Fairfax Studio
Arts Centre, Melbourne
September 27

With its surging and ebbing bodies and driving rhythms, Colossus takes Stephanie Lake's work into fresh and trilling territory. With its cast of 50 (46 on opening night), this new work is dance amplified. Colossus plays freely and dynamically with the kinetic and emotional interconnectedness of individuals within and outside of a group, and gestures far beyond the human realm to patterns, impulses and hierarchies in the wider organic world.

Colossus is auspiced through the Arts Centre’s Take Over! initiative, allowing a choreographer to stage a new work at the Fairfax Studio for a week to coincide with the Melbourne Fringe Festival. This is a terrific venue for Lake’s piece - it has quite an intimate "chamber" feel which simultaneously contains the sheer number of dancers while hinting at the possibility, that at any moment, the mass might burst the confines of its prescribed territory.

Colossus starts democratically, with all dancers lying in a circle on their backs, arms raised, around the circular stage, toes fanning to the audience. A chain reaction of movements is initiated, which continues as a series of leaders begin to emerge. The group is now conjured into reaction by various individuals and pairs who orchestrate its movement. Compelled or bullied, dancers form clusters, gangs or fragmented lines and the varied formations are ever-changing in response to the bidding of those who have the floor.

The work plays out and builds through episodes of frenzied combat and co-operation. The abstracted episodes morph into one another and charge forward at a pace.

The dancers from Victorian College of the Arts and Transit Dance are splendid. Diverse and disciplined, they are testament to their own individual attributes and dance intelligence together with their training and Lake’s vision. Lake gives them a dazzling and dizzying amount of provocation and movement language. She is able to tap into their individual strengths and at the same time manage the numbers so that they are absolutely coherent as a whole.

Interestingly, the effect of so many dancers, working in unison and discord, is to intensify their individuality rather than dissipate it. I became aware of individual facial expressions that ranged from scared to fierce to enthralled. This detail kept adding richness to the texture of the work and the more I noticed, the more individuation was apparent. The costuming - variations of black tops and bottoms, worked to cohere but not to obscure.

The work developed in abstracted sections, allowing the audience to imagine human dramas emerging, both subtle and grand, and also for the dancers to be seen as something beyond human - organisms forming and dispersing, creating and destroying meaning. In retrospect, standing in a crush in the foyer of the Fairfax Studio prior to the show felt like a fitting prelude to Colossus as we, the audience, jostled, held our places and yielded.

Bosco Shaw’s lighting worked powerfully to amplify the bodies, throwing shadows onto the non-rigid curved screen that formed the back of the stage. This lighting brought some of the dancers into prominence, and gave even greater dimension to the changing dynamics between the members of the group. The sound by Robin Fox ranged from pulsing and organic electronic rhythms to percussive dancer-driven vocalisations, drumming and clapping.

That Stephanie Lake is one of our best and freshest choreographers is without doubt. Her work is always provocative and involving and acts to forge new relationships between viewer and dancer. Whether she is working with a pair of dancers, a handful, or with this cast of thousands, Lake knows how to craft movement that is inventive and accessible. Astonishingly, she keeps doing it without recurrent funding.


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