• 'Encounter'. Photo: Heidrun Lohr.
    'Encounter'. Photo: Heidrun Lohr.
  • 'Romances Inciertos, un Autre Orlando'. Photo: Jose Caldeira.
    'Romances Inciertos, un Autre Orlando'. Photo: Jose Caldeira.
  • 'Frontera'. Photo: Yannick Grandmont
    'Frontera'. Photo: Yannick Grandmont
  • 'Two Crews'. Photo: Adam Scarf.
    'Two Crews'. Photo: Adam Scarf.

Dana Gingras & Animals of Distinction

Bay 17, Carriageworks
January 8

Nick Power
Bay 20, Carriageworks
January 9

Form Dance Projects, Sydney Youth Orchestras & Fling Physical Theatre
Prince Alfred Square, Parramatta
January 11

Nino Laisne & Francois Chaignaud

Bay 17, Carriageworks
January 21

In 2020 Sydney Festival offers a broad program, packed with a wide range of diverse productions. The downside to this is that most shows only have a short run – blink and you’ll miss it. The upside is that there’s almost certainly something you’ll love, if only you can find it amongst the smorgasbord of entertainment on offer. There’s an increasing trend towards staging works that are difficult to categorise solely as dance, physical theatre or live music, for example – but some of these are really well done and highly innovative.

Two Crews, directed and choreographed by Australian Nick Power (with additional choreography by Lea Cazauran) is excellent - very entertaining, and a great night out at the theatre. Not that it felt like a theatre in a traditional sense. When Power’s previous work Cypher was performed back at the 2016 Sydney Festival, it was we – the audience - who made up the circle, standing just outside a circular taped line. The boundaries between artist and performer, stage and auditorium were blurred and dissolved in order to create a sense of community - the competitive street culture that is at the heart of hip-hop. Two Crews has the same feel but expands it into a space suitable for a larger audience, whereby the central performance space is semi-enclosed by rows of seating. Sitting, facing each other across the performance space, we in the audience watched eagerly as two crews of four dancers from Sydney, Australia (Riddim Nation), and Paris, France (Lady Rocks), teased and cajoled each other, strutting, slinking and hi-stepping across the space in a defiantly competitive, yet good-natured dance-off.

 Only when the rhythmic variety of the dancer’s moves become more complex does the music develop simultaneously into ever shifting and over-crossing rhythmic patterns. Matthew Marshall’s lighting design framed and highlighted the dancers to advantage throughout, and Gary Bigeni’s costume design of colourful street clothes made it look as though the dancers had just walked in from outside. The winner here was the audience. At just under an hour Two Crews left its onlookers wanting more, which is always a good sign.

 Frontera on the other hand was just over an hour, but felt much longer. This Canadian work is choreographed and directed by Dana Gingras and performed by 10 dancers from Animals of Distinction (AOD), a multimedia dance company led by Gingras. It was all about the dehumanising effects of borders, walls and boundaries, and it was certainly heavy going. Live music played by experimental rock band Fly Pan Am was positively deafening at times. And while the dancers’ ability to throw themselves around and move with great speed and energy was impressive, there was only so much one could take. With her long arms and fierce focus, dancer Caroline Gravel stood out from the rest of the cast. But the strongest elements of Frontera are the visual effects, by United Visual Artists. Clearly defined laser beams of light become prison bars or walls, representative of a society that is technologically advanced yet controlled. When the electronic base of Live Pan Am’s music audibly synchronised with the movement of the lights it truly felt as if the dancers were inside some type of computer or machine - a very interesting effect.

 Encounter is a free, site specific event repeated over three nights in the parklands of Parramatta’s Prince Alfred Square. Following a one-hour Prelude series of short ethnically diverse dance performances that took place in a pavilion at one end of the park, the main event has a large cast of dancers (eight from Fling Physical Theatre, alongside nine young dancers from Western Sydney) and close to 50 musicians from the Western Sydney Youth Orchestra. All the dancers are dressed in yellow boilersuits with white sneakers and reflective yellow visors. They move through and around the audience in a series of contrasting movements, some loosely structured and seemingly improvised, others tightly synchronised and rehearsed. On the night I attended they were well received by an audience with plenty of young families seated on picnic blankets scattered across the grass.

 All the way from France, Romances Inciertos, Un Autre Orlando is essentially a solo work. It is danced, choreographed and sung by the talented Francois Chaignaud, who is a published historian as well as being a very accomplished and versatile dancer. Since graduating from the Conservatoire National Superieur de Danse de Paris in 2003 he has collaborated and performed in works with a wide range of different artists. Nino Laisne, his main collaborator in this work, is jointly attributed (alongside Chaignaud) with the concept, and solely with stage and musical direction.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, given Chaignaud’s academic background, this is a dense and heavily layered work. The dual French/English program has a lot of useful information, but I am not sure how many people had time to fully read through it before the performance.

As sole performer Chaignaud, although slight in stature, displayed a charismatic command of the stage and the audience in front of him. From bare feet to stilts, pointe shoes and sky-high stilettos, you could only marvel at the balance, control and quality he brought to such different modes of movement. Meanwhile, framed by four picturesque landscape paintings that extended upwards in stages as the work progressed, four live musicians summoned the sounds of centuries past with their historical instruments. An unusual, yet special piece of theatre.


Photos above are Sydney Festival promotional images.

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