Hofesh in the Yard
State Theatre Centre of WA Courtyard
Heath Ledger Theatre
Hofesh in the Yard is a short, sharp program of two works by contemporary Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter. His seminal 2006 sensation Uprising, and a “new poetic re-iteration” of his 2015 piece tHE bAD, are both set to multi-skilled Hofesh’s own composition and sound design. Referred to as a “global master of rock’n’roll performance” his distinctive work - with its disruptive, contradictory aesthetic - is a welcome inclusion in Perth Festival director Iain Grandage’s impressive dance line-up.
Pre-performance warnings of “haze, loud noise and explicit lyrics” and a harsh, breeze-less Perth evening did not deter the supportive, vociferous crowd on opening night. Twelve independent dance artists (among them 10 WAAPA alumni), perform in the round under the stars, on a built stage in the enclosed courtyard space of Perth’s State Theatre Centre. Audiences choose from several viewing-points standing around the stage at ground level, mosh-pit style, almost within touching distance of the dancers - providing a visceral connection. Alternatively, there is seating upstairs in the gallery with a fairly low-flying bird’s-eye view of a multitude of patterns, formations and images created on the stage.
Uprising opens the program as seven men in casual clothing appear through shadowy smoke. To a heavily percussive soundscape they flood the stage with aggressive, dynamic, ever-changing, fast, athletic dance, counterbalanced by occasional pauses and silent, still moments, dancers balancing in yoga-like asanas. Robust wrestling and military-precise unison are matched by increasing decibel levels as the dancers create a human sculptural pyramid and boldly wave a red flag.
After interval, tHE bAD, with a cast of 10 dancers (five women, five men) in revealing, light-gold, shimmering, body-hugging unitards, circle, skip, clap, and grapple aggressively. Their rapid, slick configurations to the sound and fury of ear-splitting vibrating, electronics are counterbalanced by stately, restrained Baroque music and dance, and end in a sustained, controlled pose.
Transmitting good vibrations literally, musically and physically in the sultry night, the dancers powered though the heat superbly with finesse and focus, calling on every ounce of stamina to deliver a outstanding performance.
Teaċ Daṁsa’s MÁM, was created by Michael Keegan-Dolan in collaboration with the company. Multi-layered and redolent with passion, spirit, cadence, myth and mystery, it is an exceptional, organic convergence of ideas, movement, music and imagery, woven with strands of eccentric humour and contradictions. MÁM follows last year’s Perth Festival highlight Teaċ Daṁsa’s Loch na hEala and is equally extraordinary, prescient, visionary and riveting. It was magnificently well-performed by the whole company, who received a heartfelt standing ovation on the opening night of this Australian exclusive season – what a coup for Perth Festival.
Teaċ Daṁsa (House of Dance) was founded by Michael Keegan-Dolan in 2016 to forge “deeper connections with the traditions, language and music of Ireland.” MÁM was conceived and created in West Kerry country by Keegan-Dolan, West Kerry concertina player-extraordinaire Cormac Begley, 12 international contemporary dancers (including three Australians – Latisha Sparks, James O’Hara and Tyler Carney) and seven classically-trained, genre-defying musicians from Berlin-based s t a r g a z ecollective - on oboe, bass oboe, bass flute, flute, piccolo flute, double bass, piano and keyboard, guitar, drums, French horn, trumpet, and violin. The production is strikingly lit by Adam Silverman and costume designs by Hyemi Shin are in perfect accord.
In smoky haze, MÁM begins with a young child in white communion dress lying on top of a table. A figure (Begley), in a black, rather terrifying ram’s head, plays disturbing, melancholy chords on a concertina. The thought that it is some sort of sacrificial ritual evaporates as the ram’s head is removed revealing an innocuous musician, and the child sits up and cheerfully munches on potato chips. But curtains tilt and fall (ingenious set designs by Sabine Dargent) revealing 12 masked, black-clad dancers, clapping, stomping and finger-clicking to Begley’s rhythms. They remove their masks and spring to their feet, with pliant, fluid bodies engulfing the stage in extreme, unnerving, frenetic physicality.
Disrupting the dance, tilting curtains fall to reveal s t a r g a z e musicians and their impressive plethora of instruments. Contrasting forces unite, the stage becomes a village hall celebration with a decidedly off-kilter edge, thrilling and exhilarating to watch, veering from aggressive sparring to romantic comic interludes, sweating, panting, laughing, hair flying. The child (Ellie Poirier-Dolan in a remarkable performance), observes it all un-phased, participates and interacts at times but remains an enigmatic presence open to interpretation as a final curtain tilts and falls, generating an astonishing, mind-blowing, wildly beautiful, apocalyptic finale.
The word “mám” is commonly used to refer to a mountain pass. “It’s both an escape route and an accessible entrance-way, but can also be a place of danger, with ferocious funnelled winds and risk of exposure to the elements.” Teaċ Daṁsa’s MÁM takes us through all of these experiences on an untamed, unforgettable journey.
- MARGARET MERCER