• Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
    Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti

Victorian College of the Arts, Space 28, 14 November

Too often graduation performances feel like glorified auditions: all about the virtuosity and ego of the individual. The school of dance at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) is a regular and welcome exception to the rule. There’s an integrity of purpose and a commitment to complete works rather than divertissements. The original works produced each year are uncompromising, sometimes challenging... and not always successful. VCA grad shows are best approached as you would a program of contemporary dance by independent choreographers.

The mutual benefits to graduating dancer and independent dance maker are obvious. Final year students get to work with pro choreographers developing new work. (This year, they’re ADT commando Larissa McGowan, indie darling Alisdair Macindoe and the impressively well-travelled James O’Hara.) In turn, the choreographers are afforded the increasingly rare opportunity to work with large groups. O’Hara uses seven of the 22-strong squad, McGowan 12 and Macindoe 21! (One of the graduating dancers is currently on crutches.)

On a conceptual level, James O’Hara’s piece I felt I could move the world without lifting a finger... there was a deafening power in that tender silence succeeds in capturing the reality of life – and anxiety about the life to come – for graduates of the degree course. It shows off the trust and camaraderie that’s been forged over three years: the dancers’ ability to generate, harness and share inspiration in the rehearsal room, and their willingness to follow the pulse. But there is an insularity in the performance that leaves audiences excluded and unengaged. It begins with the dancers ignoring the audience and ends with them ignoring each other.

I felt I could move the world... is underway when Space 28’s doors are opened. Initially, the circled dancers (in warm-up gear) perform for one another. They flow and flock, freestyle and wade. There’s some brilliant hair dancing led by the fabulously watchable Yianna Dorward and Gabriel Sinclair: think Meryl Tankard-era ADT or Natalie Merchant in Scorpio Rising. They appear strong. Unified. Forward-looking. Confident. But they fracture. An injured dancer is abandoned, left to his own devices, doing a one-legged Karate Kid thing upstage.

One dancer (Dorward) re-establishes order, leading a kind of drum circle, but it’s short-lived. Though the seven dance with great exuberance, they might as well be at Rainbow Serpent rocking out in the dark. They’re dancing for themselves. For their own pleasure. Instead of intoxicating us, they make us feel like the designated driver at a New Year’s Eve party.

Larissa McGowan’s Gravitate is a much more satisfying experience. There’s a mathematical precision in the construction and execution of the work, the choreography is strikingly – even breathtakingly – original, and the interlocking design elements (lighting by Aedan Gale, sound by Joel Peters, original music by Ben Frost, set and costumes by Abby Reeves-Williams) are first rate. I don’t mean first rate for a student production, I mean first rate for any production. As is, Gravitate would not look out of place in any playhouse, in any major arts centre. Or, indeed, in the repertoire of a major dance company.

Reeve-Williams’s delightful costumes divide the squad into two groups of six: one with print shirts and tops teamed with black shorts and pants; the other with black shirts and tops teamed with colourful shorts and pants.

McGowan plays with ideas of cell division and recombination, groupings and pairings. Two dancers (Phaedra Brown and Anika De Ruyter) are first to leave their respective groups. Without their leaders, the two groups coalesce to watch the dance-off. The group’s movement is serpentine, earth-bound and low. Emboldened, an individual emerges. A solo by a female dancer (Thalia Livingstone) is led by her hand, as if lifted by an unseen force.

McGowan’s use of canons is uncanny. The twelve dancers, in quick succession, make gestures which look like slices of something concrete. It’s as if we were watching a 3D printer in action. The dance is inorganic – molecular somehow – but still intensely dramatic. Gravitate is a piece I hope to see again and again.

The closing work, Alisdair Macindoe’s Generation Generation, is an all-in celebration. It’s one part Twister, one part Simon Says. Or, more accurately, Siri Says. About two thirds of the content is prompted by computer-generated commands. The script changes from performance to performance. Some of the instructions are literal: “Lauren, face away from Lija” or “transfer weight evenly” or “rude finger” which Molly Davies completely owned! Often they require the dancer to respond briskly and imaginatively, as Lauren Sunley did when asked to mirror someone. (Rather brilliantly, she mirrored a rolling dancer while staying on her feet, making the dancer on the floor look like her shadow.) Sometimes the commands are utterly barmy, like “hexagon the brain” or “subvert the centre of the earth.” Here, Tim Kirsopp, Jazmyn Carter and the rest of the gang got to strut their ingenuity and considerable skills, which left everyone – onstage and off – buzzing.

– Chris Boyd

"Disclosure" runs until November 21.

Pictured top is 'Gravitate', by Larissa McGowan. Photos: Gregory Lorenzutti.

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