• Michael Smith's 'Cowboy'. Photo by Anne Moffatt.
    Michael Smith's 'Cowboy'. Photo by Anne Moffatt.
  • One on one - a scene from Lewis Major's 'Lien'. Photo by Yo.
    One on one - a scene from Lewis Major's 'Lien'. Photo by Yo.
  • 'Two x Three'. Photo by Alessandro Botticelli.
    'Two x Three'. Photo by Alessandro Botticelli.

Parramatta Riverside Theatre
Reviewed July 5

Sixbythree is a festival of six dance works by three choreographers which was presented by Form Dance Projects and Riverside Theatre over two days. These works were presented in three different shows making it possible for audiences to mix and match multiple events and curate their own experience in just one visit to Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre.

Lewis Major’s Lien is an interesting proposition. One performer and one audience member come together for a 10-minute encounter on the Lennox Theatre stage, which stands empty except for two chairs. Following a short conversation the lone dancer performs for their sole audience member and the performance is over – the cycle completed. To me it felt not unpleasant but odd, to be the only audience member, and to be sitting onstage in the light facing darkened, empty rows of seats in the background. But, to each their own – it was an experience. Tickets to Lien were offered at 15-minute intervals and the one-on-one nature of this performance meant it was only available to a limited number of audience members.

Cowboy is created and performed by Michael Smith, and produced by Gold Coast-based The Farm. This interactive, solo contemporary-dance work took place in Riverside Theatre’s covered courtyard. As the audience milled around the space, Michael Smith entered, dressed in his cowboy costume and set off on a ride which felt genuine, spontaneous and humorous, with a healthy dose of self-mockery on the side. There was plenty of audience participation – guided and directed by Smith – and a particularly inventive scene that included two participants as the swinging saloon doors through which Smith entered into a bar and served imaginary drinks by another participant before getting ‘thrown around’ by several others. Smith wasn’t afraid to enter into the audience’s space sometimes moving so close that they had to move to make space for him, rearranging themselves into new groups as he moved around the courtyard space.

The music composition (Ben Ely) and sound design (Anna Whitaker) was highly effective and evocative of a range of places one might associate with the ‘cowboy’ trope. I liked also how Smith creatively incorporated pre-existing elements of the courtyard into his own narrative (eg. a wall covered in wooden slats made for a rickety fast-moving train carriage) and used surprising materials (a portable light, coloured filter and several brown bottles) to recreate the crackling flames of a campfire.

Quartette is a mixed bill of four dance works – three choreographed by Lewis Major and one by his mentor Russell Maliphant OBE. These works are performed by three dancers from Lewis Major’s own Adelaide based company – Clementine Benson, Elsi Faulks and Stefaan Morrow in the Lennox Theatre. The program opens with Maliphant’s Two X Three which features all three dancers onstage framed by their own individual diamond square spotlights. Set to music composed by Andy Cowton, Maliphant’s choreography is highly ordered, and rhythmic with the kind of mechanical efficiency, speed and momentum that is more usually associated with machines. Maliphant effectively balances the choreographic symmetry of the central dancer (Clementine Benson) against the other two dancers and Michael Hulls’ lighting shows the dancers at their very best on an otherwise bare stage.

Of the three Lewis Major works, Mort Cygne was notable for its contemporary reimagining of the iconic Dying Swan solo – which was choreographed by Fokine for Anna Pavlova well over a century ago now. Without pointe shoes or tutu, but dressed in a white leotard and shorts, Clementine Benson captured the poignancy and gentle sorrow of Camille Saint Saens music with choreography by Major that was reminiscent of but not overtly derivative of the original.

Lament is a duet, danced here by Elsi Faulks and Stefaan Morrow, that requires a huge amount of control and strength from Morrow in particular as he supports Faulks in an extended choreographic sequence whereby her feet barely touch the ground. Lewis Major’s choreography showed a fluent and extensive grasp of choreographic possibilities despite the inherent limitations within this section.

Quartette’s final work – a 20-minute solo called Epilogue choreographed by Lewis Major and danced by Clementine Benson was as visually striking and beautifully lit as Maliphant’s Two X Three, but also a little slow paced and excessively drawn out. The fine powder created a mist that moved with the dancer and also made visible the mostly circular shapes she traced across the floor. Dane Yates’ music composition (after Debussy’s Clair de Lune) provided a contrast to Debussy’s impressionistic style but not until close to the end. Generally, it’s a good idea to finish a mixed bill like Quartette with the strongest work and that wasn’t Epilogue in this instance.

Lewis Major joined FORM Dance projects as Executive Director in April this year. Alongside the leadership of fellow creatives Naomi Hibberd (Creative Producer) and Paul Selwyn Norton (Creative Director) FORM Dance projects has recently launched a new dance festival called IDEA - Independent Dance Exchange Australia which aims to revitalise Sydney’s independent dance sector.


(See more on IDEA here.)




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