• Cypher. Photo: Prudence Upton
    Cypher. Photo: Prudence Upton
  • Cypher. Photo: Prudence Upton
    Cypher. Photo: Prudence Upton
  • Double Blind. Photo: Pippa Samaya
    Double Blind. Photo: Pippa Samaya
  • Double Blind. Photo: Pippa Samaya.
    Double Blind. Photo: Pippa Samaya.

Stephanie Lake Company: Double Blind -
Bay 20, Carriageworks, 21 January -

Nick Power, Cypher -
Riverside Theatre, 20 January -

Australian choreographer Stephanie Lake’s Double Blind is one of the most interesting and thought provoking works of this year’s Sydney Festival. Inspired by real world psychological experiments from the 1960s, it explores the conflict between personal ethics of behaviour and obedience to those in authority. Such specific and narrow themes are not always successfully conveyed through dance but in this case Stephanie Lake’s choreography does so with eloquence. Crucially assisting her vision, the elements of costume, lighting and music all come together to convey the sterile and impersonal atmosphere of a laboratory.

Composer of the work’s electronic score, Robin Fox, is seated on a raised platform with his equipment immediately to the left of the performance space and his presence as an authority figure or a neutrally observing researcher is implied by this positioning. At times the dancers use what appear to be electric cords that are attached to the electronic equipment to administer ‘shocks’ to each other. Initially this is humorous but over the course of the work it becomes more disturbing. On Thursday night a feeling of unease spread over the audience who were, in their own way, just another panel of neutral observers.

The relatively small cast of four dancers impressed with their tightly rehearsed, physically demanding movement. Some of their movements appeared mechanised and robotic, as if the four dancers were connecting cogs and pistons in a larger piece of machinery, while contrasting sections introduced more lyrical and expressive movement. A duet between Alisdair Macindoe and Amber Haines was particularly memorable, but all four dancers - including Alana Everett and Kyle Page, gave strong performances.

Moving from contemporary dance to hip hop, Nick Power’s Cypher also uses a cast of four dancers and an electronic score. This time it is all about sharing the ritual experience of the cypher, or circle of onlookers, with an audience who may never before have had the opportunity to experience it.

The traditional division between performers on stage and audiences seated in the auditorium was eschewed by bringing the fire curtain down and using the large Riverside Theatre Stage as an open space. Before entering, audience members were told they would need to stay standing behind the masking tape that separated the performers’ space from our own. What emerged in the performance itself was the repeated shifting of this line by tearing up the previous tape and putting down a new one. As the audience drew closer to an increasingly small performance space, their engagement with the performance grew stronger as did their enjoyment and appreciation of each dancer’s impressive moves.

The four dancers, Stevie G, Blue, Taz and Akorn were all skilled technically, at times seemingly defying gravity with their speed and strength. What made their performance especially enjoyable was their palpable enjoyment of movement and their generosity in sharing this with a diverse audience. Interaction was encouraged, but not demanded. With Cypher Nick Power has choreographed an engaging and entertaining work that gives a window into hip hop dance not only as a technique, but to the wider cultural and community activities in which it originated.



Top photo: Double Blind. Photo: Pippa Samaya.

Double Blind photos: Pippa Samaya. Cypher photos: Prudence Upton. Click on thumbnails for captions.

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