• Eve Newton-Johnson and Zoe Wozniak in womb. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
    Eve Newton-Johnson and Zoe Wozniak in womb. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
  • Sarah Chaffey and Russell Thorpe in Salutem. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
    Sarah Chaffey and Russell Thorpe in Salutem. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

STRUT Dance: “in SITU”
State Theatre Centre of WA courtyard. 9 November

STRUT Dance’s 2016 “in SITU” program is a walking tour of the State Theatre Centre of WA’s courtyard, and the third incarnation of a program of short, sometimes intimate, site-specific works.

The program begins along the corridor leading to the box office door, with Storm Helmore’s Standing on the borderline of the precipice, I reflect on the dark matter of mouseprint. The long title references the works in which Helmore has performed in this venue. Consequently, the work is eclectic, ranging from Sue Peacock’s whimsical theatricality (Reflect) to Rachel Ogle’s complex and athletic physicality (Precipice). Helmore makes use of her proximity to the audience in this shallow space, catching the audience eyes and, at times, addressing individuals directly. Her stage presence in this context is gutsy, direct and engaging. Later in the program she makes an effective aquatic reappearance.

Moving into the courtyard, we are invited to position ourselves along a rail that overlooks another courtyard, a floor down, to watch Brooke Leeder’s three – the experiment series. Our view of three dancers (Tyrone Robinson, Nicole Ward, Shuling Wong) in a triangular arrangement is almost birds-eye, their intricate and detailed movement kaleidoscopic. The highlight of the work is the first section, in which Leeder, microphone in hand, invites us to ask the dancers questions. The challenge for the dancers is whether they can maintain their role in the tightly choreographed sequence. If they lose focus while answering they must step away from the group briefly. There is plenty of room for the dancers to have fun and they certainly did on opening night.

We are then ushered to a staircase and instructed to spread ourselves along its length. Two performers appear, one at the foot and one at the landing, as a voice intones, big brother style, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” This is Yvan Karlsson’s Player. Dressed Super Mario-style in overalls and caps, the two performers (Jacinta Larcombe and Karlsson) bounce and bop through a duet that is as dark as it is cartoon-like. Traversing the veranda of the courtyard’s upper storey, the audience follows their progress promenade style. Sampling Pulp Fiction (an exchange between Thurman and Travolta), a favourite section sees Tarantino translated into contemporary dance.

Moving downstairs we are invited to take a seat in the courtyard proper – a ring of chairs surrounds a dance floor made of plastic sheeting. Two dancers sit at either end. Is the dancefloor… bubble wrap? Delightfully, it is. Sarah Chaffey and Russell Thorpe’s self-devised and peformed duet, Salutem, moves from the inexplicable entertainment of popping bubbles into an athletic duet. It’s a lithe, lunging, plunging sequence that sees them move seamlessly from rolling over one another into smooth unison. All the while they are accompanied by snap, crackle and pop of the little bubbles of plastic releasing their airy contents… simple, effective and, for me, the highlight of the program.

After Helmore’s watery reprise, we are led through the foyer to the centre’s front entrance. Again, the floor is a focal point - the entrance features an ever-changing light installation. It’s a disco dance floor of ever-changing colours and shapes and it’s onto this stage that performers Eve Newton-Johnson and Zoe Wozniak alternately teeter and stride. Created by Newton-Johnson in collaboration with Wozniak, this duet, entitled womb, channels the heady, sweaty, thumping beat of a dance club. Amidst a cloud of cheap scent, the pair writhe, seemingly powered by the incessant beat. At times they become almost boneless, rolling and undulating, and yet, at others, they are reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs as they make their stilted way across the myriad colours of the dance floor.

“in SITU” has the feel of a studio showing – a chance for choreographers to experiment with new ideas. While well-rehearsed, these works don’t necessarily feel like finished products… but that’s the appeal. There’s a freshness to this program that’s about more than the unseasonably chill night air. Catch it if you can.

“in SITU” runs until 12 November. See www.strutdance.org.au

Photos: Emma Fishwick

Sarah Chaffey and Russell Thorpe in Salutem. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Sarah Chaffey and Russell Thorpe in Salutem. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
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