ADT - Be Your Self

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Southbank Theatre, Melbourne
August 2

For a dancework to endure it has to speak to something relatable and do so in a way that is memorable. Humans seldom tire of focusing on themselves as a way of understanding who we are. Australian Dance Theatre's Be Your Self has toured extensively since its premier in 2010 and finally revealed itself to Melbourne audiences last week.

Be Your Self is an audacious work that fragments and dismembers the biological self in a way that still feels fresh and involving. As always, Garry Stewart's choreography is full of body-slamming attack and breathless momentum. The nine dancers are wonderfully athletic and versatile, moving from liquid fluidity through cranking mechanical jerks to jolting, electrically charged mania.

Be Your Self takes a microscope to the notion of self, exploring its multiple facets. Starting from the anatomical complexity of small physical movements, it moves to consider voluntary and involuntary physiological processes as well as the emotional, hormonal and cellular aspects that constitute the self.

Commentary by actor Cathy Adamek starts right at the beginning of the work and serves to situate the dance as an observation and investigation rather than simply an expression of the concept of self. A catalogue of anatomical actions is recited while being performed by a dancer. These commentaries recur throughout the performance. Although I didn't really enjoy this aspect of Be Your Self and in fact found it rather irritating, I can see how it provides anchoring points for stages of the exploration.

The narrative elements become looser as the work progresses and sheer impulse and biological imperative take over. This is the strength of the work, where bodies collide and are driven by a multiplicity of forces. Sometimes the dancers seem little more than bodily cogs that together form a whole but which are atomised and dysfunctional alone. The dance often conveys a sense of the body as a collection of involuntary reflexes that lack a conscious governing force or individual agency.

Highlights of the work include the sheer choreographic range that supports its theme and the energy and precision of the dancers. The pace of the work kept the audience engaged throughout the journey.

The musical score by Brendan Woithe is in constant flux and ranges from hinge-creaking, mechanical, industrial and electrical impulses to very musical passages. The costumes by Gael Mellis are quirky and foreground gender as a key part of identity. I am not sure that this conscious gendering is necessary but the otherwise androgynous white tunics work well on all the bodies. Set design is by DS+R and is very effective, especially when it highlights body parts that are objectified, dismembered from one another, reassembled and defamiliarised.

It is always terrific to see major interstate companies touring and giving us all a chance to see their repertoire.


 The photo above is by Chris Herzfeld.

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