And Now We Move On
Playhouse, Arts Centre, Melbourne
Reviewed January 12
After a delay in its premiere and much work being done by Zoom, Project Animo finally opened with "And Now We Move On", its premiere season. For all sorts of reasons, it is even better than expected – and expectations were indeed high. Take the magical alchemy of a top Australian Ballet choreographer and recently retired company dancer, together with a world renowned lighting artist and Australian Ballet director of technical and production. Add a literal need to move on, then some of the finest dancers and musicians in the land, and it is hard to imagine anything but perfection.
The creatives who birthed Project Animo are Alice Topp and Jon Buswell. Together they have created a space for talent to find its next level through the exploration of choreographic ideas, fine bodies and minds, and the luxury of completely original music to energise the performances.
Project Animo’s creatives are all mature artists, and it shows in the choreographic vision, the musical compositions and in the nine bodies on stage – strong, assured, expressive and completely in command. Five works were featured, with the program culminating in a substantial new work by Topp.
Starting the program is Cass Mortimer-Eipper’s Kinetic Gestalt. Its inception was a computer algorithm, but the temper of the work is very human. A piece for seven dancers, it is impressive to know that the choreographer worked remotely via Zoom and improvised with individual dancers before loosening and transforming the algorithmic patterns into its final gestalt. Movements are often initiated with the arms, then legs fold and hook. There is fluidity and wheeling turns, groupings and contrasting pairings. The work begins and ends in silence; meanwhile the composition for guitar (by Marco Cher-Gibard) develops across various moods, sometimes gentle and later crescendo-ing and clashing. This is an impressively structured work.
Deborah Brown is a renowned former Bangarra Dance Theatre member, a beautiful dancer and recently a screen director. Her work, Waves, brings the focus onto an individual who is duetting with the tides of identity. Madeleine Eastoe was the soloist, both part of, and separate from, the tides that bear her and swallow her. The dancer is at first inseparable from the cloth of blue sea and forges beautiful, intricate shapes from her lying position – her back arches, she writhes, twists and finally emerges. The music, by George Bokaris, builds, simmers and swells as Eastoe leaps and turns – seldom fully losing contact with her sea. Eastoe was in spellbinding form – passionately expressive and strong yet vulnerable to the force of the wave.
The program has a second solo, this time danced by Chimene Steele-Prior. In Real Life is choreographed by the incredibly gifted Kristina Chan. It is a meditative work that moves slowly and with purpose but somehow fails to engage as perhaps it would in another program. The movement language is quite loose and minimal, and it shares characteristics of design with Wave, in that a single female dancer enacts her solo alone with only a mound of textile to interact with. Steele-Prior nonetheless sustains her performance with focus and intent. Again, the music, by James Brown, is evocative. Whips of sound and bursts of insect song evoke a mysterious nightscape.
Separating these solos is a fun piece of fashion frippery called Egotist by first time choreographer, Izzac Carroll, a dancer with SDC and Studio Wayne McGregor. A line-up of underwear-clad figures search frenetically for the right "outfit" to be seen in. They then exhibit their quirky ensembles. The music by Louis Frere-Harvey has an up-beat doof-doof feel. The work moves through several moods and maintains interest for the most part though it could be slicker and would benefit from editing in later stages.
Alice Topp’s Patina was the work that we had been waiting for and it delivered on all our hopes. Topp has a natural gift for sculpting bodies and taking advantage of the extraordinary facility and range of her dancers. The magnificent score is by Bryony Marks and starts with a simple repeated piano note. Audible breaths follow. Later come vocalisations and singing by mezzo soprano Dimity Shepherd and jazz vocalist Julie O’Hara. It is glorious. The recorded music is performed by the Impossible Orchestra, conducted by Brett Kelly.
Patina follows individual stories told through varied pairings and solos. Accentuated long legs developpe and suspend effortlessly. Lifts and swirls lead into weightless presages. Gorgeous fluidity is second nature. The partnering is precise, strong and poised. I was taken by the long, languorous movements of Izzac Carroll and his origami-like folding and unfolding body. Seeing the refined strength and attack of the other males – Andrew Killian, Rudy Hawkes and David Mack – was a treat. The women – Madeleine Eastoe, Laura Hidalgo, Jill Ogai, Shimene Steele-Prior and Josie Weise – showed strength, fluidity and style in the different moods of the work. Both men and women melded in the extravagant entanglements of the choreography.
Like many of the works on the program, Patina reflects on identity and age. The focus on "moving on" in this program provokes in me a small smile, as we see nine dancers of tremendous energy, verve and youthfulness share their prowess. We can be confident that they are transitioning into rich next chapters.
– SUSAN BENDALL
(All photos are by Lynette Wills.)
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