Dance dynamism

100 years of the History of Dance

Brisbane Powerhouse

July 31 – August 3

“100 Years of The History of Dance”…. it does what it says on the tin, but also so much more. 100 Years of the History of Dance as Told by One Man in 60 Minutes with An Energetic Group Finale is its more accurate, albeit verbose, title. The new work by Australian director, choreographer and performer Joseph Simons is absolutely entertaining, interesting in its discoveries and above all else, heaps of fun.

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The show is framed around goal-driven schoolboy Jacob’s (Joseph Simons) oral presentation on the topic of his own choice. What unfolds is an exploration of influential choreographers, in which Jacob not only discusses them, but demonstrates their signature styles. Rather than presenting the journey sequentially, however, content is shared as a family tree of influence, ‘because everyone overlaps’, which serves as an early signpost to one of the show’s themes about the fine lines between inspiration, influence and imitation.

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Non-chronological sequencing not only adds interest through anticipation of what is to come next, but contributes to its roller coaster experience through the work of choreographers like Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Gene Kelly and even Paula Abdul (and also the titbit trivia of their personal lives). The show is more about chorographers than dancers, but all audience expectations as to anticipated inclusions are met, although unfortunately without an Australian mention. Even those with only a passing knowledge of dance will find enough in its content to be entertained by recreation and explanation of the Broadway hi-jinx of Bob Fosse and others.

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Simons’ is a wonderful storyteller. He is infectious in his energy and his comic timing is spot-on, however, “speaking of…” transitions between segments are not entirely smooth and his push through audience laugher creates some disconnection. Beneath the schoolboy demeanour and uniform, is Simons’ dancer’s body, which we first see when ‘Jacob’ recreates Soviet ballet dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev’s classical technique, hovering high in the air in an undeniable show of strength and skill. Indeed, in each illustrative segue he captures the characteristics of the performers, switching easily between a range of forms. Also of particularly note, his illustration of DV8 Physical Theatre and the work of Lloyd Newson, while narrating with accompanying explanation is absolutely brilliant in its deliberately-nuanced, gestured movement.

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“100 Years of The History of Dance”is tightly directed by Emma Canalese and clever in its simplicity, which is enhanced by the intimacy of the Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre. A lone school desk and chair are the only props, transforming even into a podium in recreation of Michael Bennett’s Tony Award receipt for “A Chorus Line”. Meanwhile Jacob’s school uniform costume transforms into all sorts of dance dress, most notably in a vivid Jellicoe Cats number with reappropriated lyrics in tribute to the chorographer of ‘England’s first dance musical’, Gillian Lynne.

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Simons is a charming performer and in his hands “100 Years of The History of Dance” is a unique and rewarding theatre experience. Its blend of dance and theatre may be unusual but it is thoroughly entertaining, especially when, in conclusion, the audience joins together in realisation of their own choreographed routine, for dance is, after all, about music, movement and connection.

“Do it big do it right and do it with style”, Jacob tells us, quoting Fred Astaire. True to these words, “100 Years of The History of Dance” is a dynamic exploration of dance as a discipline but also the ideas of influence, fame and legacy and, as such, it is a show not to be missed.

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