• 'Exceptional': Samantha Hines and Jack Ziesing in 'Piles of Bones'. Photo: Bryony Jackson.
    'Exceptional': Samantha Hines and Jack Ziesing in 'Piles of Bones'. Photo: Bryony Jackson.

Stephanie Lake Company: Pile of Bones

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Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 17 August

Stephanie Lake has been developing her choreographic voice for a number of years. As her work matures, it is interesting to follow the direction of her interests. Something that remains consistent with Lake’s work, however, is its authenticity. She reminds us that we don’t need gimmicks, pyrotechnical feats nor to adhere to any prevailing trend in order to make good dance.

Pile of Bones is another truly enjoyable and relatable work from Lake. Its great strength is the way the bodies spark off one another, causing chain reactions of both subtle and coarse movement. Shivers of electrical impulse shoot through a limb, foot, neck or torso of one dancer and are instantaneously transferred kinaesthetically to another. At the same time, parts of one body can seem to be acting according to diametrically opposed laws of gravity or command. The result is a very pleasing aesthetic but one that also has an overriding sense of fun with more than a touch of absurdity.

Through distinct phases - some heavy and others light and quirky - a disconnected, connectedness is created. The work focuses first on disconnection. A single illuminated face appears and we become aware of a pulsing movement as hands rhythmically push down on a covered head that lies between a pair of legs. Hands and arms eventually appear from a tangled mound of melded bodies. Heads congregate with hands supporting their weight. This early section also plays with perspective as the confusion of body parts is moved closer to the audience then further away.

As the work progresses, the movement becomes increasingly amplified with more of the body being recruited into the choreography. Early on the legs of a dancer (Samantha Hines) are rubbery and the light touch of others seems to produce a weightless reflex action, as if the brief contact is gently inflating her body. Other phrases suddenly halt a movement arc at a peculiar point, giving the impression of suspension and freezing a moment in space.

Another section has a dancer struggling inside a bubble-wrapped cocoon, labouring for movement and freedom, yet intensifying their suffocated entrapment with every move. With intervention, the membrane is finally pierced and a birth-like delivery effected. What follows seems to be a struggle by the four figures against unseen forces to gain uprightness leaving a lone, sorrowful figure animalistically bogged like a sea creature on land.

Other transformations are undergone. A dancer (Marlo Benjamin) is rotated slowly by the others who stick fluoro-coloured post-it notes around her body to create a bright armoury or set of protective scales. Yet the sense is that she is suffocating under their weight. She rolls and thrashes about in order to loosen her burden. Finally all the dancers shed the dull garb of the earlier parts of the work and channel a psychedelic aesthetic, their costumes are of loud mismatched pants and tops. They seem to have evolved to a more sanguine state. Birdsong announces this change and sound crackles as movement expands. Dancers Stephanie Hines, Marlo Benjamin, Harrison Richie-Jones and Jack Ziesing were all exceptional.

Having not praised the musical composition for this work so far - it is absolutely intrinsic to the work and thrilling. Robin Fox has free rein to explore across a wide range of sound textures given the wildly imaginative nature of the work. This takes him across a gamut of soundscapes from pure abstract sound explorations such as vibrations that build in intensity and winding loops, to phrases that almost emulate the cadences of a voice or utterance - moving from shrill to whining, from insistent to calm - and sounds from sucking to sniffling to licking. Bubbles and pops give a comic edge to one scene. There is even a section that sounds like the off-spring of bluegrass and Mongolian throat-singing. The whole can be characterised as a witty and exploratory composition that marries perfectly with the dance and adds to its textural depth.

- Susan Bendall

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