Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dance and Circus in the 2012 Melbourne Fringe Festival

Aah...the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Each year it comes around so fast. I used to sit on the festival's dance judging panel which involved seeing everything that fell under the "dance"category and  choosing the most promising new work to reward. Depending on the year, that was anything from four to fifteen shows. These days I don't have the time or stamina to see it all, but I try to check out a few choice offerings.
Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal in Opal Vapour.

Opal Vapour was great - a high cut above average Fringe fare, probably because it was supported by the Malthouse Theatre and included in their Helium season. It's a very developed work. Dancer Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal and singer/musician Ria Soemardjo collaborated on a thoughtful, well-constructed piece - carefully modulated and broad in influences.

Click here to read my review of Opal Vapour in the Herald Sun on 28 September 2012.

The Faders by Rochelle Carmichael is a really ambitious piece - eight dancers, HUGE, cavernous space at The Substation in Newport. This is Carmichael's most complex work to date. It plays with ideas about desire for fame, celebrity and ideals about the future. There's a fair bit of talking involved - which is usually a dicey proposition in contemporary dance, but here Carmichael manages to find a good balance of text and physical expression. Her dancers (mostly recent VCA dance graduates) are strong technicians and what some lack in vocal delivery they make up for in physical prowess.

The partnering and the choreographic formations shine. Carmichael is really good at curvacous, fluid, sometimes slightly aggressive groupings. (I think this comes from her time with Meryl Tankard...) A strong, earthy physicality permeates the whole piece. Also a highlight is Carmichael's use of the ridiculously deep space - diagonals, lines, clusters, upstage, downstage - she finds a way to use it all.

Gareth Hart in Ellipsis.
Ellipsis also works with a very defined space, much smaller though. An open cube, of sorts, whose sides are lined with strips of red string(desribed as "filament" in the program.) Solo dancer Gareth Hart, using tightly phrased  improvised scores, creates a very internal experience that still translates across to the audience. With his mohawk haircut and his bird-like mannerisms (head forward, thoracic stooped, neck flicks) he reminds me of a disoriented, caged peacock (I don't mean that in any rude way - there are clearly animal influences here...) Ellipsis is one of those pieces that you just watch and let wash over you without worrying about what is actually going on in the dancer's head. The music (attributed to Edward Willoughby, Warwick Lynch and Anne van Schothorst,) along with Hart's amplified breathing and travel sounds comes through individual headphones for a more immersive experience.

Media image for One
One intrigued me because one of the two choreographers, Gilbert Douglas, is Zimbabwean born and I wanted to see what sort of perspective that would bring. Together with choreographer Susan Doel, they direct five very differently-skilled dancers who don't have a natural ease with other. It is billed as a series of solos, but really is more an extended ensemble piece containing solos.The dancers are of varying technical ability and somehow the piece, while very energetic and peppered with some interesting sections of choreography, didn't ultimately gel into cohesive experience. The movement didn't always seem to fit the dancers all that well. Overall, a bit of a mish-mash, with some good ideas struggling to get out of a bloated whole.

Now I haven't seen a lot this year, so unfair to make any sweeping statements or "picks of the fest," but I can say that I LOVED Pants Down Circus. I see a lot of circus throughout the year and most of it is pretty high-quality, skill wise, but it doesn't always engage dynamically or dramatically. This quartet of NICA grads ticks all the boxes for a great show that's kinda cheeky but still friendly enough for the family.

Click here to read my review of Pants Down Circus in the Herald Sun on 08 October 2012.

Melbourne Fringe Festival
Various Venues
28 September - 13 October

Opal Vapour, 21 September - 06 October, Tower Theatre, Malthouse
The Faders, 05 - 07 October, The Substation
Ellipsis, 06 - 13 October, Meeting Room, North Melbourne Town Hall
One, 28 September - 05 October, Meat Market, Arts House
Pants Down Circus, 06 - 13 October, Meat Market, Arts House

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