Phluxus2 Dance Collective
After two years of rather restrained programming, Brisbane Festival was back this year with an effervescent selection of dance works, reminiscent of pre-Covid years. Although none were international, five works represented some of the best contemporary dance in the country, including a remount of Australasian Dance Collective’s audacious Aftermath, Restless Dance Theatre’s quirky, engaging Guttered, and the exhilarating Manifesto, choreographed by Stephanie Lake.
Reviewed here are the other two works on offer, Angel Monster, (Phluxus2 Dance Collective) and Dancenorth’s Wayfinder.
Angel Monster premiered in 2019 as part of Brisbane’s Supercell Festival of Contemporary Dance, and recently returned from appearances at the Edinburgh Festival. In a sometimes dystopian exploration of both feminine and feminist themes, Artistic Director and choreographer Nerida Matthaei has woven stories and images together in a collage of dance, theatre and music (Andrew Mills) that draws from the #metoo and #idon’tneedfeminismbecause movements.
On a thrust performance space, seven cream, cocoon-like cloth bags are suspended above the five dancers, who are all in flesh coloured knickers and bras. Spoken text, interspersed with grunts, sighs, and laughter combine with an abstracted vocabulary of everyday movement to weave a loose narrative, rich in imagery.
A laundry load of assorted clothing that spills out of the cocoons is used as a metaphor to explore female issues of empowerment, consent, violence, and rape – the dancers creating a collage of clothing on their bodies by wrapping various items around themselves. In one section the audience is invited to complete a geometric laying of the clothing over the space, and in another, clothing stretched tight over a dancer’s head seems to signify oppression and violence.
All dancers were fully committed to the work, which had moments of disturbing potency. Hsin-Ju Ely was particularly notable for her technical command and powerful dynamic.
Angel Monster's rigorous exploration of the feminist agenda, is undoubtedly valid; however, at times a lighter touch would’ve been welcome.
Dancenorth’s Wayfinder was undoubtedly the highlight of the Brisbane Festival dance program. Choreographers Amber Haines and Kyle Page – a formidable partnership – have created a work that was inventive in its conception and realisation.
Wayfinding, a term coined in the early 20th century by urban planner Kevin A. Lynch, recognises the importance of the environment in navigation. Wayfinding, or navigation by the sun and stars, has of course been a practice for centuries with first nation cultures.
Haines and Page have drawn on this evocative theme of seeking a pathway to create an extraordinarily vibrant work, which positively sings with joyous energy. An eight-square metre custom-made inflatable stage supports the dancers, allowing a more creative exploration of the movement vocabulary, including off-centred flips, and moments of breathtaking suspension, all beautifully controlled. It takes the concept of a sprung floor to a whole new level.
A rollicking opening by seven dancers in colourful pants and tops (design by Hiromi Tango) to the techno beat of a sound score compiled by Bryon J. Scullin, in collaboration with Hiatus Kaiyote, is suddenly and literally floored by a huge cascading jumble of knitted ropes of vibrant primary colours. As an indication of how much thought and detail was applied to the conception of Wayfinder, these 70 kilometres of ropes, from salvaged wool, were created in a series of knitting sittings in Brisbane and Townsville, in a nod to the wayfinding theme, but also, according to program notes, as a “celebration of heart, body, connection, and community".
This was a truly collaborative affair and the lighting by Niklas Pajanti added to the vibrancy, including several brief moments of strobing, which fracture the dancers’ movement, the flickering effect creating another visual dynamic. The placement of 100 light and sound emitting pearls (Pajanti in collaboration with Scullin) throughout the auditorium, when held by the audience, created another immersive layer to the work.
All seven dancers were spectacular in their athleticism, however a spell-binding solo by Marlo Benjamin of liquid fluidity was a highlight. Seemingly boneless, she moved up from the floor and back down, sliding and rolling in movement that had no beginning or end.
Wayfinder has a sort of 1970s psychedelic hippie vibe and (a couple of minor timing issues with the lighting notwithstanding) was contemporary dance at its most engaging.
– DENISE RICHARDSON