Thursday, 21 March 2019

Nightdance - Dance Review

What: Nightdance
When: 21 - 24 March 2019
Where: Cobblestone Pavilion, Meat Market
Choreographed by: Melanie Lane
Composition by: Chris Clark
Performed by: Benjamin Hancock, Melanie Lane, Gregory Lorenzutti, Ryan Ritchie, Sidney Saayman, and Lilian Steiner
Lighting by: Bosco Shaw
Lilian Steiner Melanie Lane, Ryan Ritchie and Gregory Lorenzutti - photo by Bryony Jackson
Taking us down a surreal wormhole into the sensual and sexy atmosphere of underground European nightclubs, Nightdance is a visceral journey into another realm. First presented by Arts House in 2017, we have been given the opportunity to re-indulge in this year's Dance Massive festival and it is a gift which keeps on giving.

The brainchild of choreographer Lane, she has gathered together some of the most intriguing and adventurous masters of their art to create a dream scape of bodies, light and sound/music which celebrates, blurs and denies the lines between watcher and watched, entertainer and the entertained. In concert with a stunning soundscape (Clark), bodies and light ebb and flow, throb and pulse across the stage and around each other. Passion is always just a heart beat away. The orgy is always the potential but Nightdance is only the promise. It is up to us to finish - if we dare!

Nightdance begins in what appears to be a very traditional contemporary dance set up. Three bodies (Steiner, Lorenzutti, and Lane) in a sparsely lit space. They start to if awakening from a long sleep. They come together as if huddling for warmth and comfort. And then the show starts.

The lights come up - a fascinating grid of downlights which work in a never ending array of combinations - and the three dancers power across the stage in a spray of performance intention and power. The next twenty minutes is a study in movement history. Controlled, powerful, and hypnotic each of them weave their way individually and yet in concert through styles such as muscleman, capoiera, Indonesian dance, and many more. Shaw creates random black outs which give us the sensation of photographs being taken which amps up the sense of the dancers being the subject of a voyeuristic gaze, creating a visual interpretation of music 'breaks' which ease the hypnotic potential much like how club music works but inverting the paradigm.

Just when boredom might set in for the audience there is a change. The dancers begin to pay more attention to each other. They watch each other in enjoyment, the pleasure becoming something they must share with themselves. Just as the sexual tension begins to emerge another shift.

This becomes the pattern for the evening's entertainment. A constant shift between entertaining us, being entertained by each other, and entertaining the self.

As I said earlier, Nightdance is a nightclub and it includes all of the fabulous elements. Apart from a brilliant trance dance scene with throbbing lights, the shadow play of which once more steals the performers attentions, there is an array of guest artists who wend their way dreamily through this surreal landscape - half there, half not there.

Co-creator Hancock takes our breath away as they explore an earlier incarnation, Partially Here. Decked out head to foot (including covered face) in a gold body suit they explore the body as object, constantly organising and reorganising their body as a shape to be admired in that very burlesque mode until again, they become obsessed with enjoying the self and slipping out of the frame.

Ritchie slips into the frame like a modern day Tony Bennett, emerging from the audience like all nightclub singers. Dressed in a white tux but sounding more like Tom Waites, Ritchie meanders around the stage, crooning in a fashion which sounds something like a 45 rpm record being played at 33 rpm. There is a large spotlight for him which he ignores. He has backup dancers (Steiner and Lane) but their rythmic clicks deny their obsession with Lorenzutti who has become a dark caped figure of menace and intrigue. Ritchie dissolves away as the dream moves forward.

The other guest is Saayman who comes into the trance dance scene as a human lazer show. Part Robocop, part exotic male dancer, Saayman blasts his lazers around the stage and auditorium before becoming transfixed himself and descending into a narcissistic hole of self addiction.

Nightdance is a dream, but the dream is real and the dream is us. There is always a line and we cross it all the time, and then cross it again and again and again. The question always hanging in the air is can we come back or will we step over it one day never to return?

Every element of Nightdance is perfectly concieved and perfectly executed. The dancers have a beauty and control of their bodies which is mesmerizing and every creative contributor is demonstrating work at the peak of their powers. Do not miss this show!

5 Stars

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

You Animal, You - Dance Review

What: You Animal, You
When: 19 - 24 March 2019
Where: Main Hall, Arts House
Written by: Danielle Micich and Heather Mitchell
Directed by: Danielle Micich
Composed by: Kelly Ryall
Performed by: Ghenoa Gela, Raghav Handa, Lauren Langlois, Hayley McElhinney, and Jack Riley
Lighting by: Damien Cooper
Stage Managed by: Brooke Kiss
Lauren Langlois, Jack Riley, Raghav Handa and Hayley McElhinney - photo by Pia Johnson
Sometimes the advertising for a product is not the thing you end up getting. This is far too often true in the Australian performaning arts industry because concept pitches which have to be formed for funding and presenter applications often have to be done before the work is ever crystalised. You Animal, You which is being presented at Arts House this week for Dance Massive is one of those shows.

Based on the publicity blurb I was expecting a feral, visceral Lord Of The Flies style affair but instead a got a very cerebral Waiting For Godot/The Complexity Of Belonging hybrid. To be honest, once I understood what I was in for across the (just over) hour long show, I was quite happy to settle in to a highly abstracted Beckett style production about power shifts and ladder climbing.

I was not as pleased with the parallels which were forming for me with The Complexity of Belonging. I was not a huge fan of that particular MTC/Chunky Move production and for similar reasons - some rather uncomfortable meta politics at play in the works. Enough about other shows though. Let's dig into what Force Majeure have given us.

You Animal, You is an investigation of socio-political heirarchies and what it takes to get to 'the top of the ladder'. Yes, there is a ladder, a real ladder which is wheeled around, climbed, danced with, etc. I hated that ladder. In a highly abstracted work to see such a literal prop being so dominant was annoying (and lazy?).

One of my biggest criticisms of You Animal, You is the apparent reluctance of Micich (director) to do what all directors must do and 'kill your darlings'. I will note, based on reviews I have read from the Sydney presentation there have been some significant changes to the work for the Melbourne season but I don't think any of those changes have solved the problems of focus and clarity, or creating a stronger connection to the stated intention of the piece.

The overarching conceit is potentially intriguing and conflates family politics with social politics. There is a dominant matriarch Mum (McElhinney) who has a son, Boy (Riley) and a daughter, Girl (Langlois). Boy is naturally gifted and is second on the ladder (after Mum). Girl sits third and then their is Bottomfeeder (Handa). They compete in a series of games which Mum changes at random just as she changes the rules and conditions of play at random to keep everyone off balance and in motion ensuring her place at the top.

You Animal, You is a dance theatre work layered in micro and macro politics which does make it exciting. I also think in dance casting cannot be blind and the bodies of the people engaging in the story telling informs how we, the audience, read the messages.

Within this frame I loved the racial politics of You Animal, You as it speaks to our current Australian situation towards ethnicity. Handa as Bottomfeeder speaks loudly to how we treat non-white Australians. Bottomfeeder out performs everyone included the annointed heir, Boy. Because Bottomfeeder will always out perform Boy, Mum keeps changing the situation and the goal posts to distract Bottomfeeder so that Boy will always win.

Mum is the master of the carrot and the stick approach of control. Intriguingly, this aspect of the conversation behind You Animal, You reminded me of the current controversy in the USA where rich parents have been indicted for paying the way for their children to enter elite colleges. How timely is that?

I also loved the interventions of Yellow (Gela). As a Torres Strait Islander, Gela's interventions to support Girl to survive Mum speak strongly of how we need to look outside our own white tribe to see if there are better, kinder, stronger ways to live with each other. Her solo dance down the centre of the arena style space is fierce and had me thinking back to Le Dernier Appel/The Last Cry.

The politics which had me angry and lost was that of the female. Mum, as the woman in control is a total bitch. Mum also never lets Girl compete on an even playing field. When others are blind folded, she is not, etc. I felt the rage I feel whenever our right wing politicians make comments about how women aren't natural leaders and you can't have quotas because that would deny promotion based on merit.

Girl doesn't seem to want to even want to play the game, and then is never allowed to compete fully and fairly. It is even harder to watch when it is women doing this to women and in You Animal, You the statements which seem to emerge around both Mum and Girl seem to embed all of the negative female stereotypes. Gela is the only counteractive force but must she be the sole saviour for all of humanity?

I wish I could tell you the significance of the colour yellow in You Animal, You but to be honest it is unclear to me. Mum is in a gold dress (not torn and tattered like the Sydney production which is a shame), and Gela is called yellow because that was her competition colour when she played in the games previously apparently (I only know this from reviews of previous iteration). The flutter spewed across the stage is yellow too.

In colour theory yellow can represent happiness, warmth, divinity, and caution. Across the world yellow has symboliseed courage (Japan), adult movies (China), insanity (Russia), death (Mexico), treason (Spain), Judaism (Germany), and cowardice (USA). I was unable to pin down how You Animal, You was using the colour except in one small piece of text which states "The number 4 is yellow." It feels significant to point out there were only ever a maximum 4 performers on stage at any point in time.

The text element of the show involved random monologues written by Mitchell (who played Mum in Sydney) and Micich. Micich was playing with the concept of syneasthesia and perhaps the most intriguing monologue was spoken by Girl about colours looking like numbers, food tasting like sensations, and smells being like sounds, etc. Some of the writing tries too hard, but it is intriguing.

Overall You Animal, You has been set up to represent an arena spectacular and Cooper's lighting does all the heavy lifting in this regard. A simple circular rig of moving lights create the architecture of the outer and inner arenas whilst Ryall's magnificent soundscape keeps movement, energy and complexity in what is, in places, a thin piece of theatre which is just a tad too slow.

The dancing from all of the performers is masterful and everyone does get to showcase their skills. Given that most of the team are themselves choreographers it goes without saying they have all been involved in the creation of this work and it is a collaborative achievement. It is just a shame that a reworking has not strengthened the work and the creators need to consider whether they are looking at the right things and perhaps changed the wrong things? I would love to have been a fly on the wall for the conversations with dramaturg Sarah Goode...

It is not often I find myself saying I liked a show and also didn't like a show. Perhaps the fact I can separate those ideas out is why the show doesn't quite work as it could and should.

2.5 Stars

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Biladurang - Live Art Review

What: Biladurang
When: 19 - 24 March 2019
Where: Sofitel Melbourne
Created and performed by: Joel Bray
Composed by: Kate Carr
Joel Bray - photo by Pippa Samaya
I love hotel rooms and I love live performance which thinks and feels and makes me do the same. In Biladurang at the Sofitel Melbourne Bray gave me a hour and a half of what I consider to be the best things in life (plus a touch of the bubbly to get us in the mood...) Let's face it, who hasn't always dreamed of being invited to a hotel room party with all it's potentials for ups, downs, outrages and intimicies?

22 random people (us) have been invited up to Bray's hotel room. The room looks like there has already been a bit of a wild party in motion and it seems as if Bray doesn't want to be alone even though the other guests have left. Eager to be a good host, he has hotel dressing gowns for us all to don, welcomes us all individually in a futile attempt to remember our names, and rearranges the furniture to make sure we are all comfortable and have a good seat.

Of course, 22 people are a lot of bodies, so he enlists help from us to do things like hand out the robes, pour champagne, turn lights on and off and other random and unexpected tasks. This is the first indication that we are not just an observing audience. We are here, in this world with him for however long this party (?) lasts.

To be in a hotel room is a very intimate thing. For those of us who have experienced extended stays they are oddly impersonal whilst also becoming your safe space - your home away from home - for as long as you are there and until you can make it back to your real home. By bringing total strangers into this oddly liminal residence, Bray is also beginning the journey into his life as a 'white' Wiradjuri man.

The conceit begins with Bray explaining he is newly single. This tells us everything we need to know about why we are about to experience a stream of consciousness journey which travels the bounds of times and realities - from the dreaming to quantum physics, from Orange to Narrm, from boyhood to manhood, from the bed to the bath, from him to us and beyond.

As we all know, great loss (be it love, career, home) is always a catalyst for us to look at who we are, how we got here, and where we belong. Bray begins this exploration in nothing more than a pair of tighty whities and an open dressing gown, the shutters on the windows are closed which gave Bray permission to be more open. Writhing around as if his skin doesn't quite fit right, Joel talks about his father who says his totem animal is the sand goanna although with so much language and history lost to the Wiraduri it is impossible to know if that is true. Regardless, Bray's spasming and writhing mimic the shapes and tempo of this iconic Australian reptile.

Bray is a dancer and his work in what is such an intimate space filled with so much furniture (and people) is surprisingly dense and impeccably executed. Not just relying on his ability to tell stories with his body though, Bray also speaks to us with his words. He tells us the story of Biladurang the platypus. Stolen and raped repeatedly by the water rat until she fell pregnant, she eventually escaped but could not return home because firstly, it was her fault for wandering too far from home and secondly because her babies - hybrid children - could not survive in the climate of her native home. As Bray builds the dense analogies which alone give us so much to think about, his body struggles to find its place and space and form in which he would be comfortable to share himself with us.

Biladurang is moving, funny, personal and interpersonal. Making us laugh Bray takes us through the agonising efforts to access gay porn in a small town and then the pleasure and pain of ecstatic masturbations. A land creature, at one point he leaves us to find solace in a bubble bath and we watch on CCTV as he emerges to rest on the edge of worlds before girding his loins (literally) with bubbles. Thus armoured he returns and asks one of us to roll him a smoke before beginning an almost post-coital rambling.

This is where Carr's sound track really starts to dominate. A dripping tap exciting an urge to action which is never satisfied later merged into ambient music as Bray continues to interrogate how he got here, his body splayed at the end of the bed as if exhausted.

At this point the performance turns to us. Bray dresses and then doles out hotel toiletries before offering hand massages with the fragrant hotel body lotion. Kneeling at people's feet, he asks about their heritage and it is surprising, rewarding, and astounding the stories which emerge in the space of a gentle tenderness. I think it is the human connection which causes people's truths to leak out just as Bray's truths have leaked out for us all.

Bray's work is always very sight specific and whilst it has met all of those conditions magnificently so far, he takes it one step further. After a very lovely slow dance, in our very own choreographed cannon Bray has us open the shutters to reveal what has to be one of the most magnificent views of  Melbourne to continue his story of being between worlds, between realities, as he overlays Narrm's history too.

Biladurang is an hour and a half of souls meeting souls. It is safe sharing of the most personal and intriguing kind and is one of those rare pieces of art which allows us to share our humanity as we explore the paths of how such a diverse group of people could find themselves in the same place and the same time struggling to make a community. Oh, and I think I am finally beginning to understand what a songline is which is a great gift indeed.

5 Stars

Monday, 18 March 2019

First Dance - Event Review

What: First Dance
When: 18 March 2019
Where: The Supper Room, Arts House
Stories and performances by: Adolfo Aranjuez, Ash Flanders, Danny Katz, Brodie Lancaster, wāni Le Frère, S.J Norman, Raina Peterson, Niharika Senapati
Raina Peterson
One of the important things Arts House has been doing for a long time now is acknowledging and acting on the importance of conversation around and about art as well as being a vehicle for the creation thereof. The leadership has changed and so it is reasonable to assume focuses and emphases for the organisation will change. With the incoming of Emily Sexton, the ideas and conversations surrounding art creation remain a priority and with this, her first Dance Massive festival,  Sexton has partnered with The Wheeler Centre to bring us First Dance.

First Dance sees 8 artists of various disciplines gather to respond to the provocation of the title. Each have 10 minutes to tell their story their way. An incredible and excitingly diverse group of writers, performers and dancers have been curated and every 10 minute story is shockingly and exhileratingly different and yet surprisingly relatable. 

How can the stories of all of these people be speaking to my experience of life? I don't know, but somehow they did. Perhaps it is because all of them gave us the gift of the personal and the honest. They allowed their souls to speak and move which allowed ours to hear and see. Many of the stories were funny, but some where serious and even heart rending.

Senapati was the first to present her piece called 'Dedication to Magic and Silliness'. In her introduction she told us she would be "just a human wiggling in front of other humans" and she was right. Her jiggling, however, showed a beautiful and fun story of a girl growing up in dance. From those silly jigglings as a toddler, through ballet training, to contemporary dance Senapati weaves back and forth across time making us laugh at artlessness and pause in awe of perfection almost in the very same moment.

Katz was up next. In 'Boogie Wonderland' he had us belly laughing through his recollections of his first school dance. "She was using dance and fun in the same sentence!...Dance feels like something you should do in private, like going to the toilet." Katz manages to remind us all of our teenage awkwardness as well as a burgeoning sense of self realisation as, after embarassing himself completely in front of a girl he remembers his dad's advice and discovers why dancing is fun.

Lancaster followed with another teenage nightmare. The teenage clubbing scene. Riffing off the meme 'dance like noone is watching' Brodie points out that "it is impossible to think about dance without considering our bodies". As she makes us laugh in shared pain at the mistakes made in preparing for that ever elusive slow dance with a boy - and the let down of the experience when it finally happens - Brodie reminds us that in small towns everybody is watching all the time. Her point, in the end, is "The greatest lie perpetuated is there are people who don't care what anyone else thinks". The Hollywood chick flicks are a lie. Dance like everyone is watching!

Peterson told us about their experience as a 5 year old about to dance their first Diwali festival in regional Victoria in 'Green'. In a beautiful outfit made by their mother (because Indian clothes weren't available) Peterson joined the celebrations and through the dance becomes the birthplace for and the radiation of green. Despite a violent childhood Peterson discovered "From dance I can grow all beauty from my hand."

Bouncing up on stage next was Aranjuez. Aranjuez's art is a "collision of poetry and dance" but tonight after a brief introduction he gave us his first dance about him. At another festival not too long ago it was brought to his attention that his art has revolved around love and as such is always about others. As a response he let us see his "first dance for me". Popping and locking across the stage it became clear what the difference was. You could see a focus and attention on self. It has something to do with the hands. Rather than reaching out, they explored and celebrated and framed Aranjuez, not the world outside of him...

A deceptively understated Flanders came on stage next to take us through the signature events and moves which made him believe he was a dancer...and then understand he wasn't. Flanders had us laughing unmercifully as he meandered through the running man, the hand jive, and a time step not even he would repeat in public in '5, 6, 7, 8!'. With the learning of the running man at an Arabian Nights dance ("...because it is the 80s and noone questions the optics...") he discovers his super power - "The power to make people look at you". Thus begins a journey to musical theatre school and 2 years working at a theatre restaurant in a job he had sworn years earlier he would never do. And thus he shares with us the sad truth the reality of life will inevitably put us where we never wanted or imagined we would be. It is just one of those humbling life lessons we have to go through to grow up I guess.

The tone of the evening took a more serious tone when Le Frère took over the stage with his poem 'Grandma'. Le Frère is a New Zealander whose family had emigrated from the Congo. His poem talks about the time he had the opportunity to reconnect with his grandparents. He did not speak their language but his grandmother loved to dance and so she tried to connect with him in that way. As sad and beautiful as that is, he then reveals she had Parkinsons. For a person so embodied with the need to dance this is a tragedy almost to great to imagine. Le Frère's story was so poignant it really did bring a tear to my eyes.

The evening ended with Norman reading us the first 700 words of the first chapter of her new book 'Codex Extasis' which explores "The ecstatic body and the radical potentials". As Norman says, "I write because my body must be heard." She believes any movement a body makes can rightfully be called dance and that all dance is a potential for revolt. For Norman "Dancing bodies are the great library..." of human experience and that there is no first dance and there is no last. I admit, I can't wait to read the book when it is published.

I really loved the format and curation of First Dance and hope this is something which will continue across the Arts House programming. Because there are no long speeches and no MC (the performers just jump on stage one after the other) it feels short and sharp and the approaches in practice and ideas is exciting. The diversity of the content matched the diversity of the artists and it is one of those rare moments in public arenas when we really do get to see who actually lives in Australia, what their lived experiences are, and where current thinking lies.

4.5 Stars

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Same But Different - Dance Review

What: Same But Different
When: 13 - 23 March 2019
Where: The Stables, Meat Market
Choreographed and performed by: Henrietta Baird, Ngioka Bunda-Heath, Mariaa Randall, and Carly Sheppard
Lighting by: Siobhan Geaney
Sound by: Airileke and Deline Briscoe
AV by: Jody Haines
Photo by Bryony Jackson
Following on from Divercity in 2017, DubailKungkaMiyalk once again brings four First Nation dancers together to examine the synergies and the differences between the dance/stories of varied language groups of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Same But Different showcases four woman from across Australia to tell their stories through dance in a powerful travelling across space, across time, and across experiences in The Stables at Arts House for Dance Massive.

The journey begins with Randall's solo composition called 'Painting The Dance'. With paint dripping down her naked torso she dances her tale. Writhing against the back wall, the paint smears and merges with older paint smears speaking to the cave paintings which have shown us the history of the Indigenous Australians. Randall brings it into the here and now though as she steps forward and smears the paint across her own body to create the shapes and signs she wants us to see. In doing this she reclaims agency over her image and her space.

Invited to begin our travelling, we move into a second space with a small square rostra, a beach painting, and a photograph projected on the wall. In this darker and more intimate space Bunda-Heath reminds of us of a pain which has never (can never?) be healed as we hear another sorry tale of the Stolen Generation in 'Blood Quantum'. Bunda-Heath tells her story, one of a family, of a mother and three children who live outside of town. As she speaks though, she rhythmically repeats an etude of proposed violence which ends with a slap on the floor which becomes more oppressive as time wears on. The children are told to sit still and then 'the importance of the town' drives into their front yard...

We travel on, past an oil painting of a beach with three sets of footprints into a darkness littered with black draped forms hanging from the ceiling. Are they dead bodies? Are they wraiths? In 'Blak Ones' Sheppard never shows us faces, never utters a word. The four women dance to an ominous yet intriguing sound track made up of an intense rythm of voices uttering the word/breath "ha". Draped in black with their heads veiled, the four women dance a song of mourning, a song of anger, a song of action.

Finally we are invited to join the women on a camping trip. We sit in tents around the stage and are included in the yarning circle of the camp site in Baird's 'Stories'. One by one each of the women tell a campfire story. Some are silly, some are funny, all of them are gifted to us before they move into a more esoteric form. All of it is generous and inclusive.

A couple of days ago I reviewed The Perception Experiment and I talked about how they created art on the floor with salt. In Same But Different the four women engage in a similar activity, this time using brightly coloured powders which they ceremoniously pile across the stage before exploding the piles into puffs and then smears to create a melange. I was reminded of the Tibetan mandala ceremonies...

The greatest sense I came away with from Same But Different was an awareness that the past is present, and the present is shaped and informed by the past. The two are one and this is why we can't relegate the past as behind us, and why wounds don't heal easily. The dead live with us and through us and we have to speak with them when we speak with the living.

I also loved the great honoring with which this group made an acknowledgement of country both before and after the show. I know people have been exploring how to do this and if you come and see this show you will understand why it should be done as well as how it can be done in a way which is real, and powerful, and meaningful.

There was more to Same But Different than I have spoken of here. Linking across all the works is some wonderful videography by Haines. The image which sat with me most resonantly was the repetition of two hands reaching towards each other. It really set the tone of offering and openness which permeated across the four steps of our journey.

For me Same But Different is the performance which opened an important door of understanding what it is to be Australian and to take a step closer to being able to hopefully engage more fully with our First Nation People. I don't think I really understood the past as present before and I thank these women for the gift they have given me.

Same But Different is offering this gift to us all so please make sure you take up there offer. Hopefully you will see some of what I saw and the world will never look the same again.

4 Stars