The Farm Collective: Depthless
Judith Wright Centre of Performing Arts
The Gold Coast collective of artists, The Farm, has evolved from previous performance groups, Splintergroup and Animal Farm Collective, driven in the main by dance artists Gavin Webber, along with Grayson Millwood and Kate Harman. Therefore this latest offering, Depthless, promised much, as their works are unfailingly innovative, challenging the status quo within a lively dance theatre construct.
However, as the performance began, it was apparent that this work was the same that premiered at the Supercell Festival of Contemporary Dance in February, 2017. It was not reviewed at that time, but it entertained and intrigued, and, as a work presumably in development, it definitely “had legs”. Unfortunately 18 months later, there seems to be little elaboration on what was seen before.
Depthless is described on The Farm website as a “brilliantly navigated transit along the edges of conflict and power”, and as a male/female two hander between dancer/choreographer Harman and musician Guy Webster, it could also coincidentally be appraised as skirting vicariously along themes of the #metoo movement.
The work begins as a beam of white light, coming from upstage left, repeatedly sweeps around the blacked out space. Downstage left on guitar and vocals is Webster, almost coaxing Harman from the darkness with a beautiful folk-like composition by Ben Ely. Harman finally emerges in a short gold sequined dress. With long hair flying and quite contorted floor-based movement, she slowly rises to standing.
What follows is a competition, or power struggle if you like, between the two, with the third element in this tussle undoubtedly being the guitar, or the music itself perhaps as a metaphor for dominance. Who controls it is apparently the victor. With a powerful amp set up including a loop, as well as a drum kit on the stage, the extremes of noise are repeatedly explored, with Webster in one section continually launching his amped guitar along the stage. The cacophony was startling and confronting in 2017, but less so now.
There are witty moments peppered throughout, for instance when the musical looping goes astray, and when Harman, giving the audience “what they want”, delivers a vampy-classical ballet send-up in her glittering gold dress. Changing into jeans seems to signify a change in Harman’s persona from the submissive traditional representation of a woman to go-getter, as she challenges Webster, on drums, to a musical duel. Again her single, over-amplified strum of the guitar seemed a rebuke, or an assertion of power.
The final eight or so minutes comprise a solo by Harman generally directed to the standing Webster on electric guitar. Her movement is quite gestural, using the torso and arms, with little coverage of the space. It seems improvisational, lacks development, and is far too long -- a missed opportunity.
There are a few instances where more could be teased out of what is fundamentally a quite a strong premise. The dynamic of the relationship between Harman and Webster, otherwise one-dimensional, is expressed only through the music and could be explored more. Only once do the two connect physically on stage, in a push-shove stance, shoulder-to-shoulder, that could be expanded on. Unfortunately this is a struggle for power that seems to go nowhere, with no clear resolution. Furthermore, watching this performance I didn’t care, but I’m not sure I was supposed to.
Gavin Webber directed Depthless, which was conceived and written by Harman and Ely (also composer of Regurgitator). While there is no denying the commitment and talent of both performers, a recalibration of the compass could only improve the journey for the viewer.
- DENISE RICHARDSON