26 November 2023. QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra
Hot to Trot, the annual program for young choreographers from QL2 Dance, is always varied in what is presented to us, the audience. The 2023 season began with a film documenting the relationship (now twenty years old) between QL2 Dance in Canberra and Thailand’s Bangkok Dance Academy. We were introduced to the varied activities that have been part of that relationship from both a Thai and an Australian point of view.
The film was followed by six short works from choreographers Jahna Lugnan (Hazy Misconceptions), Julia Villaflor (Coloration), Emily Smith (You did this), Calypso Efkarpidis (Polarised Light), Arshiya Abhishree and Maya Wille Bellchambers in a joint production (Parasitic Waves), and Charlie Thomson (Humanchine). None of the choreographers had had extensive choreographic experience and for five it was their first effort. All the choreographers, in an introductory short statement about the work each was presenting, stressed the collaborative nature of the process and expressed the pride and pleasure they felt working closely with the dancers.
What was most striking for me was the way in which each of the choreographers managed the small black box space of the QL2 Theatre. There was no misunderstanding of the size and layout of the space in which they were working, and the movement spread beautifully up and down, across and around the space available. In addition I was impressed with many of the groupings that we saw, which were often a surprise and sometimes intertwined and layered in a quite special way (even if some reminded me of well-known images from past, well-documented productions).
The final piece, Charlie Thomson’s Humanchine, was certainly the most entertaining to watch. It dealt with technology and its effect on human beings. ‘At what point are our thoughts our own and how much of it is informed by the machine,’ Thomson wrote in the printed program. The five dancers were dressed as individuals and showed themselves as having individual thoughts through facial and bodily expression. But they often performed together—often in a line, sometimes looking slightly mechanical. There was a point where the machine and the individual merged (if ever so slightly).
I also especially enjoyed Calypso Efkarpidis’ Polarised Light. Made on just three dancers it sought to explore the notion that some colours are visible to some creatures but not others, as discussed in a David Attenborough documentary called Life in Colour. The choreography was simple but strong and beautifully performed.
Hot to Trot is a great initiative and the courage of those who take up the role of choreographer in the shows is remarkable. But the idea of expressing concepts that are often quite abstract has always bothered me when watching Hot to Trot shows. Even when explained in words, both verbally and in printed form, the ideas are not always visible as strongly as is needed. l often think that emerging choreographers need to consider in greater depth how the body can make concepts visible. I’m sure they do think along those lines but It isn’t an easy task to turn thoughts into movement. The works that always stand out most strongly in Hot to Trot are those where ideas and movement speak as one.
Nevertheless, the 2023 Hot to Trot was a remarkable event. Every work was outstanding in terms of the stagecraft and dancing that emerged.
Michelle Potter, 27 November 2023
Featured image: A moment from Emily Smith’s You did this in Hot to Trot, 2023. Photo: © O&J Wikner Photography