Sydney Festival -
Force Majeure: ‘Nothing to Lose’ -
Carriageworks Bay 20, 22 January -
Legs On The Wall, Form Dance Projects, VOX - Sydney Philharmonia Choirs: Puncture -
Riverside Theatre, 23 January -
Sydney Festival has backed some winners in the dance-theatre category this year. The creators of both Nothing to Lose and Puncture took some risks in terms of staging and content, but these mostly paid off, resulting in genuinely thought provoking works that engaged their audiences. While in both cases the degree of audience engagement was enhanced by the smaller venues in which the works were performed and the subsequent proximity of audience to performer, these things also limited the number of tickets available for any one performance. This is a shame because Nothing to Lose and Puncture both had a relatively short run in the Sydney Festival, and should be enjoyed by a wider audience. (Fortunately for Melbourne audiences Nothing to Lose already has a second season scheduled at the Malthouse Theatre in March.)
Nothing to Lose is founder-director Kate Champion’s last work for Force Majeure and is heavily influenced by artistic associate Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s work in body politics. In a program note, Nothing to Lose is described as a work that, “challenges our perceptions of what a dancer’s body should look like on stage.” But it does more than that – by exposing the overweight bodies that are shamed and hidden away in our society this work confronts audiences with their own beliefs and assumptions about fatness. As delivered by the central performers, dramaturg Steve Rodgers’s text was especially powerful in revealing the thoughtless comments and bullying endured by fat people. Yet the performance was not all serious.
In one section the dancer/performers stand on elevated platforms, just as statues are traditionally displayed on a plinth in galleries, defying the perfection of form demanded by classical sculpture. When volunteers from the audience were invited onstage to touch these living/breathing ‘works of art’, those who remained in the audience saw the dramatic irony of their hesitance to touch bodies that attract so many uninvited comments. Throughout, it was interesting to note the moves that sat well on heavier bodies and were enhanced by them. These included circular arm movements, hip circles and body rolls, while the grounded stamping movements of the final section were given extra punch and impact by the collective weight of the ensemble.
In contrast with Nothing to Lose, Puncture has a soft, dream-like ambience. Instead of following the usual seating arrangements of a traditional proscenium arch theatre, both performers and audience share the large stage area, enclosed by the safety curtain that hides the auditorium from view. A horseshoe-shaped seating arrangement, with most of the audience seated on one side of the wings and the rest surrounding the stage, evokes memories of social dances held in community halls while the glorious choral sound (produced by VOX-Sydney Philharmonia Choirs) creates a seemingly timeless, otherworldly backdrop. Aerial equipment attached to the rigging above the stage is lowered down at various times and adds an extra dimension of interest as the dancers soar higher than is humanly possible.
In Puncture, choreographer Kathryn Puie effectively integrates aerial work with grounded dance movements to create mysterious, yet strangely uplifting scenes, well supported by the performances of lead dancer/collaborators Kristina Chan and Joshua Thomson. Theatrical dance is rarely accompanied by purely choral music but in this case it worked well and the presence of the singers themselves as they move through the performance space, joining with and separating from the dancers, makes Puncture a more powerful work than it would otherwise be.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON