Reviewed September 7
Reviewed September 8
With Queensland still stoically avoiding a Covid lockdown, the Brisbane Festival, thankfully, has again gone ahead. Although certainly not of a pre-Covid scale, this year’s Festival is still a joyous affair – a beacon of hope in an otherwise glum artistic landscape. Again, of necessity but unashamedly, it has a mainly local focus, with dance featuring often in the mix.
Both Dancenorth and Karul Projects presented works that were rich in allegory – entertaining but thought provoking, they were the perfect fare for these times.
Karul Project’s Director and Choreographer, Thomas E. S. Kelly, has again fused his own cultural practice with contemporary movement and voice to create an engaging but provocative work. Weredingo introduces a fictional world where shapeshifters are hunted for their duality, meeting in secret to safely shift into their animal forms and congregate with their feathered or furry brethren.
Frank (Grayson Millwood) as a kind of master of ceremonies, welcomes the audience to the shapeshifters’ meeting, a place for people to connect with like-minded others. “Come in, grab a biccy and a cuppa. All shapes and kinds are accepted here.”
Rehearsal Director Taree Sansbury, Benjin Maza and Kelly, all as shapeshifters, join the meeting. However, Frank is ultimately revealed as an outsider, and therefore unqualified to support and help, even though, as his children and wife are shapeshifters, he believes he has empathy.
The work’s structure is episodic, where moments of spoken text, often humorous, clearly advance the narrative, interspersed by expressive and interpretive movement. Messages about indigenous reconciliation and self-determination are easily drawn, with credit going to dramaturg Isaac Drandic for facilitating this clarity.
As always, Kelly’s movement is grounded in the traditional – fluidly rising and falling with broad reaching movements of the arms, but also infused with a contemporary dance flavour. Percussive stamps and claps punctuate the choreography.
Adding another layer to the narrative, three screens placed upstage for the projection of monochromatic images illustrate various shapeshifting moments as well as indigenous tales about native animals. An evocative soundscape by Sam Pankhurst incorporates sounds of wildlife, adding yet another element to the mix.
In Weredingo Kelly again draws in his audience, making his point with insightful wit, terrific dancing but, above all, masterful storytelling.
Dancenorth had originally scheduled its world premiere season of RED for Melbourne’s Rising festival in May, but lockdown forced its closure after one performance. It is a win for Brisbane that the Queensland season proceeded.
Conceived, directed and choreographed by Dancenorth Associate Artistic Director Amber Haines and Artistic Director and co-CEO Kyle Page and RED illuminates the universal challenge of our survival, made more potent by the current Covid situation.
Tens of thousands of years ago, a genetic mutation gave rise to red hair in humans. Now apparently, they are a dying breed. RED uses this fact to make an allegoric reference to a contracting world where biodiversity is being suffocated and silenced.
A disused warehouse, reconceived as an edgy performance venue adjacent to the Hamilton reach of the Brisbane River, has the audience seated in tiers on either side of a rectangular space.
Two red-haired dancers, Marlo Benjamin, and Nelson Earl, in neutrally toned sweatpants and tops (design Harriet Oxley), sit entwined on the floor, cocoon-like, inside a huge cylindrical bubble of clear plastic. Clever lighting design renders the audience opposite invisible.
The movement begins slowly – considered, dense in its detail, but deceptively simple. Writhing across the space, the dancers evoke a mesmerising amoebic quality as their bodies unite then separate, hands exploring each other’s physique with light tapping movements. This construct evolves into a spinning and twisting away from each other, progressing to jagged staccato movements, all skilfully delivered.
A seemingly endless repetition of frenzied head rolling that builds to a screeching crescendo is quite alarming to watch. It’s an unqualified tour de force by the dancers. The subsequent stillness is a relief, then it becomes apparent that the bubble is slowly deflating.
The dancers’ ensuing fight to survive is, of course, fruitless, their “demise” making riveting viewing as they become trapped, naked and shrink-wrapped.
RED is another remarkably conceived work by Page and Haines. Densely layered, its apparent simplicity belies the complexity of thought and design underpinning the work. From the movement construct to the urgency of Alisdair Macindoe’s soundscape, incorporating music by Ellen Arkbro and Sara Black’s vocals, as well as the undoubted design complexities of the inflatable structure navigated by consultant David Cross, RED is a work that entertains but also challenges the viewer to think and to care.
– DENISE RICHARDSON