Gold Coast, 7 April
Festival 2018 is the cultural program devised to sit alongside the Commonwealth Games in a two-week long schedule of arts and culture. Showcasing Queensland’s (and Australia’s) creative industries sector, 1,000 events feature more than 1,400 artists, according to the official on-line guide, positioning it (also according to the guide) to be one of the biggest and most memorable festivals ever staged in Queensland.
Reading this guide for the first time, I was impressed with the range and diversity of performances on offer – mostly free and of short duration – spread across the two main centres of Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach. (There are also performances and events scheduled for Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville.) Dance in many forms, was very well represented.
Previous commitments and horror predictions about the traffic to and from Brisbane persuaded me to set aside the Saturday only to see two of the works on offer, Restless Dance’s Intimate Space, and The Ninth Wave, by The Farm. As it turned out, the traffic was non-existent, and the streets barely humming with people.
First stop was the Hilton, checking in via a process of charm and whimsy, for Intimate Space, conceived and directed by Michelle Ryan. Premiering at the 2017 Adelaide Festival, (see Maggie Tonkin’s review here) the site specific Intimate Space has been slightly reworked for the Surfers Paradise Hilton, but audience numbers are still limited to under 12, guaranteeing an intimate experience all round.
Bellboy (Ashton Malcolm) shows us a set of written instructions, intriguingly embroidered on different parts of his uniform, before we are taken in silence by the lift to the 14th Floor, and a darkened bedroom where two dancers (Kathryn Evans and Michael Hodyl) interact with a deft, understated intimacy that was both touching and amusing. We are then silently directed by a series of “concierges” through the labyrinthine corridors of the Hilton’s back-of house, with pit stops for individual performances at the laundry, the lifts, and the kitchen, directed in this space by a fearsome and fearless hatchet wielding Amber Smith, who demanded of one audience member the making of a tomato sandwich, which she then consumed with gusto.
All too soon we are back at the bar, looking down on the lobby, where the juxtaposition of unknowing hotel guests and performers both intrigues and enriches, as the dancers, both with and without disability, create a fabulous flash dance scenario to the evocative, whispered soundscape of Jason Sweeney.
Intimate Space is a beautifully crafted piece of theatre – tender, witty, challenging, and whimsical. Rightly, the short season was sold out.
The Ninth Wave, appropriately set on the Surfers Paradise beach after dark, is grand in physical scale and in its apocalyptic theme – the end of the world is nigh but the champagne swilling adults are immune to the warning signs.
The audience sits on the edge of the sand facing out to the darkened sea and the vast performance space of the beach, littered with a half-buried car and other detritus. Arched street lamps cut off at their waists and embedded in the sand, provide lighting, as do banks of spotlights, and in the more intimate moments, torches. The live soundscape by Ben Ely blasts out and at times successfully obscures the white noise of the pounding surf, while at other times the surf dominates.
Sixteen dancers, representing both the adults and youth (as young hope), cover the space with organically conceived movement that is at times wild and fearless – the sand guaranteeing soft landings for some high-risk contact work. One lovely moment had the dancers seemingly blown like tumbleweed across the sandy expanse, and another striking sequence saw the dancers climbing and falling off ladders, in a slow progression up the beach.
Gavin Weber (The Farm) has created a visually striking piece of theatre with The Ninth Wave, which, with some judicious pruning of the longer segments, will hopefully see another season.
This week will see more performances on the Coast that well deserve a look. So if you’re able, get down there for the day and enjoy. Program details at www.gc2018.com/festival2018
– DENISE RICHARDSON
Pictured top: 'The Ninth Wave': In a stirking sequence, dancers climb and fall off ladders. Photo: Scott Belzner.