4 March 2022, Dairy Road Precinct, Canberra.
Australian Dance Party (ADP) calls itself a site-specific company these days, and its most recent work, LESS, is an exceptional example of how this approach to the company’s productions plays out. Created and performed as part of Canberra’s annual Enlighten Festival and the 2022 BOLD Festival, LESS took place in and around a sculpture created by a Chilean-based architectural practice, Pezo von Ellrichshausen. The sculpture, named LESS, graces a space in the Dairy Road Precinct, an area devoted to mixed and emerging businesses. It is a structure of 36 towering concrete columns and a circular ramp leading to a viewing platform. In front of it is a water feature, which consists of large rectangular ponds of shallow water.
While official descriptions of the sculpture say it is ‘intentionally monotonous’, it might also be seen as looking back to the brutalist architecture that characterises many of Canberra’s best known public buildings. ADP’s use of the site for LESS, the dance work, was something of a remarkable adventure for the audience. Some were seated on the ramp, others dangled their feet in the water while sitting on chairs positioned in one of the watery rectangles.
LESS the dance work begins just as the light of the day is beginning to fade. The movement starts in the watery ponds in front the sculpture, and the dancers, joined by a saxophonist (John Mackey) and a vocalist (Liam Budge), make their way towards the sculpture. Their movement is slow and deliberate and focuses on making right angled turns to change direction. It seems to reflect the upright qualities and lack of any sense of curved lines in the 36 columns. Once they reach the water directly in front of the sculpture, however, their imagination lets fly. They twist, bend, stretch and interact with each other, often splashing water in various directions, before making their way onto the sculpture itself. As the natural light fades away completely, the truly remarkable lighting design by Ove Mcleod takes over.
As the dancers transition from the water onto the sculpture their movement often becomes quite structured. Sometimes it reflects the upright nature of the columns. Sometimes it uses the columns as complete or partial hiding places. Sometimes it ignores that structural quality and becomes quite free and adventurous. And, in a remarkable manner, Mcleod’s lighting design allows what is happening on the floor of the sculpture to be reflected in the water giving a strange sensation of no beginning or no end to the dance.
The performers wore costumes by Aislinn King in colours of white and grey, although this colour scheme, like that of the concrete pillars, changed under the effects of the lighting design. Sound design was by Alex Voorhoeve and, in addition to the sounds of the saxophone, Liam Budge’s vocals, created through a hand-held microphone, were an interesting blend of grunts, moans, shouts, whispers and other assorted sounds that often seemed to reflect the dancers’ movements.
It is a joy to see ADP back in performance mode. The company, directed by Alison Plevey, may have a different approach to dance from many other companies, but LESS was a triumph of collaboration. Every aspect of the production contributed in a theatrical way to give a show that resonates still in my mind. I love being able to think up new ideas about dance and how it relates to us, society, and other art forms. LESS gave me that opportunity.
Michelle Potter, 6 March 2022
All photos, Australian Dance Party in LESS, 2022: © Lorna Sim