KAGE, 'Out of Earshot', 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

‘Out of Earshot.’ KAGE

9 June 2017, Chunky Move Studios, Melbourne. In conjunction with the Melbourne International Jazz Festival

This work for four dancers and a drummer shook me up no end. It was often loud and often brightly lit. And you might think that the title referred to the fact that one of the dancers, Anna Seymour, was born profoundly deaf, and that the work was made for audiences with differing hearing abilities. Out of Earshot was indeed about the varied ways in which we can communicate, but it was also so much more than that. It was a thrilling journey into the heart of what makes us human.

The work began quite gently with just the soft sound of hands tapping on bodies—dancer Elle Evangelista and drummer Myele Manzanza began this exploration of making and feeling sound on and through the body. But once Manzanza, moved from this gentle opening and began to use his mobile drum kit (it was set up on a low platform on wheels), gentle gave way to loud. Manzanza was spectacular to watch because he made music not just with a set of drums but with his whole body, bending and twisting, leaning this way and that as he played. He experimented with making sound in various ways, too, including using his fingers and drumsticks as scraping implements and using the floor as an instrument.

Digitised sound waves, reflecting the varying rhythms of Manzanza’s music, were projected in a range of colours onto three rectangular screens (design Paul Jackson, Stephen Hawker and James Paul), and light and colour were significant players over the course of the work.

Design elements for 'Out of Earshot', KAGE 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Design elements for Out of Earshot, KAGE 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

But in terms of the dancing (choreography Kate Denborough in collaboration with the performers), Out of Earshot showed us such a huge range of emotions. There were moments when the choreography had sexual overtones, others when aggression was the dominant feeling—at one stage Gerard Van Dyck stormed across the stage and punched Timothy Ohl in the face, which resulted in an explosive duet between them. There were times when the feeling emanating from the dancing was simply pure love, there were other times when humour surfaced—a joke was shared between Evangelista and Seymour via Auslan (not knowing Auslan myself I have assumed that this was the language being used, but I knew it was a joke as a result of the laughter and giggles that followed). And throughout the work, the athletic capabilities of the body were explored. I especially enjoyed a fluid duet between Evangelista and Van Dyck, filled as it was with rolling and pulling movements, and another between Evangelista and Seymour in which they hugged and snuggled up to each other. So many emotions were there to imagine and the dancers pushed themselves hard to convey those feelings.

KAGE 'Out of Earshot', 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

(l–r) Timothy Ohl, Elle Evangelista, Anna Seymour and Gerard Van Dyck in Out of Earshot, KAGE 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Denborough and her team also played with silence and stillness. These concepts were sometimes juxtaposed with their opposites, including in a section towards the end of the work when loud singing, shouting, clapping and drumming were followed by a similar sequence without the sound and with just the dancers’ lips moving and the drummer’s drumsticks playing in mid-air. The ending was quiet, soft, slow as the dancers lay on the floor with the lights fading gently around them. It was something of a return to the opening with light touches to the body replacing the powerful movement that characterised much of the middle section of the work.

Out of Earshot did show that thoughts and ideas can be communicated in silence, with a lot of noise, with movement and expressive bodies, through visual elements and so on. Fascinating. But it also showed that when communication happens many different emotions are transmitted. That’s what I liked most about the work.

Michelle Potter, 13 June 2017

Featured image: Performers in ‘Out of Earshot’, KAGE 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

KAGE, 'Out of Earshot', 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

 

‘Great Sport!’. Liz Lea and collaborators

7 April 2016 (World Health Day), National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Canberra’s GOLDS (joined briefly on this occasion by two Dance for Parkinsons groups) have once again surprised me. Great Sport! was a site specific production that took place in various parts of the National Museum of Australia, including outdoors in the Garden of Australian Dreams. The production was a celebration of movement and sporting history but, given that the show had its first performance on World Health Day, and given that the program also included a segment by the two Dance for Parkinsons groups, Great Sport! was also a program that focused on healthy living through movement.

The production began with ‘Annette’, a celebration of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman. Choreographed by Liz Lea, joint artistic director of the GOLDS, it was full of glitz and glamour, as was befitting of the subject given that Kellerman was not just a swimmer but an advocate for female issues and a star of Hollywood in the early twentieth century. We saw spangly costumes, 1900/1920s-style cozzies, lots of feathers, fans and froth, and some gorgeous, fun-filled choreography that suited these dancers so well.

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Great Sport! Scene from ‘Annette’. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016.

‘Annette’, which was accompanied in part by an original musical composition/poem by Chrissie Shaw, made wonderful use of the Museum’s surrounding spaces—a pool; swirling, curving pathways; an ancient tree trunk; and soaring architecture.

A piece by Gerard van Dyck called  ‘First and Last’ also looked good outdoors, especially against a huge, curved metal wall covered in shadows. ‘First and Last’ used the men of the GOLDS and focused on the practising of sporting activities in a non-competitive environment. The theme suited the company beautifully and the men performed with their usual commitment. There is nothing to prove. Just dance!

Great Sport! Scene from 'First and Last' , Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

Great Sport! Scene from ‘First and Last’. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

We the audience moved from indoors to outdoors, from outdoors to indoors, taking our lead from Lea as compere for the event. One indoor piece, ‘I used to run marathons’, was particularly moving. Choreographed by Philip Piggin and Jane Ingall (also co-directors of the GOLDS) using people living with Parkinson’s Disease, it was performed to the well-known theme from Chariots of Fire. It took place on a circle of chairs and within the space formed by those chairs, and the circular theme was picked up by the choreography and reflected the Olympic symbol of five connecting rings. While the music had something to do with the feeling of transcendence I got, that each of the dancers had such a different capacity for movement, but that each was completely immersed, was also part of that feeling.

Another indoor section, Grand Finale, was choreographed by Martin del Amo. It was gorgeously costumed (based on a concept by del Amo) with the women garbed in long evening dresses, all different. Program notes stated that these women were ‘engaged in a mysterious game, collectively celebrating diverse individuality, on their own terms.’ And it was certainly mysterious as the ten or so women moved amongst each other, forming and reforming various patterns. As seems typical (to me anyway) of del Amo’s work, Grand Finale operates at a level that is somewhat obscure or arcane and, while I often find this aspect of del Amo’s work frustrating, that Grand Finale was meant to be mysterious, or obscure, or arcane, was made absolutely clear by the dancers. They moved through the choreography with distant looks on their faces and with no acknowledgement of each other.

But the pièce de resistance was Kate Denborough’s ‘None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives’ (a quote from Jane Austen). It was a spectacular and unexpected end to the program and showed the exceptional theatricality that is at the heart of Denborough’s work.

This final piece began with the women of the GOLDS dressed in scarlet dressing gowns and sporting bright red wigs. They began the piece in what initially appeared to be a narrow and quite dark cul-de-sac off the main outdoor area of the Museum. But at the end of this space was a set of double doors and, after performing together for a few moments, the dancers moved towards this door, opened it, and let in a flood of light and a water view (Lake Burley Griffin). They proceeded to open red umbrellas, and then to my surprise undid the dressing gowns to reveal a red swimming costume underneath. They then tripped the light fantastic to the water’s edge, sat down and dabbled their toes in the water, and we watched as a woman with red wig and red gown, paddled a red canoe past them. The play of light and shadow, water and land, and so many other things was breathtakingly beautiful. The canoe became a journey of life. Amazing.

Great Sport! Scene from 'None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives'. Photo: Michelle Potter

Great Sport! Scene from ‘None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives’. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

Great Sport!, with its beautiful opening ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ choreographed by Tammi Gissell, was a remarkable event and continues the focus of Liz Lea on working in unusual spaces and, in particular, on using the Canberra environment and its cultural institutions as a venue, and as a backdrop to her work. But apart from the bouquets that are due to Lea for her persistent focus on Canberra as a place where dance happens, one of the most interesting aspects of Great Sport! was the way in which the choreographers, all very different in their approaches and choreographic style, were able to maintain and make visible those differences while working with a community group in which movement skills are understandably quite varied. In addition, the GOLDS get better and better in their very individual manner and responded with gusto on this occasion to the work of choreographers with the professionalism to be able to draw out the very best from a community group. The courage and commitment of the GOLDS knows no bounds, and nor does the power and understanding of the choreographers involved.

Michelle Potter, 10 August 2016