Computer says go

Forgery (Australasian Dance Collective)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

September 22 – October 2

The Australasian Dance Collective (formerly known as Expressions Dance Company) is a leading Brisbane-based contemporary dance group of much acclaim, whose unique shows celebrate collaboration and risk-taking in equal measure. “Forgery”, commissioned for development by award-winning Melbourne-based dancer, sound designer, choreographer and creative coder Alisdair Macindoe, perfectly encapsulates this core ethos.

The world premiere is innovative in its intent and execution given that it is directed entirely by cutting-edge technology. The resulting improvised choreographic score makes each performance a uniquely authentic experience for dancers and audience members alike. Beginning with direction for its six dancers to find their way to the stage, the shows sees its ensemble of performers then fed instructions live on stage by a complex series of algorithms which also dictate lighting, costumes and music. Initially, the directions are given as part of the sound design, before morphing into earpiece instructions that the audience sees projected at the back of the stage, effectively including us in the creative process as we see the show’s duration tick down in time.  

From its choreographic start, the bespoke Brisbane Festival show progresses to solo and duo work before a returning choreographic conclusion, with increasing speed and decreasing gaps between instructions in its exciting final minutes. Each performance sees a different order of different things, such as a long duo, leaving four dancers off stage in Saturday’s matinee performance.

When the dancers, Chase Clegg-Robinson, Tyrel Dulvarie, Lonii Garnons-Williams, Jack Lister, Jag Popham and Josephine Weise are all on stage, it is often difficult to know where to look as they each independently translate the instructions in simultaneous solos, finding their own styles inside the structure as phrases are often played out in different sequences or with pauses at different spots. Still, highlights mostly come when the group flock together or are moving en masse across the stage.

“Forgery” is fast moving and reactive at its core, such as when dancers have to navigate out of each other’s spaces upon instruction to spread evenly across the stage or are told where certain limbs are to be placed and when to interact in physical connection with others. Yet, it is a clear celebration of unique ways of thinking and moving as individual interpretations of a common language are communicated using different physical tools.

At just 45 minutes long, it is certainly short and sharp, catering to the attention economy of the digital world from which it has originated, as variables are added to the skeleton of each structural segment. It is, however, crammed with depth and an intensity that makes its short show time entirely apt, given that instructions are sometimes changing every 10 seconds. The limited time this gives dancers to complete ideas gives added invigoration. With so many instructions to translate (over 3000 during the season), hasty, condensed responses are required to convey physical ideas before they are changed.

Silliness settles its appeal to even dance laymen, giving us humour in instructions such as ‘your eyebrows are your thighs’ and affording a connection through easily identifiable concepts like Incy Wincy Spider, a Mexican wave, tai chi and the Thriller dance. And the soundscore of compositional works from Macindoe is often evocatively ominous towards a thunderous climax, supported by collaboration with Ben Hughes’ lighting design.

With all of its unique challenges, “Forgery” celebrates the flexibility and skill of its performers, but also encourages appreciation of the language and discipline of dance. To be given the rare opportunity to see chance choreography not just done, but done well, is thrilling in and of itself, but the work also brings with it an integral depth in its lead towards contemplations around creative agency and consideration of what is meant by choreography. As all great art does, however, “Forgery” constructs no finite answers, giving its audiences further reason to want to go again to more of its season of premiere productions of the work.

Making men

This Ain’t No Pussy Show (Kate Harman & Toby Angus)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

September 16 – 18

From its title alone one could easily suspect that “This Ain’t No Pussy Show” is going to be a down-with-the-patriarchy type of feminist manifest. But the world premiere Brisbane Festival show from Kate Harman and Toby Angus reveals that it’s actually a lot more nuanced than just this. (The ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ Cure music poster should have given it away that this is instead a show about the making of men.)

We begin pre-show with Metro Arts’ New Benner Theatre transformed into a teenage boy’s bedroom. Within its beanbag untidiness is Toby (Toby Angus), a 16-year-old about to be interrupted from his Xbox by his mother Kate (Australian dancer and choreographer Kate Harman), who isn’t really his mother we learn later as more of the shows premise about how to navigate growing up as a boy is unpacked. The complicated navigation though the show’s provocative theme of gender equality requires some guidance, so first we are given a road map of how the how long show shall proceed via a dance break, big reveal and a phallic segue.

Dance features heavily in the highly physical show, providing many of its highlights as Harman and Angus dance together and against each other in realisation of its themes. Anna Whitaker’s dynamic composition and sound design also helps with the creation of some memorable moments such as Harman’s ‘Killing in the Name’ rage against the machine. At the core of her frustration as a mother is knowing how to parent a boy in the current social and political climate. And in this regard, there are few answers provided. Indeed, rather than giving answers the show inspires questions about how to make Kate a better parent, such as if she should teach her son to fight and it there are dangers to validating his vulnerability.

Under the direction of performer Kate Harman and writer/co-director Gavin Webber, “The Ain’t No Pussy Show” reveals a nuanced approach that elevates it above many similarly-themed social issue works. The years spent on its development may have seen performer and collaborator Toby Angus grow out of his initial character type, as he asserts in one of its many metatheatre moments, but they have clearly helped in the creation of a cleverly crafted commentary on coming terms with manhood in a rapidly changing world. It’s an appropriate metaphor too given the shifting landscape that Kate and Toby must navigate together.

It is quite the ride through its 50-minute duration as through the relationship of a mother and son, ‘This Ain’t No Pussy Show’ explores everything from feminism and masculinity to privilege, patriarchy and pizza shapes. To set such powerful themes against the art from of dance, not only emphasises the urgency of its ideas, but also enhances audience engagement. An early highlight comes when Katie appropriately begins a high-energy boxing routine to the pumping sounds of Peaches’ ’Flip This’, which morphs into the two performers switching between the gendered roles being signposted. And Kate’s memorable ‘Killing in the Name’ trip off the map anger in relation to the actuality of space abundance is grittily angsty and angular in its movements.

While the show is interesting in its examination of language, it’s not always subtle in its messaging, not that it presumes to be. There is no pussyfooting around the commentary, when, for example, Toby is made to envelope himself into taking up less physical space with direction to tense up and hold everything in. But such blatancy is tempered by its many moments of humour, such as wen Toby acts out the possibilities of what Kate’s six-year-old son might be, as an accompaniment to her pondering. And Toby’s words of wisdom at the show’s end come as an endearing surprise, cementing the show’s worth as a complex, original and rewarding theatre experience.

Pink Matter empowerment

The Type (Pink Matter)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

September 10 – 13

Pro-girl gang, Pink Matter’s “The Type” brings together five female dancers from different cultural backgrounds and of all shapes and sizes. In the languish of the show’s opening number, they are entwined and bonded to each other in slow angles and with some sizzling synchronised Fosse-esque isolations. Though there is no clear narrative from here, there are distinct themes to the repertoire on display as the performers break apart and return together to share some empowering street dance, inspired by their lived experiences around representation and body image, blended with the power and strength of fusion movement. Accordingly, each dancer is given individual moments to shine in the world premiere performance as part of the Brisbane Festival. And shine Floss Moloney, Wanida Serce, Monika Stojevski, Kimberley Smit and Amy Zhang, all do, as they each show impressive movement, expression, emotions and stage presence that captures the audience.

As the chain of dancers breaks, lighting warms the stage along with the seasawing sounds of Yaeji’s electronic ‘Raingurl’ and performer, creator and Creative Director Wanida Serce’s impressive fusion and conceptual free form choreography/freestyle starts to take shape. The work’s hybrid hip-hop, R&B and House music soundtrack works well to elevate its experience, reflecting a sense of journey through life’s lived experiences of lapses and learning. By the time we get to Missy Elliott’s ‘She a Bitch’, the collective’s all-original sensibility is clear as the stage pumps with athleticism, intricacy, flexibility and palpable pop and lock energy and attitude, especially in a later acrobatic number from Serce.

The show is full of light and shade moments too, enhanced by Serce’s considered choices which aid in the creation of memorable imagery, such as when Smit leads the others in formation of fluid ensemble movements like a flock of beautiful birds soaring into flight. Creative elements such as Christine Felmingham’s lighting design, similarly, aid in the creation of memorable moments such as when bespeckled lighting washes over a dramatic overhead lift.

A well-chosen soundscape enhances, without overwhelming the effect of routines, which speak volumes alone as they set about challenging the standards of beauty and success that shape entertainment today. This is evident, most notably, in a powerful number from Floss Moloney, which sees the powerhouse performer encircled by mirrors in what emerges as an ultimate celebration of self-efficacy.

Diverse as the talented dancers may be, their synchronicity is always excellent, and transitions concise. It is nice, also, to see choreography that allows for facial expression beyond blank stare, yet never detracting from the collective’s upbeat spirit, and formidable and fearless big girl power energy. This is clearly a hardworking company of proud performers trying to push the envelope of dance’s legacy of tired, carbon-copy stereotypes and “The Type” not only contributes to this, but energises their audience along for an electric and entertaining physical conversation.

Photos c/o – Logan Preste

Sugar, spice and Nutcracker nice

The Nutcracker (Queensland Ballet)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

December 13 – 21

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“One of the things I love most about The Nutcracker is the way it brings families and generations together…” so reads Queensland Ballet’s Artistic Director Li Cunxin’s program greeting, a sentiment that is immediately realised upon entry into the Lyric Theatre for experience of the classic ballet in two acts. Seeing “The Nutcracker” is a dearly-held Christmas ritual for countless families around the world and now I understand why.

The timeless story, based on ETA Hoffmann’s 1816 tale of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” about a nutcracker come to life is dazzling one, whether audience members be return viewers or new to the enchanting experience. It is a whimsical, beautiful holiday classic brought to life by Queensland Ballet in a fabulous spectacle of a show.

The story is simple enough and easy-to-follow; guests are being greeted at a Christmas Eve party where the mysterious, magical Drosselmeier (a charismatic Jack Lister) delights with magic tricks and gives Clara (Lou Spichtig) a wooden Nutcracker. He later returns to take us into the next chapter as, at midnight, little Clara begins a magical journey into a wondrous world where her surroundings grow around her as toys come to life. Her nutcracker comes to life to soldier the toys against King Rat and his giant mice army before himself turning into a handsome prince, her house is transformed into the Land of Snow complete with delicate dancing snowflakes, and a beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy appears in reign over the Kingdom of Sweets in which entertainment comes from a range of international dances.

It really is a story of two halves. While Act One’s theatrical amusements entice children in their pantomime-ish sensibilities, Act Two’s repeated ballet sequences serve as a celebration of the art form in and of itself. Impressive choreographic detail (Ben Steveson choreographer) features throughout, adding depth to the flurried Christmas party opening scene in its presentation of the subtleties of generational and gender dynamics at such a gathering, and an ensemble approach allows for many moments of humour, such as in the animated antics of elderly characters at the party, most notably Grandmother (Serena Green) and Grandfather (D’Arcy Brazier). Even the more traditional second act affords opportunity for impressive attention to detail, even if only in background character interactions. And the motifs representative of each country are complemented by costumes within the Arab, Chinese and Russian dances, without compromising the integrity of traditional classic ballet.

Act Two also features the most familiar sections of Tchaikovsky’s iconic, melodic score, one of his most famous compositions. Its nimble sounds are flawlessly delivered by The Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Music Director and Principal Conductor Nigel Gaynor, from the light and lively first theme through to the triumphant ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and the wintry and delicate ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. Also lush is the layered Lyric Theatre staging of Christmas red and green, before transformation into the dreamy Land of Snow, with a beauty that extends even into the stalls. And the special effects that see the house’s Christmas tree grow before our eyes, offer one of many magnificent moments.

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The serene snow scene allows for the creation of beautiful symmetrical patterns and formations on stage amidst falling snow, and accompanied by the flickering flutes and flurrying orchestral sounds of the Waltz, it makes for a magical move into interval. Costumes (Design by Desmond Heeley) and movements replicate the idea of unique snowflake swirls and groupings. The mastery of the dancer’s synchronisation is striking, not only when they are dressed as sparkling snowflakes in the first act, but also as flowers in Act Two’s whimsical ‘Waltz of the Flowers’.

Much of the captivating spectacle of the show comes from its performances. As Dr Drosselmeyer, Jack Lister delivers magic tricks and precise illusions with well-executed grand and deliberate moments, while the dolls, particularly Patricio Reve as Soldier Doll, are impressive in their stiffly mechanical physicality and never-wandering eyes-straight-ahead stares, demanding audience attention. And crowd favourite David Power gives a hyper-energetic performance as Act Two’s whirling Russian dancer, leaping about the stage with impressive athleticism.

Spichtig again makes for a youthfully exuberant and innocent Clara, taking the audience along on her wonderful dream within a dream journey, while the Snow Queen and Snow Prince (Liam Kim and Liam Geck) display a captivating synergy, with clean movements. Lucy Green gives a technically-assured performance in the demanding Sugar Plum Fairy role, with impressive point work both in solo and pas de deux with the Prince (Victor Estevez). Indeed, her partnership with the Prince (Victor Estevez) is so breathtaking as to elicit spontaneous applause from the audience during their grand pas de deux, possibly the most beautiful dance of the production. Estevez makes for an elegant prince who showcases apparently effortless entrechats and strings of fouette turns with ease, and stately extensions beyond the ballerina frame, counterbalance and the pair’s triumphant lifts.

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Experience of Queensland Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is a wonderful ‘tis the season treat. In the company’s hands it is easy to appreciate its place as one of the most beloved ballets of all time. Its music is glorious and gorgeously evocative, with a score that is full of unforgettable melodies, turned into a range of beautiful shapes and movements. It has become a tradition for the company to perform it every year during the festive season (this is their seventh successive Nutcracker year) and with its combination of gorgeous sets and costumes, stunning dance and Tchaikovsky’s music, it continues to serve as the perfect festive ballet to get you and yours in the holiday mood, accessible to all ages in its just-over-two-hours running time and warm-hearted combination of comedy, magic and beauty. Whether the show serves as an annual family outing or you are coming into it with knowledge only through pop culture references like in a holiday episode of “Will & Grace” (#guilty), “The Nutcracker” will fill you with the sugar, spice and all things nice of this time of year.

Spring bring

Yang Liping’s Rite of Spring (Peacock Contemporary Dance Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

September 25 – 28

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Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” ballet and orchestral concert work is an intense depiction of the fertility rights and rituals of his native Russia’s indigenous tribes in celebration of Spring. Now China’s superstar choreographer and dancer Yang Liping presents her own take on the defining work in her secondary contemporary dance piece.

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There is a clear Asian aesthetic to the extravagant visual dance work beginning from the meditative first of its three sections, with the show taking its inspiration from traditional Tibetan culture; as audience members enter the Playhouse Theatre, the stage is set with female dancers statued deep in prayer as deities in meditation while a lone Monk labours hundreds of golden Chinese characters around the stage. In the background, an immense metallic bowl looms, rising after a gong to create a stunning silhouette of the dancers thanks to Fabiana Piccioli’s exquisite lighting design. Its patient pacing enlivens as movement begins with the dancers emerging from position through precise arm and finger based movement with impressive synchronicity of the smallest of finger clicks.  In contrast to quiet tranquillity, a dynamic soundscape signals the entrance of a giant, brave hairy Chinese Lion, navigated by Da Zhu (Fenwei Zhu) who meets a beautiful girl with flowing hair Maya Don (Jian Dong). Together they contort around each other provocatively in expression of the fertility rites associated with spring.

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This slow-burn physicality is followed by frenzied movement as the female cast assume a long line with their feet in fixed stirrups, allowing them to shift their weight forward and back at astonishing angles in undulating waves. This visually striking choreography is a genuine highlight, not only due to its rhythmic energy but its pulse to the music, which comes, in Parts I and III, courtesy of a new musical score from Chinese composer He Xuntian, influenced by traditional Tibetan music. When things move again to a solo it is that of the sacrificial victim, having Chinese characters attached to her by the ceremonial master as she is offered before a final floating purified reincarnation.

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Through the work’s distinct sections, the skill the Yang Liping’s dancers bring to the work is astounding. The principals are compelling in their lithe execution of the demanding choreography of detailed and intricate movements. Indeed, Yang Liping’s redefinition “The Rite of Spring” from the perspectives of Eastern aesthetics and philosophy is a stunning spectacle of innovative artistry in its meld of dance, music, lighting and design into a visually exciting piece of dance theatre of the calibre expected at an international event such as the Brisbane Festival. Even if you don’t know exactly what is happening on stage all the time, you know that what you are experiencing is good, very good. Just try and secure a seat in the centre of the stalls so as to enjoy the best view of the lion’s share of the action (#punintended).

 

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.