Adelaide Festival. Dunstan Playhouse
Reviewed March 19

On my way to the Dunstan Playhouse to see Manifesto, I passed a troupe of Ukrainian folk dancers performing on the new Festival Plaza, their colourful embroidered costumes and ebullient dancing attracting a large crowd. Seeing them dance with such vivacity, in a desperate attempt to raise money to help their country withstand the atrocity being unleashed upon it, brought me to tears. It also made me muse on the question of why we dance. Stephanie Lake’s Manifesto, premiering at the Festival, is a powerful response to this question. In the program notes, Lake calls her work "A Tattoo to Optimism" and describes it as "a show about history, rebellion, obedience, joy, wonder and tenderness, as well as sorrow and rage. But, ultimately, it is optimistic - a rallying cry for solidarity".

And so it is. Arrayed at staggered heights on a pink draped platform, nine black-clad drummers sit silently behind nine black drum kits. Below them, nine dancers are similarly spaced, seated on white chairs and smiling casually. Paula Levis has costumed the five women stylishly in white jumpsuits with black faux-braces, and the four men in tops and pants. A series of sudden bangs jolts them into dramatic poses, only to be frozen until the next deafening drumbeat. The drums slowly gather pace, and now the entire ensemble is on its feet in a balletic sequence, tendues and developpés giving way to explosive jumps and turns. 

So begins an hour of ecstatic dance, in which these consummate dancers respond to Robin Fox’s score, played with astonishing energy and timing by the drummers, with such variety that it feels like a kinaesthetic essay on humanity’s intrinsic relationship to rhythm. The elemental "lub-dub" of the human heartbeat gives ways to marching rhythms; crescendo-ing drum rolls are interspersed with syncopated beats and delicate Eastern-sounding gongs. At times the dancers are driven by the rhythm, at others they seemingly direct the musicians, conducting and speaking to them.  Rigid militaristic movements turn into popping; an extraordinary extended section of acrobatic tumbling gives way to quieter interludes. The dance vocabulary encompasses ballet, popping, tumbling, and contemporary floor work, with many sharply delineated small movements of extremities or torso morphing into a whole-body collapse into the floor.

In a huddle the dancers sway gently, forming tableaux vivants only to convulsively split off into solos, duets and smaller groupings. All the dancers are superb but Samantha Hines is especially riveting, her fluidity and control quite mesmerizing. Robert Tinning’s athleticism and joie de vivre are also striking. Frequent costume changes occur throughout, always staying with the colour white, but adding to the visual richness. The finale is a frenzy of joyous motion, with drums pounding and chairs and bodies flying through the air.

Born of a long-standing and clearly deeply sympathetic collaboration between choreographer and composer, with gorgeous lighting from Bosco Shaw and a very retro-feeling big band set by designer Charles Davis, Manifesto is another triumph for Lake, a perfectly realized work that celebrates not just the relationship between music and dance, but also the joy of being alive. In these distressing times, we all need a dose of Manifesto’s optimism.  


'Manifesto' will be performed at Melbourne's Rising Festival in June. See our article here.

All photos above are by Sophie Gardner.

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