Sydney Dance Company and Australian Centre for the Moving Image: Stuck In The Middle With You
Sydney Festival Village, Hyde Park, January 21
Force Majeure: You Animal You
Bay 20, Carriageworks, January 6
Listed under "Visual Arts and Installations" rather than "Dance" on the Sydney Festival website, Stuck In The Middle with You, by Sydney Dance Company (SDC) and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, is a free, eight minute virtual reality experience available at the Sydney Festival Village space in Hyde Park. With only two headsets available, there was a limit to how many people could experience it (and, on the night I attended, how many were willing to wait in a queue for it). The experience, however, was an overwhelmingly positive one. There is a narrative structure to this filmed experience, in which the viewer finds themself sitting in the stalls of Sydney's Ros Packer Theatre, gradually falling asleep, we are told, before suddenly materialising on stage, "stuck in the middle" of a dance performance choreographed by Gideon Obarzanek for this project.
The VR technology gives you a three-dimensional space in which, whatever way you turn, everything makes sense. There is an internal logic to Stuck In The Middle With You and the journey it takes you on that makes this a more immersive experience than it would otherwise be. Once "on-stage" with the dancers, various dancers turn to you and talk. “What are you doing here?” asks one, while others go on to talk about what dance means to them or how they started dancing in a brief series of vignettes, answering questions (perhaps your own?) posed by the film’s inner voice. Director Matthew Bate has done a fantastic job with this film, introducing young and old alike to SDC’s dancers in a way which feels up close and persona,l while giving the viewer the chance to see a dance performance from a performer’s perspective.
Force Majeure’s You Animal You is also visually spectacular. It was performed in the round at Carriageworks with just five performers, but a wide array of props and moveable pieces of set design which became an integral part of the action. A tower on wheels, a megaphone, an enormous plastic bag and a wind machine which blew confetti this way and that gave the performance a type of carnival/sporting atmosphere. Actress Heather Mitchell cut a menacing figure as the one player who controlled the other performers; pitting them against each other in a series of games at her will. According to the written programme, this game-like environment, “reveals behaviours that are slowly breaking down the chain of command, looking for a way to break free from the desensitisation passed on from generation to generation.”
You Animal You is an interesting, but perplexing work. For instance, given that a mother/daughter relationship had been intimated between performers Lauren Langlois and Mitchell earlier in the piece, why did Mitchell seemingly give birth in the final scene to another performer, Harrison Elliott, rather than Langlois?
That said, in this production, Director Danielle Micich demonstrates the ability to extract strong performances and characterisations from each member of the cast (Elliott, Ghenoa Gela, Raghav Handa, Langlois, Mitchell) and Kelly Ryall’s music successfully encapsulated the work’s competitive game-like atmosphere. But top honours should go to Michael Hankin for his set design, and to Damien Cooper for his lighting – in particular, the impressive looking circular rig hanging above the performance space which was also a key part of this production's aesthetic.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON
Top: Strong characterisations: Harrison Elliott and Lauren Langlois in 'You Animal You'. Photo: Prudence Upton.