Charmene Yap & Cass Mortimer Eipper
Bay 20, Carriageworks
Reviewed January 20, 2022
Bay 17, Carriageworks 20th
Reviewed January 20, 2022
Sydney Festival 2022 had a wealth of dance and physical theatre shows on offer. So, in a way it wasn’t that much of a coincidence that Grey Rhino and Yung Lung both had their world premieres at the same venue (Carriageworks) and on the same night. But the similarities don’t end there. Both are contemporary dance works about an hour long with a cast of seven dancers; both have large set pieces that play a crucial role; and both have an apocalyptic/end of days theme – although these are addressed in very different ways by the respective works.
Co-choreographed by Charmene Yap and Cass Mortimer Eipper (and produced by Performing Lines) the title Grey Rhino is a metaphor for a high impact, imminent threat that we collectively fail to prepare for and address. The work focuses more on the psychology of why and how people fail to act, rather than on the specifics of the imminent threat itself. Reading the digital program of this work prior to seeing it I had doubts about how well this theme could be expressed through dance . . . how do you make a dance about inaction when movement is by its very nature – action? But after seeing Grey Rhino I must say that it exceeded my expectations.
Grey Rhino features a combined set/lighting design by Damien Cooper and an atmospheric soundscape/musical score by Alyx Dennison, both of which are as crucial as the choreography in communicating the ideas of this work to the audience. Damien Cooper’s large square lighting rig both lights and frames the work, providing an external "threat" from above as it tilts sharply this way and that, gradually drawing closer to the dancers. It creates what I can only describe as a "square light sandwich" which frames and contains the dancers, as they rarely move outside its brightly lit edge. Dennison’s soundscape is constantly changing, a mish-mash of fragmented sounds (both natural and mechanical), voice and musical themes that gradually become more urgent and alarming.
Grey Rhino is very cleverly put together. Choreographically it alternates sections of slow-motion movements with ones that become increasingly frantic, while the dancers’ movement often seems to lose momentum and rhythm when they join together as a group. I concluded after watching this work that just because movement is action does not mean, sadly, that those actions are necessarily productive or useful ones.
There are some breathtaking solos and duets, including a duet danced by Samantha Hines and Zachary Lopez, which was outstanding. Despite some technical difficulties on opening night (the central round lighting truss was meant to come down on top of the dancers in the final moments failed to descend), the performance was very successful and all seven dancers in the cast performed magnificently.
Chunky Move’s Yung Lung was an entirely different experience to Grey Rhino. There was limited seating and audience members were encouraged to stand and move around the central set but not to dance (in line with NSW Health restrictions). Upon entry we were also given wristbands so that we could come and go as we pleased. With techno music by Chiara Kickdrum, strobe lighting and moving spotlights from lighting designer Bosco Shaw and the cast clad in high end streetwear by P.A.M. (Perks & Mini), this production is heavily based on club dance, rave culture and arcade games like Dance Dance Revolution. Concept, direction and choreography are attributed to Antony Hamilton.
Artist/set designer Callum Morton’s central piece is a small mountain/huge head upon which the dancers climb and dance, strut, pose, balance and stomp their way through the show. Enormous facial features dominate at least two sides of the structure (with eyes that light up and nostrils pouring steam) while it is divided internally by a tunnel that goes straight through the middle and furnished with two sets of stairs (complete with handrails) on opposite sides. Despite being large enough to physically dwarf the dancers as individuals, when all seven of them stood on top of it together, the giant head seemed, paradoxically, rather too small for the dancers to stomp as wildly as they might have liked without risking falling off.
The program notes refer to Yung Lung as, “a party prophecy for the end of days”, and, “an intense confrontation of humanity’s obsession with digital culture". It is certainly intense, but while the set is visually spectacular, the movement was not especially interesting to me. I can only assume that if I was more familiar with rave culture I would have gotten a lot more out of it. There were audience members who clearly enjoyed the show, applauded loudly and stayed to take photos of the set after the show had finished. Yung Lung no doubt appeals to a different audience to me and hats off to Chunky for reaching out to a broader audience than is typical of theatrical dance shows.
– GERALDINE HIGGINSON
Like this review? Sign up to our e-news and receive all our reviews direct to your inbox!