Thursday, March 16, 2017

Between Tiny Cities

Aaron Lim and Erak Mith in Between Tiny Cities, photos by Bryony Jackson
Breakdancing is often a solo display but in Between Tiny Cities choreographer Nick Power turns it into a two-hander between Darwin boy Aaron Lim and Erak Mith from Phenom Penh. It's peppered with a distinctly break dancing vocabulary. But more significantly, it is a duet of intersecting limbs, pulsing unison and a reactive physical banter characteristic of dancers working together, rather than as individuals. 

The boys barely take their eyes off each other for the 40 minute duration and only leave the round space for seconds to grab bottles of water. There's the expected displays of head spins and inverted balances but these are really a small partof a varied vocabulary that borrows even from contact improvisation and the more micro movements of contemporary dance. 

It's playful and exploratory rather than aggressive or overly showy and the boys display both intense concentration and a cocky levity. When Mith removes his shirt and breaks out in phrases of song, Lim, splayed on the floor, seems bemused. Later Lim uses his hand to cover an obvious hole in the crotch of his trousers. Is that intentional or not? There's a constant play between improvisation and structure, held together by Jack Prest's sound design that sometimes drives the pulsing elements and other times seems more background than foreground. 

An audience of around 60 stands around the circumference of a taped white circle. There's no choice but to see the people across from you - some standing, hands across chest; others slumped to one hip. Some fidget or quietly groove. It's an intimate encounter, especially when the b-boys get close to your face, their sweat visible.  While standing recreates the social or competition circle of the street, in the auditorium venue of Arts House it's more self-conscious. Nobody breaks out into dance (although some clearly want to) and nobody dares to sit (perhaps because we were told pre-show that it's a standing affair.) This set-up forces an extra layer of activity and audience engagement which Lim and Mith seem to feed off of while still maintaining their personal focus on each other.  

Lighting designer Bosco Shaw plays with the circle - bisecting it with a thick rectangular light or pulling up the light so high that we forget the circle and see only lots of people in the space. Another time the light accentuates a conversation of forearms and fingers, which zooms focus to a small circle of activity. Like the choreography, it plays around and picks up on various physical states. 

Between Tiny Cities is the end of a multi-year collaboration between D*City Rockers in Darwin and Tiny Toones in Phenom Penh. Power and his artistic crew have created something that feels unique and nuanced. It pushes past conventions of a particular social form and opens itself up to be something different. That vulnerability and curiosity defines the best of Dance Massive.

Between Tiny Cities
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
14-18 March, 8.45pm

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