• Pictured: Georgia Rudd. Photo: Amber Haines
    Pictured: Georgia Rudd. Photo: Amber Haines

Brisbane Festival 2018
The Joinery, 18 September

Communal Table is a carefully crafted performance experience by Dancenorth that challenges our increasingly connected but disengaged world with its celebration and sharing of food, wine, conversation and dance. Conceived by Artistic Director Kyle Page and Associate Artistic Director Amber Haines, the work evolved over an intensely collaborative two-week creative period between the company’s eight dancers and eight choreographers – Page, Kristina Chan, Thomas E.S. Kelly, Melanie Lane, Jo Lloyd, Gabrielle Nankivell, Daniel Riley and Lee Serle. Composer Kelly Ryle created the soundscape, and the celebrated John Armstrong, Global Philosopher-in-Chief of The School of Life, worked alongside Page and Haines as co-collaborator.

Communal Table demands audience involvement which can be a hit and miss affair. However, every part of this performance has been conceived and "choreographed" with great care and insight. The evening exceeded all expectations and, together with the other 80 odd audience members, I emerged energised and uplifted.

Checking in at The Joinery, an inner West warehouse performance space, guests are asked to surrender bags and mobile phones – undoubtedly a challenge for some – in exchange for a colour and symbol coded lanyard. After mingling over a glass of champagne, we are asked to close our eyes, as individually, we are guided through a darkened passageway into the space, which soft ambient lighting, designed by Niklas Pijanti, makes warm and inviting. By matching our lanyards to place cards, the seating plan on each of the eight circular black tables, each seating twelve diners, is determined, and it is immediately obvious that friends and partners are to be split up.

Conversation, at first tentative among strangers, is encouraged by delicious share plates of Mediterranean-styled food, washed down with glasses of wine, which are regularly topped up by the solicitous wait-staff. In fact ushers and wait-staff all work collaboratively with the dancers to ensure a seamless experience.

A stack of cards of written prompts to encourage interaction, is given to each pair of diners and these challenge us in how much of ourselves we want to reveal, with questions such as, “Describe a defining moment or experience in your life that changed you?”

The performance proper begins when tables cleverly lower to floor level to become stages, guests seated around them. Jenni Large performed a solo co-created with Jo Lloyd for our particular table. It seemed to be a comment on the body and perceptions of image, sexuality, and violence, as it built to a relentless repetition of motifs of crotch clutching and hip thrusting. Despite the proximity of dancer to audience there was no eye connection from Large, and therefore what at first seemed mildly erotic rapidly became much less so, with the repetition. Glitter spread around her mouth was a reference to censorship perhaps.

A thought-provoking discussion followed the performance. Curated and guided by Large, different responses and comments about the piece were gently drawn from those around the table, as each brought their own lived experience to their interpretation. We were then encouraged to join her as she recreated a sequence of some of the motifs, until, with music blaring, we joined the rest of the guests in a mass of swirling gyrating bodies, like one giant mosh pit. It was an exhausting but exhilarating end to the two and a half hour event.

Page describes Communal Table as “the ultimate expression of collaboration” – between dancers, choreographers, composers, designers, builders, chefs and restaurant staff. The guests are also an essential part of that collaboration. The success of performance events like these therefore depends on an audience’s willingness to become engaged, but the Dancenorth team have designed each element of Communal Table with such care and forethought that non-participation does not seem an option. My only regret for the evening was that from where I was seated it was difficult to watch any of the dancers on other tables.


Pictured above: Georgia Rudd; Photo: Amber Haines.

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