• Play. Photo: Koen Broos.
    Play. Photo: Koen Broos.
  • Spectra. Photo: Jennifer Large.
    Spectra. Photo: Jennifer Large.

Dancenorth/Batik: Spectra -
Space Theatre, 1 October -

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shantala Shivalingappa: Play -
Dunstan Playhouse, 2 October -

Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival is going from strength to strength: this year’s adventurous program of 40 major contemporary Asian and cross-cultural works saw attendance numbers hit an all-time high of 230,000. In a varied dance program, two major works stood out: the world premiere of Dancenorth/Batik’s Spectra, and the Australian premiere of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shantala Shivalingappa’s Play.

Inspired by the Buddhist idea of causality as the overarching principle of the universe, Spectra is the fruit of a four–year collaboration between Kyle Page and Amber Haines of Dancenorth, and Mamike Oe and Rie Teranishi from the Japanese Butoh company Batik. This is truly a collaborative project, with Page credited with the concept, Page and Haines with direction, and all six dancers jointly credited with the choreography. Jiro Matsumoto composed the score and accompanied the performance superbly on guitar and vocals, and digital artist Tatsuo Miyajima’s set, comprising twinkling LED numbers suspended from the flies, underpins the theme of randomness versus causality nicely.

At fifty minutes, this is a perfectly realised work, with every element fused into a seamless whole. From the initial section’s use of ropes to explore the connections between individuals and groups, introduced by Alasdair Macindoe’s rippling solo, though a percussive duet for two women, Amber Haines’s mesmerising segment exploring momentum, her long hair and fringed top whipping through the air, the movement is constantly wedded to exploring how one event leads to the next and was beautifully executed. The ensemble section, in which all six dancers explore the possibilities of sequential movement whilst their arms remain linked, is a highlight. The movement vocabulary is contemporary, with the Butoh element coming through in the use of slow motion and facial expressions. All in all, Spectra is a deeply satisfying experience, and bodes well for Dancenorth under Page’s direction.

In his short but prolific career, Flemish-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has been noted for cross-cultural works. At the urging of the late Pina Bausch, to whom this work is dedicated, Play has him working with Indian Kuchipudi dancer Shantala Shivalingappa, last seen here in Shaun Parker’s I Am. Both are credited with choreography, and there is a delightful chemistry between them as they explore the various permutations of the verb “to play”: playing roles, playing jokes, playing board games, playing the piano, playing with marionettes, and so forth.

The work is beautifully staged, making use of warmly hued wooden panels for both the backdrop, and for the mobile platforms on which the four musicians are moved around. Playing a range of instruments, from piano to percussion, violin and various Eastern instruments, and singing in a number of languages, Patrizia Bovi, Gabriele Miracle, Olga Wojciechowska and Tsubasa Hori were simply stunning, adding immeasurably to the richness of the work. Lieve Meeussen’s costumes are unobtrusive, being mainly dark-toned street clothes; the most potent visual element comes from Paul Van Caudenberg’s video projections of board games on the floor and backdrop.

As they play, the focus shifts back and forth between Cherkaoui and Shivalingappa. She initiates the exchange with exquisite Kuchipudi dance moves, which he then imitates, first rather stiffly but then with growing mastery. He counters with his own free form contemporary dance—fluid, swift and supple—that she endeavors to copy. A sense of freedom and exuberance pervades the work as roles are exchanged: the dancers speak and frequently break into song, the musicians join them in a percussive hand dance, and in a brief moment of audience participation Cherkaoui dances with a woman seated in the front row. There are some parts that don’t work so well: the marionette episode starts well but becomes laboured, and Shivalingappa’s feel-good monologue about happiness is clichéd and rather too earnest in light of the theme of play, although it is expertly delivered.

Overall, though, this is a joyful work from two consummate multi-talented performers that received a standing ovation: the musical encore that followed left the audience even more elated. Not to be missed.

Maggie Tonkin

Click on thumbnails for photo credits and captions. Top: Play, photo: Koen Broos.

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