• Photo Credit: Second Echo Ensemble
    Photo Credit: Second Echo Ensemble
  • Stompin/Ten days on the Island: Multi Story, Launceston Library, Launceston, 8-12 March
  • Second Echo Ensemble/Ten Days on the Island: The Beauty Project, Railway Roundabout, Nipaluna/Hobart, 9-11 March
  • Dancenorth Australia/Ten Days on the Island: Red, Studio Theatre, The Theatre Royal, Nipaluna/Hobart, 10-11 March
  • DRILL Performance Inc/Ten Days on the Island: Be Here, St David’s Park, Nipaluna/Hobart, 11 March
  • Osian Meilir/Ten Days on the Island: Qwerin, St David’s Park, Nipaluna/Hobart, 11 March

Ten Days on the Island is celebrating its twentieth year. For her third and final festival, Artistic Director Lindy Hume has brought together an exciting mix of local, national and international dance artists.

In Launceston, my festival dance journey began with Stompin’s Multi Story set across the three floors of the brutalist architecture of the Launceston Library. In the forecourt individual dancers moved around the emptied fountain area, then lead us into the bowels of the ground floor. Reading lamps and comfy chairs welcome a 1:1 encounter with a performer sharing their personal reflection on a favourite book.

Moving the audience again, the performers spiral around a structural pole in a dream-like roll. The soundtrack by palawa singer-songwriter Denni Proctor, and multilingual musician Yyan Ng accompanies the dancers on their mesmerising journey through various developmental stages of movement and vocalisation. Throughout this process, bilingual (Auslan/English) and proud Deaf woman, Anna Seymour’s collaboration is evident. Evolving movement patterns are matched with spoken and unspoken communication, language construction and deconstruction. A play mat briefly becomes ‘home’ before the dancers spread into the space mumbling gibberish, manipulating props and each other’s bodies in various set and improvised pieces. A video screen displays instructions and the dancers respond, creating layers of vocal and movement phrases. This cacophony increases speed and proximity between movers with the group breaking into duos and text driven solos.

Then we move on, up to the next level where we are met with a silent greeting. Again, text is recited, this time interpreting made-up words contributed by the audience. The space is dominated by rows of metal book shelving lit from the floor. Choreographer Kyall Shanks and the cast, make use of the existing library infrastructure. Sweeping heavy bass sounds begin to vibrate the shelves which become the playthings of the cast. Under and over they crawl manipulating furniture, leaning, shuffling, pushing and dragging. Anarchy seems to have taken over this normally calm environment.

The final space is another flight up the stairs. Newspapers line the walls, and the audience nestles amongst scrunched up piles of the same. A call and response episode leads to storytelling and more contemplative experiences. Younger and older cast members connect their gaze and fingertips while the sensitivity of this connection expanded to links across the room. This cast is a relatively new grouping of young people learning to interact. That this leads to incorporating more familiar trust exercises is managed well, knitting conceptual and actual care, and communication amongst the dancers.

The Railway Roundabout, in Nipaluna/Hobart, is the next site on Hume’s optimistic programming of dance in site specific and theatre spaces. The Beauty Project presented by Second Echo Ensemble (SEE) is the next in a series of works directed by members of this integrated abilities company. At SEE each member’s abilities are celebrated and their ideas given space and time to shine. Here the vision of Elise Romaszko (in her words: ps I have Down Syndrome) is given voice, presenting text challenging us to consider what we need to feel beautiful. She speaks of life as a journey, full of dreams.

In this difficult outdoor space, through which several city workers pass, the lead creatives and cast members perform their discrete responses to her question. From reciting prose to engaging in assisted movement with Paul Roberts, William Webster embodies his struggle with being seen and heard. David Montgomery on the other hand, circles the fountain on his scooter while enjoying a disco beat accompanied by Michael Fortescue on double bass. Some staff members take on active performance roles in what has to be a flexible response to the cast’s needs at each performance. Uniting all of the presentations are Ross Wren’s costumes, which have been developed from the core artists concepts. A cloak of autumn colours, a body inside a flower bud and a wrap of watery blue satin are visually as important as the movement which animates them.

Back in the controlled and controllable environment of the Theatre Royal’s studio, Dancenorth’s Marlo Benjamin and Michael Smith take up residence in their inflatable world of Red. The absolute separation of the performers from the audience takes a while to sink in. Who is the alien here? Choreographed by Amber Haines and Kyle Page, the first section of Red offers both detailed closeness and cold examination. Tactile examination seems indifferent its witnesses. Extending connection beyond their limbs, occasional but brief acknowledgement resets the emotionless intimacy between the dancers. The stage is literally set for exploration and opportunity, but how far can they really go?

Reflections on the sides of the clear bubble add a further layer to the visual restrictions of this space. As Benjamin and Smith discover their options, their pace increases. Fast rolls and turns propel them to their limits, seemingly requiring them to evolve into another phase of existence. Deep oscillating sounds which become louder and louder with unrelenting repetition then break into amplified sounds from inside the plastic echo chamber. As the plastic begins to quiver, we notice the dancers’ breath on its inner surface and we are faced with the inevitable. Yet we still watch as the struggle to survive kicks in. Strong images form and fade as cellular stress shifts priorities.

The seemingly simple concept of Red is anything but that. Here we experience a sophisticated exploration of movement and materials designed to remind us of our humanity. Such an impressive work needs to tour far and wide.

In the morning light and rolling grass slopes of St David’s Park, DRILL Performance offered their reflection on being present in Be Here. The youth cast worked with Isabella Stone and Risa Muramatsu Ray to develop a movement reaction to the sites’ embodied and imagined landscapes. Slow twists, leading body parts, listening, gathering and grouping become a vocabulary for interpreting the space - which had once served as a cemetery for the colonial dead. Unison with the juxtaposition of one or more players heightens the awareness of their surroundings. The movement is accompanied by an original musical score and sound-bed composed by Tasmanian musician Rachel Meyers, featuring field recordings from the performance environment with voice and ambient electronica. This collection of natural sounds matches the calm focus of the group as they receive, respond, place and focus on the moment.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Artist
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Artist

Directly following DRILL’s calm exit from the space, the Welsh trio, Qwerin, appropriately entered the same St David’s Park space. The origins of this work are as intriguing as Director/Choreographer Osian Meilir’s personal dance journey. Raised in a rural community, Meilir was immersed in Welsh folk dancing as a child and, familiar with the social implications of both male and female gendered costumes, embraced the queer culture of London clubs. Add to this their interest in the Rebecca Riots on the West coast of Wales in the 19th century, where a group of pitchfork wielding farmers dressed in traditional women’s clothing during an act of anti-authoritarian defiance, and the combination is electric.

With heads completely covered except eye holes above the brim of their oversized traditional Het Gymreig, Meilir, Cêt Haf and Elan Elidyr move through the crowd accompanied by an ominous electronic score by Tic Ashfiled and Benjamin Talbott. Establishing the confines of their space, the trio map out slowed club sequences and traditional folk-dance floor patterns.

The dancers remove their restricting headwear and build their movement with greater freedom. Whirling and jumping, we catch the odd flash of a smile and flick of their colourful skirts, with a sense of glee they are off. The performers embody joy as they invite the audience to accompany them in a celebration of movement. In this iteration they embrace the DRILL performers who join them in an infectious heel tapping sequence.

Returning to a choreographed trio, Meilir, Haf and Elidyr, fold into each other’s bodies, lifting, and transferring weight as if one body. Here there is a unity of purpose and care, allowing reflection on those who need support to find their way. In a final gesture, the dancers appear to gift seeds as they leave the ground, perhaps of hope, ready for regeneration. Created as a festival pop up, Qwerin certainly delights all who experience the optimism which exudes this performance.

-Lesley Graham

Note: Lesley Graham is Chair of the DRILL Performance Board

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