Thursday 23 March 2023

EXPOSED: Dance Review

WHAT: Exposed
WHEN: 22 - 25 March 2023
WHERE: Arts House (Main Hall)
DIRECTED BY: Michelle Ryan
SET & LIGHTING BY: Geoff Cobham
COMPOSITION BY: Hilary Kleinig and Emily Tulloch
COSTUMES BY: Renata Henschke
PERFORMED BY: Darcy Carpenter, Jianna Georgiou, Bhodi Hudson, Alexis Luke, Madalene Macera, Michael Noble, and Charlie Wilkins

Restless Dance Ensemble - Photo by Shane Reid

So very rarely does high concept and high execution come together on stage to form true high art. I am talking Da Vinci level high art. This is because to achieve high art on stage you have to have a raft of people all working at their highest creative and craft peak towards a singular intention. They must each be at their absolute best and at the same time working and creating in a way which supports everyone around them to work at their absolute best. In every way, this is one of the core themes and achievements of Exposed, created by Restless Dance Theatre in 2022 and being presented at Arts House this week.

The word 'exposed' has so many layers of meaning and Exposed explores them all. Whilst the work has been created through a disability lens (Restless Dance Theatre is an all abilities company), one of the amazing strengths of the choreography- and the genius of an all abilities troupe - is that the conversation becomes broader, so broad it captures all of humanity. 

As bodies and differences and truths are exposed on stage, we come to understand that age old adage that nobody succeeds on their own. To be the best we can be we all need help. Some of us need a stick or chair or implant or specialised support worker yes, but all of us need mentors and teachers and facilitators and networks and friends and families to work our way through life. At some point in time we all need somebody to help pick us up of the floor and take the next steps. This is the story of Exposed.

Michelle Ryan (director) talks about how she explores breath as the conceit the show is built around. She talks about how breathe is one of the sign posts for a person's state of mind. When we are scared and agitated our breathing becomes rapid. When we are experiencing physical exertion or pain our breathing becomes laboured. When we are calm our breathing is soft and slow. This is the point where Exposed begins.

The show opens with breath, a huge silver scrim hiding the stage. Slowly, the lighting reveals the troupe behind, exposing them as they dress. Thus the show starts from the perspective of all humanity. No matter who we are, what our ability is, we all start the day with this simple task of putting on our clothes for whatever lies ahead. These first moments of Exposed stamp the show with the demand that we recognise that this tale is for everyone, made by everyone. Human is human and that is all we need to recognise.

From there the dancers explore exclusion, bullying, and abandonment but all ideas come from a place of love and are revealed in utter beauty. It also talks about how we create the 'other' and how that other can shift and change which is a strong revelation (exposure?) of how random and subjective this act of othering is. We become exposed to the painful consequences as dancers are left to sit and watch mournfully from the side or get pushed to the ground. We also get a sneak peak at what I call fake assistance. A hand is offered but the leg keeps the one in need too far away to grasp it.

I am making Exposed sound sad and depressing but it isn't. It is one of the most heart warming shows I have seen in a very long time. Each time it reveals need, the help does come. Somebody turns up or reaches out to assist as much or as little as needed to get the dancer making their next move.

Exposed is also one of the most beautiful shows I have ever seen. The concept is beautiful as I have mentioned and the dancers made me almost cry at moments of utter poignancy. Beyond that, the production is just gorgeous. 

Geoff Cobham's mylar scrim is visually breath taking as it shifts from silver to gold. This 'cloth' really becomes another performer in the dance as it looms over the dancers, bellowing like a heaving lung, or forming a golden hill to fall down from, and then being spun into a suffocating maelstrom. His swirling lights complement the swirling dancers as they group and regroup and move through their complicated (yet simple) stories.

The sound of this great mylar wing becomes an important part of the sound scape too. The crinkling sound (much like cellophane) as it moves and shifts is in conversation with the devastatingly gorgeous composition created by Hilary Kleinig and Emily Tulloch. Kleinig's cello is haunting and uplifting at the same time and I nearly had an orgasm at the hinted fading notes of a military taps bugle at the end of the show, melting back into those first breaths.

I am so glad Exposed has been restaged and I hope it has a long touring life. Not only are the messages in this dance work essential to our humanity. On top of that this is a world class dance work. Watching Exposed made me realise that with the right approach every dance company can be/should be all abilities. These dancers are professional dancers and move with grace, beauty and technical execution. 

Exposed is a world class contemporary dance work and seeing it will open your eyes and, hopefully, your hearts to what is possible for this art form and all of society when everyone is helped to achieve their goals. There is no real 'other'.

5 Stars

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