Australian Dance Theatre
Odeon Theatre, Adelaide.
Early in the Covid-19 lockdown, when Australian Dance Theatre’s dancers were all stuck at home taking class over Zoom, artistic director, Garry Stewart, hit on the idea of turning the situation into a creative opportunity. With funding obtained from the SA state government, ADT commissioned ten choreographers and ten composers to create a series of 5-10 minute dance works, each to be confined to a 2m x 2m stage.
Not only was this exactly the kind of space most of the dancers were confined to at home, but it also referenced the social distancing regulations that had suddenly reconfigured all of our lives. The choreographers and dancers, drawn from ADT as well as the Adelaide independent community, collaborated with each other and the composers using Zoom and mobile phones. Like the rest of us, they were forced to find new ways of working using the available technologies.
The resulting works make intriguingly different use of these spatial and temporal constraints. Not surprisingly, the most fully developed pieces come from the choreographers who already have the most runs under their belts. Lina Limosani’s Accession, a duet performed brilliantly by ADT dancers, Christopher Mills and Darci O’Rourke, is a stand-out exploration of the shifting power dynamic between two people.
Clad in black velvet onesies, the dancers moved as if locked together with their pale faces presented to the audience. Initially the male ruthlessly manipulated the female, his cupped hands forcing her head and upper body to obey, but she soon turned on him, biting and enacting her revenge. Stripped to underwear seemingly made of duct tape, the duet assumed sexual overtones but was never free from aggression. This was a compelling, highly theatrical work that could be developed further.
The other duet on the program, Jo Stone’s A New Scene Begins in the Dark, could also extend into a longer work. This is a narrative driven piece, with a voice-over that shifted from talking about superman to apocalypse as dancers, Harrison Elliot and Gabrielle Nankivell, enacted a fantasy of saving the world.
Thomas Fonua’s The Weeping Warrior, performed with tense conviction by Zoë Dunwoodie, also used voice, this time to explore the constraints of masculinity. Initially clad in his underwear, Dunwoodie’s self-talk as she assumed full male regalia of suit and tie underscored the emotional repression needed to "be a man". This work felt like it could be part of a bigger whole. Other solo works were more self-contained. Shapeless/Formless by Felicity Boyd, saw dancer, Rowan Rossi, grappling with spherical and pyramid-shaped cushions, his gestural movements morphing into intense shaking and juddering. The emotional tone shifted from fear and agitation to euphoria when he held the pyramid aloft like some object of reverence.
Matt Shilcock’s Preliminary also had dancer, Kimball Wong, wrestling with objects; in this case, a set of rubber floor tiles that he spread over the stage then retrieved. The only work to feature a live composer, Tobiah Booth-Remmer’s highly enjoyable Hammer, had Adelaide pianist and composer, Garbiella Smart, tapping, scraping and hammering on the strings of a stripped-down upright piano, as dancer, Sophie Stuut, juddering on the floor, slapped the piano’s side percussively.
Michelle Ryan’s work for Restless Dance Theatre dancer, Michael Hodyl, Ricky and Me, was a highlight, exploring Hodyl’s obsession with singer, Ricky Martin. Dapperly dressed in a three-piece suit, Hodyl is an engaging performer, who shimmied, manipulated his jacket like a matador, and made much of use of adroit and witty finger play to Latino beats. Unconscious Bias, by Gina Rings, is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and was beautifully performed by young indigenous dancer, Rikki Wilson Milera. Recurrent motifs of cowering with hands held behind the back, writing on the floor and gestures of defiance, captured the origins and spirit of the movement powerfully.
Here, Now by Kaine Sultan-Babij from Kurruru Arts Ensemble, was the only work performed by the choreographer, and it combined recognisably indigenous dance moves with more contemporary styles. The ending trailed off somewhat, but the performer had a very commanding presence and will be one to watch. In Thread, indigenous choreographer, Adrianne Semmens, explored weaving as a practice and a metaphor, with dancer, Janelle Egan, alternating between stillness and expansive swirling movements of the head and torso as she carried a small woven basket. The piece ended with a beautiful image of tiny white beads cascading like rain over the dancer’s body.
In sum, while this program showcased a wide range of choreographic styles and creative impulses, with some works having the potential for further development, it incontrovertibly bears out the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention.
– MAGGIE TONKIN