Dance at Melbourne Fringe
This year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival promised to be bigger and better than ever, with 500 shows and experiences on offer; choosing what to see over the 19 days of the festival is a bewildering experience. So many of the shows have exclusive short seasons and share performance times. Luckily the two major dance performance institutions in Melbourne have assembled their programs to allow for audiences to attend multiple offerings. A smorgasbord of quality is proffered at both Dancehouse and Temperance Hall, the feat is deciding how many to see in one night.
On Saturday 14th October, Temperance Hall, the South Melbourne home to Philip Adams’ Ballet Lab programmed two contemporary dance pieces, 《一》by Shian Law and Dunes Rolling Down Dunes by Benjamin Hurley. The former is a dance autobiography, delving into the choreographer’s passion for calligraphy. It is a complex work that challenges cultural atavism. Law danced on the night in dark attire with fleeting footwork, arched arms, and serpentine movements to a Sofia Coppola-esque soundtrack. Law is a self-confessed experimental ‘badass’ when it comes to choreography, and their weaving of intricate calligraphic, mathematical, and philosophical concepts into their choreography is original and provocative. There is something so stylised about their movement, like the Chinese characters they reference in their work, their body describing a deft, inky score in the box-like space of Temperance Hall.
The next offering of the evening was Hurley’s Dunes Rolling Down Dunes, a hotly anticipated next installment in their work following last year’s UpAndUpAndUpAndUp. ‘An eerie yet beautifully complex and meditative sensorial experience’, promises the blurb of Dunes Rolling Down Dunes, and the work certainly lives up to this. Hurley has developed this work over the past two years, the result of several dance residencies in the outback and in Europe. There is a uniquely sublime beauty in Hurley’s movements, and in this performance, they radiate with a beatific quality under the subdued lighting, moving harmoniously with Arabella Frahn-Starkie in the half- light. Hurley enlisted a dreamy team of composers Robert Downie and Oliver Cox, costume designer Geoffrey Watson and set designer Matthew Bird to create this beautiful montage; it has the mesmeric quality of a desert mirage at times. Both the dancers light-footedly spun and galloped under a billowy, cloud-like ceiling of sheets. The work feels like a tender serenade to connection and beauty. The soft, live capricious bells and horns of Robert Downie and Oliver Cox enhancing this sentiment, the floaty, feathery flashes of bright red from Watson’s costumes entrancing the eyes. A moment of serene beauty in the notoriously provocative Fringe Festival.
Dancehouse also has a selection of new commissions for Fringe, showing some interesting cultural variety and bold choreographic practice. Rhys Ryan’s Sermon premiered in their first week selection. A contemporary dance piece exploring the ‘choreographic codes of religion’. To plaintive monasterial singing and the tolling of bells, three dancers, Jazmyn Carter, Anika De Ruyter and Momoko Nanri dance with abandon, in front of church-like edifices, reflective and anxious-seeming at the same time. In their choreographic nods to religious devotion, Ryan seems to have created a mesmeric impression, and contemplative viewing.
Also last week, Dancehouse programmed object-shun by Erin O’Rourke, performed with the choreographer Rachel Mackie. The stage was a gloomily lit abattoir of mannequin parts, as the two dancers moved like automata across the stage. The work seems to comment upon the objectification of the female body in late-stage capitalism, and is at once disturbing as it is meditative to watch. Another work that dissected the body and its cultural images was Tits Out, by Shelley O’Meara, a show entirely dedicated to explore the ways in which these body parts have been ‘celebrated, sexualised, shamed and desired’. Dancehouse also managed to include two culturally diverse works in the week's offerings, with Why Runs The Abhisarika? By Priyanka Jain, and Oh Sheila, by Ashley Goh, Beverley Li, Tiffany Nung.
Jain’s work blended English spoken-word poetry with Indian dance to explore the character of the Abhisarika, a bold and fearless woman who runs into the night to meet her secret lover. It was a playful and colourful performance, celebrating the vibrancy of a reclaimed ancestral myth. Goh, Li and Nung perform the intensely physical Oh Sheila, a dance piece that sets out to contest common understandings of place and time and takes inspiration from time-bending technologies, such as time-lapse photography and stop-motion animation. The dancers were skilled and pin-sharp in their performance and engaging for the eye, and the foot, to tap along to their hip hop and electronica score.
The Fringe’s dance offerings this year so far have been marked by a liveliness and playfulness, a relaxation across genre and concepts and a blending of several elements, from spoken word, to live instruments, to symbolic props. In Melbourne Fringe’s biggest year since it began, the themes of cultural democracy and freedom of expression feel stronger than ever.