Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dancing the Diaspora in Victoria

Sabrina Chew Dance Company.
 Photo by Belinda Strodder. Courtesy of Ausdance Victoria.

Click here to read Dancing the Diaspora in Victoria, my recent feature story in Kinesis, Ausdance Victoria's e-magazine. It's about the diversity of cultural dance practice in Victoria. There's no possible way to sum up the breadth of dance in any one city, especially one as busy as Melbourne. Let's just say if there's any type of dancing that you might want to find - it's in Melbourne! 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

We Unfold

I was blown away by the strength and sheer technical prowess of the entire Sydney Dance Company in We Unfold. Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela has handpicked and cultivated the dancers that he wants to work with. They are not only beautiful, but also able to sustain the sexy, sensual nature of his movement phrases. Apparently on We Unfold's opening night, a technical problem caused the show to stop for several minutes before carrying on. This would really break the flow of such a fluid work. Nothing like that happened second night when I attended, but even if it had, I reckon that I could have forgiven the hiccup, as the company just looked so beautiful.

Here's my review from the Herald Sun published 12 November 2010. 

Rafael Bonachela has been at the helm of Sydney Dance Company for less than two years and already has placed a distinctive aesthetic stamp on the company. His choreographic style is highly detailed - a heady mix of the sensual and the mechanical that takes extreme technical skill to pull off. 
The 14-strong, supple cast of We Unfold embody it with sharp attack and it is a pleasure to behold. But We Unfold is not just a super highway of fancy, sexy steps. For all the collective swelling of layer upon layer of movement, there are equal parts softness and stillness. Inspired by universal ideas of journeys and the ebbs and flows of nature, there is a constant tug of war between chaos and calm. 
Ezio Bosso's symphonic composition drives distinct textures ofBonachela's choreography while Daniel Askill's continuous video backdrop of star fields and rain showers steadily burns. WithJordan Askill's understated costumes, it all works into a dynamic, cohesive whole.  

We Unfold
Playhouse, The Arts Centre
09 - 13 November 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Expectation by Carlee Mellow

Carlee Mellow. Image by Igor Sapina. 
Carlee Mellow is one of the busiest contemporary dancers in Australia - she’s collaborated with everyone from Sandra Parker and Chunky Move to Deborah Hay, Lucy Guerin and Phillip AdamsShe’s a consistently strong, sharp technician and a distinct physical personality. Having such a wide breath of experience, her influences are diverse, with a particular interest in working with vocal and improvisational scores, a substantial component of Expectation, her first full length solo show.
Although solo may not be the best way to describe it. While Mellow was the only body on stage, Expectation was really a three-hander with the lightening design of Bluebottle and the sound score (which loops in the live sounds from stage) by Kelly Ryall. Expectation sat closer to the realm of dance theatre than contemporary dance, if you are into such distinctions.
It was concerned with mood, light and perception and most significantly, a constantly shifting spatial perspective on Mellow’s body doing oddly compelling things. She tottered around with what looked like a paper bag on her head; she levitated feet first up a wall; she danced a tight, muscly dance bathed in a red glow. All these physicalizations were very far away or very close. They felt either highly intimate or rather impersonal and some of them were truly bizarre. Bluebottle’s exceptional use of the huge auditorium-like space and the live cackles, tinkles, pin-dropping and crinkling sounds that filtered through Ryall’s score created a distinct sensation of unnerve and disorientation. Mellow peppered her closely-held energy and her raw, guttural utterances with glimpses of sensuality, but she never revealed too much.  
Expectation had echoes of pieces like Helen Herbertson’s Morphia Series and Disagreeable Object by Michelle Heaven where the excitement of the works was in both the constant surprise of changing atmospheric states and the commitment of the artists to traverse unhinged places. It’s no surprise that Bluebottle has designed all of these projects - their dexterity with light and stage design is consistently phenomenal.  
With its collection of unrelated and unsettling vignettes and crystal clear design, Expectation was not easy to interpret, but was, none-the-less, mesmorizing and disconcerting from start to finish. Mellow has the sensibility of a theatre maker with the foundations of a dancer. It’s no wonder that, with her highest-calibre collaborators, she conceived a unique experience that both delivered and undercut expectation. 
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
9 - 14 November 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dance Massive is Coming....

The Malthouse Theatre launched its 2011 season yesterday. Along with all the great theatre that new artistic director Marion Potts has planned are four dance shows which are all part of the 2011 Dance Massive Festival. Along with Dancehouse, Arts House, and Ausdance, the Malthouse is a producer of Dance Massive
Dance Massive began in 2009 as a festival for Australian contemporary dance and was so successful that the plan is for a bi-annual event. Shows range from small to medium size and the artists presented are all of a very high calibre. 2009 artists included Lucy Guerin Inc, Helen Herbertson, Russell Dumas and Splintergroup as well as younger choreographers like Rogue Collective.  
Based on what's been announced so far at the Malthouse (the full Dance Massive program will be revealed in early December), the 2011 program is going to be pretty exciting - there's new work, recent work and a remount of a significant production. 
Connected. Photo by John Drysdale. 
The new work is a Chunky Move premiere called Connected. It's a collaboration with American kinetic sculptor Reuben Margolin. Margolin is creating a huge sculpture of moving parts that will be attached to the five dancers. Music, lighting, sculpture and dance will be highly connected, with all elements triggering each other. 
Faker. Photo by Heidrun Lour.
In a totally different vein, Gideon Obarzanek, artistic director of Chunky Move will present his solo, Faker - more a personal expose about creating artwork than a dance piece in itself. He presented it in Sydney this year and it looks really interesting. 

In Glass by choregrapher Narelle Benjamin also has a connection to Chunky Move. Benjamin danced with the company in its early days when it first moved to Melbourne in the late 1990s to take up the post as Victoria's flagship contemporary dance company. I still remember her fiesty performance as the knife-weilding go-go dancer in Bonehead. She has worked with just about every major company in Australia as well as having success as a dance film maker. For In Glass, her first full length production, she's collaborating with award-winnning dancers Kristina Chan and Paul White. Both are phenomenoal performers, having worked extensively with Tanya Leidtke and Australian Dance Theatre, among many others. 

Amplification. Photo by Jeff Busby.
Finally - and another connection to the late 1990s -  is a remount of Phillip Adams' Amplification. I should admit here that I have a special connection to Amplification - I wrote about it in my MA back in 2000. It was not only Adams' first major work after moving back to Melbourne after a decade in New York, it was also the inaugural work for his company BalletLab, that now, over a decade on, has an extensive and extremely diverse repertoire.  
Even though Adams' dance making practice has moved in all sorts of directions since Amplification,  the work is a great example of Adams' ideas about the relationship of ballet to contemporary performance, his interest in distorting/reinventing ballet technique and his ability to zealously research a dark topic and re-fashion it into something utterly unique. 
Check out www.malthousetheatre.com.au for more details about these shows or become an e-subscriber to Dance Massive on www.dancemassive.com.au and get all the latest updates and articles about the festival. 
Dance Massive runs 15 - 27 March 2011. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rafael Bonachela, Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company

Sydney Dance Company is on its way to Melbourne to present artistic director Rafael Bonachela's We Unfold. This work is the second full length work that Bonachela has made for the company. It premiered in Sydney in 2009 and has since done regional and international touring.

Rafael Bonachela, artistic director of Sydney Dance Company.
Click here to read more about Rafael Bonachela in my feature for australianstage.com.au. I interviewed him when he was in Melbourne in May. He had just returned from touring We Unfold through regional NSW and was about to head to China and Italy with the company. Since coming back to Australia the company has premiered a new triple bill New Creations 2 in Sydney and has been back on the road touring we unfold interstate.

We Unfold is running 9 - 13 November at the Playhouse at the Arts Centre.

Stay tuned for a review... 

Promotions at The Australian Ballet

New AB Principals - Kevin Jackson, Lana Jones, Daniel Gaudiello. Photo by James Braund.

The Australian Ballet's artistic director David McAllister has recently announced 3 new principal dancers - Daniel Gaudiello, Kevin Jackson and Lana Jones. 26 year old Jackson, who hails from Perth, is now the company's youngest principal. All three have won the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award and have been consistently impressing audiences in a range of roles. They take up their new prestigious titles in January 2011. Keep your eyes out for them on centre stage. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vertical Road by Akram Kahn Company

Image from Vertical Road.
Photo by Carla Gottgens. 
Click here to find my review of Vertical Road by Akram Kahn Company on www.australianstage.com.au.

This was the highlight of MIAF for many people, myself included. Not unsurprisingly, the show took out The Age critics' award. 

There's something very visceral, very human about the work. Which sounds trite to say, but in a festival where a lot of work left audiences cold, Vertical Road was an emotional whirlwind - the kind of show that hits you on the inside and then leaves you thinking about it for days. It so easily could have pandered to over-wrought cliche or fallen into self-indulgent traps, but it didn't. The dancing was both powerful and diverse and Kahn, quite remarkably, managed to put it all together in a coherent and evocative way. 

Vertical Road by Akram Kahn Company
Melbourne  International Arts Festival
Merlyn Theatre, The CUB Malthouse
19 - 23 October 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Adapting for Distortion & Haptic

Adapting for Distortion. Dancer Hiroaka Umeda. Photo by Alex.
Call me old-fashioned, but to me, dance is about human bodies. Bodies that move.  Not to discredit the power of stillness - which Japanese choreographer Hiroaka Umeda used to good effect -  but what excites me about dance is bodies and all the crazy things that they can do, both on their own and with other bodies - their kinesthetics, their physical force, the way they use momenteum and power.

So when a solo dance piece is about the body subsumed by technology - to sum up Umeda's first solo, Adapting for Distortion, in the most basic of terms - I find it hard to get excited. The work was clearly conceptualised to an inch of its life. Huge black and white grids filtered across the backdrop and floor continuously for the 30 minute solo. Umeda barely moved - he was a small, swirling blip in the middle of the stage, amidst the repetitive grids and he stayed in the same low-level dynamic for the whole dance. I don't think his feet ever left the one spot and he let the texture of the projections filter over, into and above him. He did dance a little bit with a ripply hip-hop aesthetic (elements of popping and locking, some fluid body undulations), but it was so far away and, like the projections, so repetitive that I felt like I got all that the work had to give within the first 5 to 10 minutes.

Umeda's second solo, Haptic, held more interest mainly because it had more variety of states. It also had big washes of intense colored lights, moments when Umeda's body was the focus and the sense that the work wasn't just all about computer projections. There was much more interplay of moving body with background. In Haptic I could see Umeda's actual choreography - and there was more going on dynamically and spatially than in Adapting for Distortion.
Haptic. Dancer Hiroaka Umeda. Photo by Shin Yamagata. 

A program of two solos by the same dancer/choreographer to music by the same composer (S20) was a dangerous proposition. Even one of these solos paired with a ensemble work would have been okay. Unfortunately, monotony was the theme of the day and the double bill left me wanting more. I know some audiences loved this singularity of vision and others found the theoretical implications of the technological/human relationship fruitful. I wish I could have been more excited myself.

The comparisons between Adapting for Distortion & Haptic to Chunky Move's Glow and Mortal Engine are fair to some degree, as they all work with interactive technology. From my very un-technological perspective, the CM works felt truly interactive, with the dancers movements affecting the laser/light projections while Umeda's projections seemed more layered onto movement than integrated into movement. The CM pieces also conveyed a plethora of emotions, images and human interactions that were absent in Umeda's work. When dance employs technology, the technology has to add something that the dance alone cannot, or at least present the dance in a different way than the dance would otherwise be shown. Umeda's work felt like a visual art instillation, the kind of thing you would walk by in a gallery, watch for a few minutes and then move on.

Maybe if I had wandered into Adapting for Distortion & Haptic at ACCA I would have appreciated it more.

Adapting for Distortion & Haptic
Melbourne International Arts Festival
The CUB Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre
14 - 16 October 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Come, been and gone by Michael Clark Company

Dancers Oxana Panchenko and Clair Thomas.
Photo by Jake Walters
Click here to find my review of Come, been and gone by Michael Clark Company on australianstage.com.au. The show seemed to provoke mixed reactions - people seemed disappointed that it was a style over substance affair. It was the big ticket dance event of MIAF, so expectations were high. But it was always going to be about the music - that's why most audiences went, wasn't it?

Perhaps to give general audiences a better sense of what Come, been, gone was actually going to offer (beyond just the idea of dancing to Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Kraftwerk, etc) better program notes would have been helpful. It wasn't that clear that the first work, Swamp, was actually made in 1986. It's not a new work like the rest of the program. Looking at Swamp in the context of 1986 is totally different than looking at Swamp thinking it was created last year. The rest of the show is newer, mostly made in 2009 and from what I understand different sections have been performed at different times and in different combinations.

Carnival of Mysteries

Image by The Sisters Hayes. Photo by Jodie Hutchinson.

Is this not the best image for a show that you have seen in a long time?
Totally intriguing. Really makes you wonder who are all these people are and why are they together. 
Carnival of Mysteries was  chaotic, entertaining, uplifting and deeply macabre all at once. Creators Finucane & Smith took their burlesque visions to new levels of audience participation. Participants didn't just sit around a catwalk partaking in sensually dark acts up-close and personally like they did in The Burlesque Hour. They walked through the space, negotiated crowds, tents, sideshow rooms and made conscious choices about how to spend their carnival cash (although in many cases the pushy spruikers were pretty persistent and made the choices for them.) There were so many acts to see - both serious and tawdry - that every person would have had a different experience. If you tried too hard to see everything, you would have been disappointed. Better to just take what came your way. Take the shonky with the uplifting; the just plain kooky with the sexy.  My experience included an erotic reading in the Victorian library, letter-writer Miss Lee penning me a beautiful postcard to give my husband, a fortune-telling by clairvoyant Ann Povey, a nonsensical melodrama between three Russian sisters and a monotonous monologue about various ways to die. 
Interesting aside: The "special" acts (they costed $10,000 a pop) happened in the Tent of Miracles. This tent is a mini big-top circus tent that seats about 30 people. Finucane  & Smith had been planning its realisation for some time and commissioned eight different visual artists to each design and paint a panel of the tent. The tent looked amazing - full of variety and vibrancy, with each panel having a distinctly different look. In the crowded environment of Fortyfive Downstairs it was hard to take it all in, but when this Tent of Miracles hits the touring circuit (especially if used in outdoor spaces), it will be a very impressive mini venue. 
Below is my review as published in the Herald Sun, Monday 11 October.
Carnival of Mysteries must be the only show in town that credits a carnival ephemerist in its program. This theatrical event invites its guests to wander through an intricately designed traveling circus of yore - packed with grotesque characters, snake-oily sprukiers and circus freaks. In Side Show Alley and the Tent of Miracles the acts range from the titillating and ridiculous to the macabre. Nobody knows what they are getting until they’ve paid their illegal tender and entered the booth. 
But what is certain is that in the capable and eccentric hands of creators Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith, experienced merchants in all that is burlesque and carnivalesque, the mayhem and chaos is tightly organized and fabulously detailed. With a slew of visual artists and costume designer Doyle Barrow, they have constructed an evening that is unabashedly sensual, grungy and and fully interactive with the audience. There’s no choice but to be swept up in the seedy fervour, especially since there’s nowhere to hide - even the bar is the site for acts both refined and lewd. 
When it all wraps up with a feel-good, utterly anachronistic 80s inspired finale, it feels way too soon. Just when the revelry hits a frenzy, this motley crew of carnie folk have to head back to their tents to do it all again. Fans can’t get enough of Finucane & Smith’s odd-ball delights. The only way to score a ticket now probably involves a dangerous back street transaction.
Carnival of Mysteries
Melbourne International Arts Festival
Fortyfive Downstairs
7 - 30 October 2010


Dancer Emiline Forster took the very unsexy topic of mining and ran with it. Sounds odd, but it worked. Dust was inspired by Glenn Beutel, a man, as Forster said in the program, who was "the last man standing in Acland, Queensland." While she didn't go literally into his story, she used it as a jumping-off point to explore the coal industry's effect on the personal.

Her set was a simple home space - a bookshelf, a pot plant and a mailbox. A screen for video projections created the back wall. Wearing a mask and a white disposable sterile suit, Forster began by scattering coal across the floor. Later we saw her as a feminine character in red and white polka-dotted dress soiled with coal markings. Forster maintained these two personas - the industrial and the domestic - throughout and this influenced how she related to the coal that was strewn across stage. She threw it, tried to eat it and even turned it into a pillow and nestled her head into it.

Forster has a rigourous contemporary dance training and it was evident in Dust. While nothing in of itself was spectacular in a kinaesthetically daring way, there was an integrity and method to it. Sometimes it was as simple as tremors throughout her body as she collected her mail from the post box; other times it was more angular and twisted contortion. The most striking moment had Forster in hard hat and construction gear, miming the wielding of a hammer in slow motion with her mouth dropped open, coal grit stuck in her teeth and gums.

A video back drop intersperced the action. Enactments (mostly by her peers and a cameo by Brian Lucas) included mining corporates and government officials patting each others' backs, miners posing like catwalk models and miners dancing around like they were alone in their bedrooms and nobody was watching. While Forster's choreographic work was serious, even angsty at times, the video created a more poppy, humourous depiction of the material. Forster intertwined it all with fluidity and cohesion.

Addendum, 10 October: Dust deservedly won the Fringe award in the dance category. It was a show that encapsulated what the award is about - a young artist with a serious practice creating a production with a well-realised concept.

Keep your eyes out for Emiline Forster in the future.


By Emiline Forster
Melbourne Fringe Festival
30 September to 2 October 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Intimate Exposure

Dancer Sara Black. Photo by Six 6 Photography.
Part of the excitement of the Melbourne Fringe Festival is uncovering new and unlikely venues, which is what made the prospect of Intimate Exposure so intriguing. Housed in the recently converted Substation, it is, as the title suggests, a series of up-close and personal site specific dance works throughout the premise. The Substation is an old electricity plant turned into funky new multi-purpose art venue in the unassuming Western suburb of Newport (conveniently a couple of steps away from the train station).

While some of the cavernous brick building has recently been renovated to make way for slick gallery spaces, there are still plenty of nooks and crannies and industrial elements providing great potential for engaging with dance. Probably the most unique space was that used for Amelia McQueen's solo in the bowels of the building and filled with open squares of space within the bricks - like frames missing their windows.  McQueen used them to some effect, posing and pushing into them as she appeared to be in some sort of mild electrical shock. Then she slowly got up, maintained her physical state and walked through the central corridor, past the standing audience and completely out of the space. 

Sound was one of the over-arching themes that tenuously held the different works together and many of them were intentionally unpleasant and confronting.  Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal sputtered and dry retched her way through a powerfully guttural solo while hurling oranges against the wall and vigoursly whacking her legs into recognizably balletic lines. From less than a foot away and in a brightly lit, white-walled gallery, the audience was right there with her - some even copped desicated orange on their shoes. 

In another space, but to equally confronting and confusing sound ( some generated by the dancers and the majority by sound artist William Bilwa Costa), the two women engaged in a violent, disjointed duet surrounded by the audience. Dressed in only nude underwear and backless flourescent green blousey tops, they counted into walkie-talkies, wrestled in semi-sexual ways, scaled down a wall, violently scattered paper debris around the space and ultimately left the room to peer down on us from the other side of a high window. The closing image was Tunggal slowly pulling on a thread on the front of McQueen's top that began to open the shirt and reveal McQueen's breasts (not the same top that she was wearing in the opening of the piece!)  It was a baffling duet - fierce and committed in its energy but still closer to a work-in-development for the dancers than a piece for general audiences. 

The strongest offering of dance was Simmer: That which bubbles away under the surface choreographed by Carlee Mellow and danced by Sara Black, Madeleine Krenek and Paula Lay. There was both a cohesion and an offbeat sensibility within it that held together. Working with vocal scores and gestures, full of half-finished questions and disjointed conversations, there was the sense that conversations were trying to happen - communication was being attempted - but thwarted along the way (much like real life, actually). In funky, artistically chrocheted outfits and pink gum boots, each of the three women was a unique and strong presence. There was an equality to their contributions and all were totally committed to the absurdity and awkwardness of the material, even the ending which involved splashing in an upstage wading pool and distorting their voices through long tubes.  

Simmer was the only work in Intimate Exposure that felt like a complete work in and of itself, but it wasn't really site-specific to the Substation space. Performed on a raised, white square platform (very much like a stage), it could have been done anywhere. Acoustically, it may have been site-specific - that I am not sure. 

Also included in the itinerary around the caverns of the Substation were stops to see two short dance films, both by Dianne Reid. They were included to offer a different take on the theme of intimacy of personal experience - sleeping and grieving. While nice enough films in themselves, they were made for different projects a couple of years ago and felt a bit out of place, since all the other content had been developed specifically for the event. 

Of late, there has been a lot of dance in site-specific indoor and up-close spaces. Natalie Cursio's Private Dances for the Next Wave Festival springs to mind, as does The Oaks Bride (also in the 2010 Next Wave Festival) at Donkey Wheel. (Donkey Wheel has a similiar feel to The Substation - underground, brick, subterranean). These events generated  massive public interest. Audiences are hungry to experience dance in different ways; to be surprised by new places and to feel close to the performing acts. These events are exciting and engaging - they feel more like interactive artworks than a sedentary night in the theatre. They generally can make the act of watching dance more visceral and appealing. 

While this sort of engagement was the intention of Intimate Exposure, some of the material presented probably isolated rather than invited audiences. But it was definitely a risk worth taking since dance needs to keep finding different ways to manifest itself. It will be interesting to see how the Substation's programming continues to incorporate dance into its multi-modal mix and how the venue will use its unique interiors to support live performance.  

Intimate Exposure
Melbourne Fringe Festival
The Substation
30 September to 09 October 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Paper Man and The 499th Day

Dancer Anna Simm in The 499th Day
 I don’t think of choreographer Rochelle Carmichael as a fringe artist. She has been diligently making dances for close to two decades, but often under the radar. Perhaps this is because the style of her work sits outside of the fashionable Melbourne post modern/ highly conceptual/self-referential style. In recent years, she has been presenting off the beaten path at Theatreworks. The double bill she offered for Melbourne Fringe contained two wildly different pieces. They didn’t sit that smoothly next to each other, but both had promising elements with considered structures.
Dancer Kelly Way in Paper Man
Paper Man was a surreal, character driven piece - a three hander for a man (Taurus Ashley) in a big paper suit, a wide-eyed, youthful female (Kelly Way) and a cluster of red helium balloons attached to a circle of white tulle. It was whimsical, with a touch of a European circus or puppetry tradition (in no small part due to the music by Yann Tiersen from the Amelie soundtrack.) Using simple props like a line of stools, a folding screen and scattered books and clothes, it was full of narrative suggestions and strands of strong theatrical ideas. Elements like Paper Man methodically tearing his puffy white paper suit off of himself and the balloons allowing the meshy fabric to dance and float freely were visuals that could continue to develop.  
The second piece, The 499th Day, was a substantial, abstract duet that never stopped moving for 25 minutes, all to the familiar sounds of Phillip Glass. Wearing removable wings and with a single long peacock feather painted on each of their simple black costumes, the two dancers - Way and Anna Simm - competently delivered the rolling and spiralling motifs of the piece. As is often  its style, Carmichael’s vocabulary consisted of curvaceous, powerful full-bodied movements. There were also many quieter, thoughtful moments with the women in their own separate spaces and projecting inward. Way and Simm were technically proficient - it was not an easy piece and they stayed on top of the demands of the material. But for the work to really take off (pardon the pun), it needed more attack from the dancers - a deeper sense of when to draw out a line, when to suspend and when to retract. If they could find that richer texture along with deeper personal relationships to the movement, the work would become greater than the execution of  thoughtful steps.

Carmichael's company is called Liquid Skin Peninsula Performing Arts Company and is based on the Mornington Peninsula. 

Paper Man and The 499th Day
by Liquid Skin Peninsula Performing Arts Company
Melbourne Fringe Festival
23 September - 02 October 2010