• Photo: Stephen Heath
    Photo: Stephen Heath

Geoff Gibbs Theatre,16 November

Each year the "Verge" season provides second and third year dance students from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) invaluable performing experience and the opportunity to work with Australian and international choreographers. In this year's thoughtfully curated program, the four works showcase the commendable versatility, discipline and talent of WAAPA’s students and the impressive breadth and variety in their training, and illustrate the essential synergism of dance, music/sound, lighting and design to convey ideas.

Three contemporary dance pieces are by visiting guest choreographers; a re-mount of Leigh Warren’s iconic Shimmer, and newly created works Black Gold by Cass Mortimer Eipper, and Ludum Vitae by Belgium-based Helder Seabra.

Coppélia Suite, remounted by Kim McCarthy and Danielle Hunt, opens the program. It is a charming montage of village scenes from the much-loved, time-honoured classical ballet Coppélia, presenting plenty of technical challenges, and the chance to explore nuanced characterisation and humour. A cast of almost 30 dancers met these challenges with aplomb in lively ensemble dances, pas de six, solos and pas de deux. Performed to live musical accompaniment, Delibes’ melodic score was arranged by Gennaro Di Donna for piano, violin, flute, and percussion. Beatrice Manser, Danka Pekic, and Brent Carson were standouts amongst strong, confident performances by all of the dancers.

Photo: Stephen Heath
'Coppelia Suite'. Photo: Stephen Heath

Cass Mortimer Eipper’s brilliantly created Black Gold (pictured top) follows, catapulting the audience to a different time and far-from-benign world. Stemming from “the abstraction and re-purposing of sound and imagery drawn from the global oil industry”, the work explores the “human potential for gluttony and greed…”. It is performed to a hypnotic and relentless mixed soundscape of Oil (Le Matin), Mortimer Eipper’s "Black Gold", the glorious operatic aria "Les Tringles des Sistres Tintaient" from Bizet’s Carmen, and disembodied sometimes-distorted voice; “resources… drilling …yield… stock…”

A mesmerising, immersive work for 24 dancers in red, short-sleeved workers’ clothing, Black Gold's superb lighting-designs by Dillan Kuiper transform costume and stage colours from red to purple and green at will. The choreography is a unique rhythmic response to beat, creating a myriad of shapes and images and a sense of hopelessness, suppressed energy and desperation, which is compelling to watch. In an intense, powerful performance by all of the dancers, Campbell Gateley’s expansive, sinuous movement caught the eye.

Photo Stephen Heath
'Shimmer' by Leigh Warren. Photo: Stephen Heath

After interval is Leigh Warren’s 1997 work Shimmer, re-mounted by Delia Silvan and Kynan Hughes, with lighting by Paul Tan. Shimmer was finely performed by six dancers to a recording of the Australian String Quartet playing composer Graeme Koehne's "String Quartet Number 2 Shaker Dances", which includes original Shaker tunes, and is a meditation on the spiritual euphoria inspired by American Shaker beliefs. Dressed in austere long, black, swaying, flowing frockcoats, the dancers enchant in choreography that lauds and echoes the Shakers’ constrained, spiritual joy and longing, in hauntingly beautiful, and spiritually uplifting movement.

Photo: Stephen Heath
'Ludum Vitae' by Helder Seabra. Photo: Stephen Heath

Helder Seabra’s Ludum Vitae, translates loosely as “Game of Life”, and with program notes “the evening’s only constant is uncertainty,” the audience is prepared for a less-than blithe experience. A soundscape by Stijn Vanmarsenille and Bhima Yunusov incorporates loud, aggressive electronic percussion vying with soothing, piano music. Lit by Paul Tan with designs by Elyce McAuliffe, small shards of paper are strewn over the stage creating a dystopian, eerie landscape, catching the overhead light, at times appearing to be snowdrops. Dry ice creates a foggy haze which fills the stage and the work builds very slowly as 18 dancers in casual clothing gradually increase the momentum then frenetically shiver and shake. One desperately tries to escape the group, screaming and shouting "get me out of here" and it is confronting to observe. At times the auditorium vibrates as the sound assails our senses and the physicality accelerates, the dancers’ literally breath-taking stamina and focus creating mood and spectacle. The work is rather too long for this program but is a remarkable creation that would stand very well alone.

Margaret Mercer

"Verge" continues until November 23.

Pictured top is 'Black Gold' by Cass Mortimer Eipper. Photo: Stephen Heath.


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