AUSTI. Dance and Physical Theatre
Bruce Gordon Theatre, IPAC
Thursday 19th October
Recently AUSTI. Dance and Physical Theatre took to the stage of the Bruce Gordon Theatre at Wollongong’s IPAC (Illawarra Performing Arts Centre) with three short new works by emerging Australian choreographers. Presented by MerrigongX (an annual artists program run by Merrigong Theatre Company) there was no set ticket price, with audiences able to reserve a spot, turn up and see the show before deciding how much they would like to contribute. This is an excellent idea, not just because of the cost-of-living crisis currently impacting many Australians, but also because an audience will have fewer expectations, and be more open to experimental or challenging works if they haven’t had to fork out a fixed sum in order to see them.
The program opened with Bonnie Curtis’s Soft Mirror which seeks to challenge stereotypes, social norms and expectations of gender and beauty. Those audience members who entered the auditorium a few minutes before the show began had a bit of a preview with three cast members (Elizabeth Apter, Fiona Larkin and Ella Power) crawling, pouting, playing and lolling around the front of the auditorium in their flesh coloured skin tight costumes and neon bright wigs. Ella Power was particularly convincing in this preview section, and together the trio garnered a few laughs from the audience through their committed embrace of parody. I found Soft Mirror’s sexualised vs grotesque aesthetic and choreographic language attention grabbing initially but lost interest as the work progressed. However, I do want to acknowledge the commitment of the whole cast of six in bringing Curtis’s vision to life. The musical score was also well put together with contrasting sections of spoken word and instrumental music highly effective in communicating the works’ underlying themes.
Jessica Hewett’s How Do We Know? is a reflection on the results of the notorious Stanford prison psychological experiment in 1971. “How do we know…”, the program notes say, how anyone will react when placed in a position of power, until they actually receive that power? Hewett’s work uses all five company members and three apprentices to create a technically demanding, choreographically fluent and deeply absorbing dance work which alludes to the interplay of power and authority between individual performers but never explicitly makes a definitive statement.
Tara Gilmour was outstanding but really, the entire cast looked strong and adept in this work. Highlights included some dynamic floor work and several creatively imagined partnering sequences. The musical score was made up of at least six different shorter pieces yet sounded like one unified score. As a former dancer with AUSTI. Dance and Physical Theatre (2015-2021) Hewett may have had an advantage in her familiarity with the company and its ethos, but I will remember her name nonetheless.
The closing work, Lato2x, which was choreographed by Buddy Malbasias, is a work for eight dancers (with the surprise addition of one more performer for the final sequence). Inspired by the traditional Filipino game of “lato-lato” – two pendulum-like balls tied to a string -- and also by a recent familial tragedy, this work is an exercise in contrasts, exploring fate vs chance, life vs death, and humour vs pain as just one of many ways in which the interplay between two oppositional themes unfolds throughout our lives.
The score was made up of at least 10 shorter tracks which I won’t name here – it seems emerging 21st century choreographers all share the impressive ability to compile assorted tracks into a coherent score. Suffice to say that Lato2x is an engaging work and well worth seeing. I liked the way it combined movement sections with vocal work, and thought Elizabeth Apter was particularly effective in the spoken sections. What a delight also to see dancer Ella Powers’ father Gerry called up onstage like the winner of a lottery to join in for the final section (an unrehearsed, partial surprise). Equal parts bemused and delighted as he was thrown in the deep end of an unfamiliar dance routine, Gerry is like all of us who jump out of our comfort zone into something new, and an excellent reminder of the strong sense of community that surrounds a relatively small organisation like AUSTI. Dance and Physical Theatre.
Congratulations to company members Elizabeth Apter, Tara Gilmour, Fiona Larkin, Bella Lopes De Oliveira, Ella Power, and apprentices Lucy Slater, Freya Locke Paterson and Sophie Richards.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON