowley with Daisy Saunders, this year’s program has moved further east again, to Cyril Jackson Senior Campus in Bassendean. And that’s not the only thing that’s different.

Until now, the basic formula for “In Situ” has remained the same: a walking tour of the venue, with different works presented in different (and sometimes surprising) locations.

The twist this year is that punters are not guided from work to work but are free to wander the venue. It’s not often that we get to view dance installation-style and, personally, I enjoy choosing how much time to spend with each work. So I approached the preview of “In Situ” with interest.

On arrival at the season’s preview, audience members were presented with a program, the cover of which is a map of the venue. The school gates were opened and we were released into the school grounds.

As one the audience headed to the first visible performance (Roam, by choreographer Scott Galbraith and composer Alexander Turner) at the end of an outdoor walkway, but as I was at the back of the pack, I couldn’t see. I looked around but there were no other signs of life, only dimly lit school buildings. I consulted my map but wasn’t sure where I was in relation to the five marked performance spaces.

With guidance I found my way to another vantage point but that feeling of confusion – and anxiety about possibly missing key elements of the five works – remained with me. My anxiety heightened when I realised (about halfway through the program!) that, contrary to my assumption that all works would be running continuously, there was a running order and, in some cases, the works only ran for a short period of time. I was filled with sudden horror that I may have missed a work entirely.

Post-show, I wonder if the uncertainty I experienced is intended by the curatorial team, given that the works themselves all have a mysterious, even discomforting quality.

A man holds a water balloon to his head. he is bathed in sunlight.
Ritualistic: Scott Galbraith in ‘Roam’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

Though I missed the opening of Roam (performed by Galbraith and Turner), I enjoyed the almost ritualistic way Galbraith navigates and handles the many greyscale water balloons that frame the work. When he flung one to meet its watery end against the brick wall of a classroom, a fellow audience member remarked with a sigh, “Deeply satisfying.”

The second work I came upon was All Hit Radio FM, by choreographer Joshua Pether and composer Dane Yates. This work sees “the spirit of Bassendean” (dancer Nadia Martich) waft and wend her way – not aimlessly but perhaps endlessly – between translucent sheets that, on Wednesday night, billowed like ghosts in the night-time breeze.

A dancer pressed up against a translucent sheet
Nadia Martich as ‘the Spirit of Bassendean’ in ‘All Hit FM Radio’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Moving around a corner I saw clusters of audience members, donning headphones and peering into the windows of the Artshouse. Inside was Preparations for the future and other catastrophic events, by choreographer Michelle Aitken with performers Mitchell Aldridge and Jessie Camilleri-Seeber, and composer Rebecca Riggs-Bennett. Here, two dancers power through a studio space; eddying and falling as though caught in a slipstream. Viewers choose between two sound channels; though I only experienced each briefly it seemed that one was driving, the other more meditative, and it was interesting to witness the way the different soundscapes affected the mood of this dynamic work. But all too soon it was over – it seemed I had arrived well into the piece’s duration.

Hoping for more I waited at the Artshouse, in case the dancers returned. By the time I ventured to the carpark, where a performer (Turner) encased in another translucent sheet careered inside a circle of fairy lights, that work – Turner’s rerail – was almost finished too.

Two men stand facing one another. One clasps the other's face.
Yvan Karlsson and Tao Issaro make a magical team in ‘fired but not yet glazed’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

And so to fired but not yet glazed, created and performed by choreographer Yvan Karlsson and composer Tao Issaro. Unlike the rest of the program, the audience was ushered into the performance space – a ceramic studio – so all saw this compelling work in its entirety. Exploring ideas about facing the world when one feels not yet completely grown-up or “glazed”, this work is a gorgeous melange of clay on skin, of sinuous, sinewy movement; coupled with a delicious score of live-performed vocals and percussion played on a mix of found and traditional instruments, mixed with recorded sounds. As both creators and performers Issaro and Karlsson make a magical team.

It’s pleasing to see the curatorial team experimenting with the format of “In Situ”, and the program is worth catching, but at the preview I felt that more guidance or information would have been beneficial for audience members.

“In Situ” runs until November 9.

Pictured top are Jessie Camilleri-Seeber and Mitchell Aldridge in ‘Preparations for the future and other catastrophic events’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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Dance in vast spaces

Choreographer Brooke Leeder isn’t afraid to go big, and her new work RADAR – which will premiere as part of the Fremantle Biennale – is no exception, discovers Millie Hunt*.

Brooke Leeder

Brooke Leeder’s most recent undertaking, RADAR, sees her at the helm of a cast which incorporates the talents of professional dancers (all graduates of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) as well as a youth ensemble from John Curtin College of the Arts (JCCA), and live musicians. Created in collaboration with composer Louis Frere-Harvey and lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirie, RADAR premieres November 21, inside Fremantle’s iconic B-Shed, a massive space that Leeder plans to reinvigorate with contemporary dance.

In RADAR Leeder explores sound and the way it triggers human movement. “There’s an unspoken understanding that we universally respond to auditory cues,” she observes. “Sounds incite movement, but also signal different things to different people. I’m interested in human movement en masse, exploring how large-scale responses can be evoked through specific noises.”

Leeder’s decision to use a youth ensemble from JCCA alongside a cast of professional dancers was both practical and artistic. “It really stemmed from the idea of wanting mass movement, as well as having this double alignment with the whole concept of the 2019 Fremantle Biennale,” she explains “The overarching concept for this year’s Biennale program is ‘undercurrent’, and I thought, ‘It just works.’ It’s the undercurrents, it’s the under the surface, it’s the youth that are coming in to the industry and how we are revealing the way industry works for these young people.”

This is not the first time Leeder has tackled an unconventional venue, and also not the first time that the space has been huge. Last year she presented Structural Dependency in PS Art Space, a 1900s warehouse that has been converted into a gallery and performance space. Both the B Shed and PS Art Space provide much more room to move than a traditional stage, so what draws Leeder to working in these massive spaces?

“I have really liked presenting works in these unconventional spaces,” she replies. “My very first full-length work was also at PS Art Space but in a quarter of the space. So then when I presented Structural Dependency I thought, ‘Okay, now I’m going to take on the whole space.’ It was the challenge of, ‘How can I take a massive amount of space and make it feel intimate for the audience?’ It also interests me how the performers are actually dancing on the same ground as the audience – it’s exciting to be able to bring people into such close proximity in such a vast space.

That sense of vastness will extend beyond the B-Shed – Leeder plans to open the shed’s doors, so that the harbour, the sun setting and ships passing become the backdrop to the work. “When approaching RADAR in the B-Shed it’s still about creating intimacy in such a large space, but also the challenge of having the vastness of the harbour,” she reflects.  “The space is 22 metres long. How do you open out a space like that and draw the audience in at the same time? It’s a challenge.”

Like Structural Dependency, RADAR is being made in collaboration with composer Louis Frere-Harvey and lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirie. “Louis is composing the music in the room at the same time [as I’m choreographing the work with the dancers]. There are times when it’s really easy – we call it ‘staying in our lane’. Louis will be doing the music, I’ll be choreographing, the dancers are doing the dancing, and we’re all heading towards this common goal,” explains Leeder. “We’ve been working on how we can have rhythms of movement, the same way that there are rhythms of music. When working with the youth ensemble we decided never to do [the traditional counting] ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ – we are always trying to learn the movement through its rhythm, which has been really really interesting.”

Leeder has also recently established her own dance company, Brooke Leeder & Dancers, a move that reflects the interactive nature of her work. “It’s about recognising that I can’t do my job without dancers,” she explains. “But it’s also Brooke Leeder & Creatives, Brooke Leeder & Supporters, Brooke Leeder & Sponsors, Brooke Leeder & Audiences, I can’t do my job without these groups. That’s where the company came from, to bring people in to what I am doing. I didn’t want to be a solo individual. It’s me saying, I am doing this with you.”

RADAR premieres at the B-Shed in Fremantle, 21-24 November.

* Millie Hunt is a third year dance student at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, on secondment with Seesaw during November.

Pictured top is Lilly King (centre) with the ‘RADAR’ ensemble. Photo: D. Wright.

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