The choreographer behind 'Death Peak Live'

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Sophia Ndaba and Kiani Del Valle
Photo: Jubal Battisti
Sophia Ndaba and Kiani Del Valle Photo: Jubal Battisti

Australian choreographer Melanie Lane has teamed up again with electronic music producer and partner in life, Chris Clark, for the live show of Death Peak - Clark’s latest album. The show, Death Peak Live, is touring the world throughout 2017.

Lane and Clark have worked together a bunch of times, mostly with Clark scoring for Lane’s dance projects – Australian audiences may recall Tilted Fawn (2011/12), Merge (2015) and Remake (2016). “This project was an idea to reverse that collaboration,” says Lane.

The opportunity to test the idea first came in 2015 with Clark’s previous live show. Lane had a small break in her schedule and choreographed and performed during the last leg of his tour. Its success inspired her to propose a fully realised choreography which incorporated a light installation by London-based company Flat E and lighting design by Brian Kelly. Lane designed the costumes, which are integral to the choreography and concept.

Photo: Jubal Battisti
Photo: Jubal Battisti

Live music gigs are known to throw in “a bit of dance” for blatant audience titillation. The challenge Lane and Clark faced was how to keep the dance element in Death Peak Live from becoming such gogo-style entertainment. They devised a sculptural narrative of androgynous and face-less “future bodies” which transform throughout the show using lights and costumes. “We imagined a visual ride of sculptural images,” says Lane, “I kept the design of the choreography abstract so as not to suggest styles or genres.”

The choreographic development took place in Berlin, where Lane and Clark live. She chose two strong female dancers: Australian Sophia Ndaba and Puerto Rican Kiani Del Valle. Over three weeks they devised the choreography, working closely with the light installation and costumes so that they were fully integrated, not just decorative.

Making work for bodies and objects is familiar territory for Lane, but this project has been very different. “The audience is there to be entertained as well as to dance themselves,” she says. “I realised I had to establish an immediate connection with the music and to motivate the audience.”

Lane wanted the choreography to have a dialogue with the sound. She had the dancers work a lot with unison and repetitive movements. This posed a fun challenge for tall, statuesque Ndaba and “pocket rocket” Del Valle. “It’s been a really beautiful exchange as we try to find synchronicity; Kiani pushing for length and me pushing for speed and power!” says Ndaba.

The pair have real chemistry. One online reviewer wrote, “ Whether they’re writhing like phantoms beneath iridescent sheets or matching the beat whilst streaks of J-horror-esque black hair flail in front of their faces, the duo brought something organic, unsettling and almost biomechanical to the show that was hard to look away from.”

Ndaba and Del Valle’s strong connection with each other has helped them negotiate the world of music gigging. Dance productions bump into theatres over a couple of days; music gigs in a matter of hours. When the technical crew and Clark are done with sound check, the two dancers still have a lot of work left before the show. They rehearse wherever they can find a space (often in hotel rooms) and adjust the choreography for the dimensions of the new stage. Two hours before the gig they warm up, get into their costumes and preset their quick changes.

“We dance to seven tracks throughout Clark’s show which means seven different costume changes, all very intricate and specifically designed for each track so we relish the time to preset and make sure everything is in place.” says Ndaba. Each venue is very different so they often have to improvise creative solutions. “Once Kiani and I had to change underneath Clark’s DJ desk!” Ndaba says.

“It’s been an interesting fusion of worlds working on this show, developing communication between music, lighting and dance all amidst changing circumstances and intense time pressures,” she says. “But Kiani and I strongly agree it makes you a better performer.”

The show is an hour long, and it’s intense. The crowds are huge, the music is pumping and the show’s technical complexity means that things could go awry at any moment. Ndaba confesses it has taught her a new level of living in the moment. She’s also discovered that with crowds of this magnitude and enthusiasm, 100% of her energy is never enough. “It’s been a real lesson in pushing my own mental barriers to give more every show,” she says.

The audiences for Death Peak Live are huge . . .
Photo: Edu Pineda
The audiences for Death Peak Live are huge . . . Photo: Edu Pineda

Social media explodes with ecstatic messages after every gig, and fan mail is now a common thing for the dancers. At a dance performance audience members sit politely and turn off their mobile phones. At a music gig the audience is loud, dancing and half watching through their cameras. In fact, the dancers use the Instagram videos posted by fans as a rehearsal tool.

The Death Peak Live tour has been on the road since March. The dancers have already visited eight countries as part of the tour (seven more countries are to come before November). Although Clark came to Melbourne, the venue couldn’t accommodate the full production. Lane is hopeful that there’s be another opportunity to bring the full show to Australia.

Meanwhile, inspired by her experiences with Death Peak Live, she is premiering a new work with music by Clark at the Melbourne Artshouse Season 2 Program in August 2017. The new piece, Nightdance, is for three performers plus guest cameo appearances which she won’t reveal. If you’re tantalised to see her work, grab your chance.

- EMMA SANDALL

Nightdance runs from August 24 to 27. See HERE

 

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