Saturday 25 May 2019

Garden Dance - Dance Review

What: Garden Dance
When: 24 - 26 May 2019
Where: Oak Garden, Royal Botanic Garden
Choreographed by: Jo Lloyd
Composed by: Duane Morrison
Performed by: Deanne Butterworth, Sheridan Gerrard, Hillary Goldsmith, Rebecca Jensen, Shian Law, Claire Leske, Jo Lloyd, Nasim Patel, Emma Riches, Rachael Wisby, and Tom Woodman
Designed by: Andrew Treloar

Garden Dance has been specifically created for the Royal Botanic Gardens by one of our master choreographers, Jo Lloyd. The picture above was taken in the hall of the National Herbarium because the show opened on a rain day, but the final two performances will hopefully (weather permitting) take place out on the Oak Lawn (near gate F) which is where it will reach it's intended heights and impact. Having said that, the opening performance was still incredible powerful and enhanced my awareness of the gardens in generals as I meandered through them afterwards.

The objective of Garden Dance is to explore how 'grid systems are used to tame cities and behaviour in public places' according to the publicity blurb. To do this, Lloyd has gone back to nature to investigate the natural chaos and synchronicities which exist.

It is no coincidence the performance has been located in the Oak Garden and it is no coincidence the performance is taking place at this time of year. Lloyd is using the anatomy of deciduous trees (in this case oaks) and the dancers explore the natural dance of the rainbow coloured leaves as they fall and swirl in the air and on the ground in autumn. The dancers play in the leaves and kick them up from their repose of decay at the same time as being those very leaves in motion.

Treloar has created vibrant and clever costumes which will ping as much as they blend in to their intended environment. Bodysuits colour blocked in the rainbow hues of autumn leaves and the blues and greys of Melbourne skies are counterpointed with the hard, geometric lines of man made spaces. In what is perhaps a triumph of architecture it is interesting to look at the city scape and realise many of these colours do actually form the facade of our massive edifices.

The underlaying of stretch fabric and malleable unitards have outer layers of fashion clothing made of stiff plastics in blue and grey inferring our raincoats and fashion wear. The dancers begin with both layers, walking around the space in a randomly gridded construct but as the dance continues the layers slowly get stripped away one dancer at a time as they transform into the chaotic energy of nature.

Garden Dance is beyond energetic and Lloyd pushes her ensemble to physical extremes. We all know how athletic dancers are so to see them sweat and puff like this is to say this dance is really hard work. I am in two minds about how I feel about that because I am old school enough to have been trained to believe the magic for the audience is in not seeing how hard the work really is. That is more likely more of a flaw in my training rather than a problem with this dance. Nobody complains when footy players sweat and pant!

Rather than having music and sound booming across the gardens the audience are given headphones through which is piped the sound scape for the dance. What is intriguing is this means the dancers do not hear what we are hearing and are thus working to their own intentions and rhythms. Morrison's composition compliments the ideas of the work well, breaking down musical rhythm and jumping moments in connections with the dancers as they try to keep in step with each other and adjust their course, tempo, and lead foot to create unison - creating odd moments of randomness instead...

I tend to think Australian choreographers are world leaders in innovative dance and a lot of creative energy is spent investigating the body and breaking away from classical music led dance forms such as ballet, jazz, etc. Lloyd is probably going further than I have seen in a while and as you watch Garden Dance you may think anyone could do this. On one level you would be right. The moves are very much within (for the most part) the scope of normal human movement. Of course, in Garden Dance they are executed with the power and extension only professionally trained dancers could bring!

It also seems as if Lloyd's process in this dance is one of improvisation and game play. Across the course of the event (and eerily in time with the shifts in composition) Lloyd (and occassionally Jensen) call out instructions which act as prompts for the ensemble. Some such include "search" and "check point" amongst many others. I suspect out in the garden we would not be as aware of this. It is just an interesting process detail this rain day event gave me insight into.

Luckily the weather is beautiful today so whoever goes today will get the complete package, and with luck the weather will hold out for tomorrow although the dance is incredibly enjoyable in the hall as well - and perhaps a bit warmer... Not only does Garden Dance get us thinking about city versus nature (which is always an interesting binary at the Royal Botanic Gardens), but it also creates an exciting new context with which to view the gardens after the show. I recommend making a whole afternoon experience led by this event.

3 Stars

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