Awkward. Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub

27 March 2024. The B, Queanbeyan Arts Centre

Below is a slightly expanded version of my review of Awkward published online by Canberra City News on 28 March 2024.

In just one performance in The B, a former Bicentennial Hall renovated to become a theatre space, the Newcastle-based Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub presented Awkward, a work with a focus on ‘The wit and wisdom of the socially awkward.’

In essence Awkward set out to be a multi-disciplinary work with a strong dance component but centering on a spoken narrative about an event to which six young people, unknown at first to each other, arrived to party together. Some were shy, others weren’t. Some made an effort to connect, others didn’t. A kind of compere, the seventh person in the story, explained to the arrivals how they should behave at such an event, what to do with the eyes when talking to someone new, for example. We watched as the young people slowly began to interact with each other. Sometimes the effort to interact worked, sometimes it didn’t, so there was much changing of relationships.

One performer tries (unsuccessfully) to connect with another in Awkward. Photo: © Ashley de Prazer, ca. 2023

Interaction was most often expressed through dancing, which was performed to popular songs from around the 1980s and 1990s. The songs and the narrative were often closely connected in theme and the choreography, by Cadi McCarthy, a co-director of the Catapult company, was distinguished by some eye-catching lifts and partnering, and tumbles and turns in a grounded contemporary style. The performers, Jordan Bretherton, Cassidy Clarke, Alexandra Ford, Nicola Ford, Romain Hassanin, Remy Rochester, and Anna McCulla, all danced well and performed with strong stage presence. It was extremely frustrating, however, that. without a program or any images on show in the lobby of the theatre, it was not easy to identify which dancer was playing which role. The strongest dancer amongst the seven, at least for me, was the performer in the tartan costume in the left-front position in the featured image. Who is she? No idea. But I really enjoyed her dancing. She also appears in the image below standing across the two bars that make up part of the set.

Photo: © Ashley de Prazer, ca. 2023

The B provided an interesting space for the work. Two levels were used—a relatively small, raised stage became a living area on which the dancers engaged with each other, on and around several lounge chairs, while in front of the stage at ground level was the bar area and the dance floor. Steps on either side of the ground level space led up to the raised area and the dancers used both spaces equally and effectively. I wondered whether or not the Catapult group had used this kind of double performing space when performing this work in other venues? The company certainly looked very comfortable moving up and down, back and forth.

It was a shame, however, that the performance was as long as it was—it lasted around 75 minutes. After a while the choreography started to look repetitive and Awkward could have been 15 or 20 minutes shorter and saved itself from losing its power. The multi-disciplinary nature of the work was somewhat problematic too. While the ‘compere’ took a significant role in the early part of Awkward, the narrative disappeared somewhat as the work progressed and dance took over. I preferred the dance component to the narrative element, which often seemed not so much funny (although much of the audience laughed and laughed) as a little pathetic. But, more importantly, the loss, or lessening of the narrative meant that the intrinsic nature of the work as established at the beginning was lost.

Awkward began as a kind of ‘total work of art’ (Gesamtkunstwerk to use the early name for that idea). But slowly Awkward lost that quality, or the idea of totality was significantly lessened. As a result, and unfortunately the work was uneven in the way it was presented. And, again unfortunately, Awkward was too long. A shortened work and a more consistent approach would have added an ongoing strength to the work.

Michelle Potter, 28 March 2024

The version published by Canberra City News is at this link.

Featured image: The five female performers from Awkward with the ‘compere’ in the central position. Photo: © Ashley de Prazer, ca. 2023

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