Earl Arts Centre, Launceston, 8 August
Formed in 2011, MakeShift began as a collective of graduates from Queensland University of Technology or WAAPA's Link Dance Company, committed to contributing to a diverse independent dance community. Since then, MakeShift's artistic directors Caitlin and Gabriel Comerford have found themselves deeply connected to the two contemporary companies based in Launceston, Tasmania. Caitlin is artistic director of Stompin; Gabriel performs and creates works for Tasdance and is currently acting artistic director of Stompin.
Amidst all this activity, the development of Absence of Light has been a slow burn. Joined by Amelia Stokes, the Comerfords have dipped in and out of its creative evolution over a period of six years. Research intensives have refined the work to its current 45-minute form.
Mental health is a topic that, until relatively recently, most shied away from. Moved by personal contact with the darkness of depression and anxiety, Absence of Light aims to shine a light on a portion of life’s experiences where there is little or none.
Absence of Light opens with two figures (Amelia Stokes and Gabriel Comerford) blasted by white light. Working their way around a central table, the two dancers are quite childlike in a vocal competition to outdo each other in their pretend worlds. Manipulating items from a pile of clothes they morph from monster to magician, only to reach a point where Comerford wraps himself into a cocoon of invisibility.
Back in the central space the dialogue shifts to focus on imagery relating to "the man he thinks he should be". Again, a blast of white light and an unseen force pushes Comerford off balance and into darkness.
Downstage, Stokes gingerly balances on the tops of glass jars. A different audio "memory" emanates as she slowly unscrews the top of each glass jar until voices overlap in a cacophony of sound. Another blast of white light blows Stokes back into the darkness.
Now pinned under the table, we find Comerford locked in a cycle of preparation of anticipation and expectation. The vocalisation of the four items of clothing he needs to put on translates into his torso, building muscular tension and distorted limbs; frustration increasing with each cycle.
Finally relenting and clothing himself, Comerford’s solo is an exploration of bodily possibilities but this freedom is short lived as repetition again kicks in creating less-fluid, confused and broken sequences. Another blast and the vocals give way to violent movement.
Now more like a rag doll Comerford is manipulated by Stokes; thrown, rolled, folded and dragged, his understated capabilities are clearly at play in a dance of close calls. Controlled by another’s intentions, Comerford’s relaxed fluidity is unnerving. Finally released, he is forced to respond to dominant physical demands, as items are thrown like morsels. He is never quite able to keep up.
The power play briefly reverses, and it is Stokes who is manipulated and who again tests her endurance, on precariously scattered jars, while a monologue describes the physical manifestations of obsession and compulsion.
Returning to non-verbal imagery, the next sections utilise an SOS light and a disorienting bodiless shirt to pierce an otherwise dark stage. The jars, now lit from inside, create a limitless other-worldly, watery environment where Stokes and Comerford appear to float, spiral and occasionally gasp for air. Their fluid near-unison duo is accompanied by occasional disturbingly piercing sounds.
Bathed in calm light, parts of this sequence seem to defy gravity and the movement shifts to the construction of a pathway made of jars. This time close and connected, each jar is placed carefully creating a stable base for individual balancing. The precariousness of the task is now shared and the burden of the bundle of props supported on a raft of light.
The audience is quiet and the stage still, as applause is delayed with the image that remains. This contemplative work is rich in imagery and performed with conviction. Its creation has clearly been a journey and there may still be more paths to tread in moving forward, but the aesthetic choices are clear in the combination of text and movement, simple props and the use of light. I look forward to seeing where this piece goes next.
- Lesley Graham
Pictured top are Gabriel Comeford and Amelia Stokes in 'Absence of Light'. Photo: Lusy Productions.