Various Launceston builings, 5 September
"First Floor" is the last group show of the choreographers who have been nurtured by Tasdance over the past two years. The concept behind this final program comes from the company's artistic director Adam Wheeler. Sparked by the provocation, What lies above the common world?, "First Floor" sees each of the five makers perform a self-devised solo. Each work inhabits an under-used Launceston city space.
The journey begins at Princess Square where the celebrations of Junction Festival are in full swing. Our Pied Piper leads up alleys and stairways to the first space - a simple, square room under an exposed roof - to see Thomas E.S. Kelly's Waiburra. He holds a still presence, pressed in one corner as the audience gathers against two walls. His back faces the room. Small shifts in his torso and indeterminate sounds interrupt periods of stillness. Impetus slowly builds from within. Crackling mixes with his voice as we hear a story of "Waiburra", the power of fire.
Shifting into the space, Kelly's embodied narrative speaks of humanity's recent misuses of "Thung Waiburra" (bad fire), which includes digging coal from mother earth. His signature vocabulary, which quivers from the ground, through torso and punctuates his limbs, is a rich development on his inherited movement traditions. This solo is a powerful reminder of the importance of our connections to the earth despite our attempts to elevate ourselves with man-made structures.
Winding across the street, we climb into another uninhabited space. Three Victorian arched windows dominate the far wall. Now stripped of their ornate plaster, the walls and ceiling reference a previous time of prosperity and status. A single globe competes with the ambient light from the street outside. Into the space glides Rachel Arianne Ogle, with her own creation, Ephemera for First Floor. Her body is covered by a long, sheer cape. Time slows. She moves to the window; she moves under the light; now touches the rough wall. Her face is obscured; her focus towards the streetscape. The only time we glimpse her features is as a reflection. Even a fall is unhurried and unchecked.
The bulb falters and dips. Flashes of light, sourced mysteriously from around a corner, exaggerate the separation between the audience and performer. Distorted reflections set the space in motion. With a nod to Loie Fuller, Ogle flutters and spins within a stroboscopic space only to abandon the cape as evidence of her existence.
Following our Piper's call, we discover another world above an old arcade. This abandoned restaurant, complete with swing door, a bar and wild 70's Axminster is the setting for Gabriel Comerford's solo, The Many Hatted Restaurant. Comerford's character is overtly welcoming. He invites audience members to join his scene, occupy stools and seats at the only table, while the remaining audience members observe Comerfords attempts to solve the supposed over-patronage. In a wild ride of gesture, vocals and chaos, the audience is made to feel welcome but on hold. Comerford's comical physical antics are deliberately distracting. Diving in and out of the Bar, the Kitchen and back to the inadequate Dining Room, he attempts to satisfy everyone. His character is a juggler extraordinaire, using flash floor tricks and props to exaggerate his comedic solutions. Everyone gets involved as he invents a communal celebration, which leads us satisfied and out the door.
On to Room No.19, where Sofie Burgoyne greets us in full-faced disguise, designed by Allanah Sarafian. Another very embracing character, she invites participation with a monologue of desires whilst offering wine and edible delights. Burgoyne’s dance exists in the tight space between the audience members bodies and is reliant on their interactions with her. Squashed into the glass room, the audience is her plaything from which she eventually escapes. Through the glass we are then presented with a very different relationship. Smoke-saturated and ambiguous, the movement we can now observe is discrete, partially obscured and non-verbal. The delineation is clear, and we are left wondering what has happened to our host until the last moment, as we depart, we are faced with her final sacrifice.
Another street promenade and we arrive at where dreams go to die by Isabella Stone. Now a warehouse, the former National Theatre is now stripped of ornament. Stone graces the gallery with its greasy stains of backrow heads. In a shimmering gold dress, she moves along the timber boards, her footsteps reverberating around the auditorium. Her audience has been encouraged to move anywhere and some find themselves directly in her path as she slowly makes her way along each chair-less level. So begins a relationship of viewpoints, where audience and performer seem to negotiate their understanding of the space. The audience first looks upwards, then along and finally down as Stone manipulates her articulate body in linear pathways until beckoning us to witness her dramatic, silent movie exit.
Her reprise brings us into the present. Surrounded by the packaging and piles of contemporary production, is she now also on display? Her focus is clearly aimed at the audience, provocative and yet calmly present, raising more questions than answers.
"First Floor" has clearly been a complex and collaborative effort, not least of which has been the input of composer Anna Whitaker whose work seamlessly enhanced the intentions of four of the five works, with Kelly providing the sound for his own work.
- LESLEY GRAHAM