• If Form Was Shifted by Ross McCormack. Photo: Amber Haines
    If Form Was Shifted by Ross McCormack. Photo: Amber Haines
  • If Never Was Now by Stephanie Lake. Photo: Amber Haines.
    If Never Was Now by Stephanie Lake. Photo: Amber Haines.

Dancenorth: If_Was_

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Dancenorth: "If_Was_"
Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, 23 June

Research into cognitive processes and neuroscience regularly informs the creative processes of Dancenorth’s artistic director Kyle Page, and was therefore also the catalyst for this intriguing program of two works. Inspired by Mental Inspiration Theory, two choreographers, Ross McCormack and Stephanie Lake, were challenged by Page to select from the same score, use the same costume pattern, utilise lighting from the same design, and create a work of a set duration that thematically filled in the blanks to the program’s title If_Was_.

Page’s belief that the human mind is biologically predisposed to draw from personal experiences to create unique “sensory representations of objects, concepts and ideas”, sustained his conviction that he wouldn’t end up with two similar works – and he didn’t.

McCormack’s If Form Was Shifted, created in collaboration with the dancers and composer Robin Fox, is, according to notes, “an exploration of the thought process structured through group manipulation.” The body at odds with its purpose, and as a device grappling with its complexities and placement, are starting points for McCormack. This results in movement that is sparse, minutely detailed and articulate, sometimes quite virtuosic, but other times pathetically tortured looking, as the dancers imitate movement and then manipulate that construct in each other.

The work begins with a mesmerising solo downstage by Mason Kelly, while the remaining four dancers are statically posed centre, around an array of speakers. His minutely detailed manipulation of fingers and hands develop in intensity to involve the whole body, in tortured-looking, popping and locking styled movement.

The solo evolves into a duet with Ashley McLellan, where the disjointed robotic movement, including facial contortions, reveals a fascinating new language, which is ultimately embraced by the remaining dancers.

All five dancers are in black or grey loose tracksuit styled garb, and together with the dim lighting design and Fox’s throbbing, percussive electronic score, which builds in intensity, the work has rather raw dystopian overtones, where the dancers appear more humanoid than human. It made riveting theatre!

Lake’s If Never Was Now, a surreal exploration of survival, symbiosis and rebirth within the “beauty and brutality of the natural world”, has the dancers, not as humanoids, but as other continually metamorphosing creatures. It is a light, at times quite whimsical peak, at a strange world of Lake’s and the dancers’ making.

In Lake’s work the lighting is brighter and less tightly focussed, the section of the score used, while percussive, has none of the throbbing intensity of McCormack’s section, and the dancers’ tracksuit bottoms in shades of pink add vibrant splashes of colour to an otherwise monochromatic palette.

Broader, more fluid movement, including use of unison also differentiates, however elements of the robotic, mimicry and group manipulation indicate threads of commonality in the movement between the two works.

If Never Was Now was the more visually compelling work, beginning with two dancers centre stage on a solid circle of white beanbag beads. Visual and textural interest is created as the beads are dispersed, drifting in waves across the stage to reveal ‘pools’ of empty black tarkett. At other times the beads stick to the dancers’ skin, adding further textural interest.

Remarkable in both works however, was the raw athleticism and artistry of the tightly cohesive Dancenorth dancers. Kelly and McLellan, together with Harrison Hall, Jenni Large and Georgia Rudd, are all fascinating to watch – it’s impossible to single out one over the other. Obviously committed, they also seem energised by the enthusiasm of Page and the creative opportunities offered by Dancenorth’s ambitious commissioning of new works by award winning choreographers. This double bill demonstrated the legitimacy of that ambition.


"If_Was_" heads to the Substation in Melbourne 29 June - 2 July.

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