REVIEW: Melbourne Fringe dance

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Arabella Frahn-Starkie and Siobhan McKenna's 'Ken Burns'. Photo supplied by Dance House.
Arabella Frahn-Starkie's 'Ken Burns'. Photo supplied by Dance House.

Dance at Melbourne Fringe 
Various venues
October 6-23

The tension and play between vulnerability and connection; interiority and exteriority; authenticity and artifice were recurring themes in this year’s dance offerings at Melbourne Fringe. Perhaps these themes were directly inspired by the prolonged experience of lockdown, provoking us to consider our relationship with space and each other: what we project and what we withhold. From this period of consolidation and isolation, since last year’s Fringe in Melbourne, which was 70 per cent online, a re-energised festival has emerged, defining the city’s commitment to emerging artists and fresh new acts, live. The joy was accentuated by this point of comparison; how good it feels to be able to enjoy live theatre again, in proximity with artists and audiences, sharing impressions and emotions.

Since 2016, Temperance Hall in South Melbourne has become the hub for Philip Adams’s BalletLab tradition of leading experimental and queer dance works. This year, for the Fringe, multiple works were staged in a double bill format. Included in this program was a double bill showcasing choreography by Arabella Frahn-Starkie and Siobhan McKenna.

The audience was welcomed into the bright space of the hall with plinky piano music playing on a cassette in the middle of the space for Frahn-Starkie’s Ken Burns. She winnowed between an audience on either side of the room in circular motions, her French Nouvelle Vague style scarf, polka dot shirt and flared red pants flapping with breeziness and finesse. Her brogues lay disconsolate by a wicker chair, as she, almost compulsively, whirred about the room, stopping briefly to sit on the chair or lie by the cassette player to recount of a night full of shame, grief and anguish. The audience was drawn into the story, and the swelling of the music, the rising and falling of the lights.

Similarly, McKenna’s work, Relay, drew the audience into a vulnerable, intimate realm, as she and dancer Claire Leske drew each other closer and  extended further way in a game of hither and thither, holding each other and releasing, making noises like pistons and machinery yet remaining deeply human in their movement and connection; exploring the marginality of balance and error.

FRINGE at Dancehouse was a provocative, engaging affair, with improvised piece No Former Performer Has Performed This Performance Before #7: Born in a Taxi, by Penny Baron and Carolyn Hanna and Withhold by Alec Katsourakis and Eden Kew in a double bill format. The provocation for No Former Performer Has Performed This Performance Before, an annual tradition at Dancehouse is: "Our commitment is to perform this work every year until one of us dies … who will go first?". The show is a mercurial melange of voice, sound music and emotion, quite undefinable.

Withhold, however, is deeply choreographed and rehearsed, emulating an audition room where the dancers take turns at being surly judges and dewy-eyed dance students as the performance spirals into an increasingly meta whirlwind. The spectacle was profound in instances and highly amusing in others. "Emotions aren’t what we feel about the experience…they are the experience," is a stand-out line in the dialogue. The dancing was exceptional, as they depicted all the aspiration, hope and naivety of young people desperate to break into the dance industry or be accepted by their peers. The cast, both Trans and cis, showed how the suppression of feelings can lead to trauma.

From Rising Festival’s cancelled 2021 season of Pendulum, by Lucy Guerin, in collaboration with percussive artist Matthias Schack-Arnott, was worth the wait.  A group of dancers, luminaries in the Melbourne dance scene, moved hypnotically in sync in a graveyard of suspended bells, emulating the ebb and flow of time. The exposed, industrial location of Shed 21 in Docklands enhanced the eerie sublimity of the piece. It was is an impressive crescendo to this year’s Fringe dance a program.

Melbourne Fringe’s 2022 buffet of dance delights brought experimentation and liminality to the spotlight, leaving audiences open to interpret or just wonder at the spectacles they beheld.



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