REBEL. Then. Now. When? Quantum Leap Ensemble

20 May 2021. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

The latest offering from the Quantum Leap Ensemble, an intrinsic part of the structure of Canberra’s QL2 Dance, has the title REBEL (short version). For a while I thought of this as a noun—who has not been a rebel at some stage in one’s life? But, as the work unfolded, it was clear that the title was more properly seen as a verb—it is the action that is at the heart of the work, although of course those who carry out the action are nevertheless the rebels.

As the full title suggests, REBEL was in three parts. It began with Then, a look back at the rebellious period of the 1960s and its moving into the 70s. Hippydom was before our eyes in the outrageous fashion, the hugely expressive dance moves, and the pleasure of being oneself.

This section, choreographed by Ruth Osborne and Steve Gow, had the audience clapping and cheering the dancers along, and no doubt dancing along themselves—in spirit.

But there was more to the Hippy era than this freedom to love, dance, and dress as one pleased. Vietnam was a focus of demonstrations, the feminist movement was strong, and it was a period of rebellion in many areas. This aspect was made clear by background footage, often archival and drawn from the era, assembled and projected by Wild Bear Digital.

What followed was mostly angry and confrontational. The second section, Now, was subtitled ‘Problem child’ and was choreographed by Jack Ziesing. It began with a spoken tirade from one of the performers, Toby McKnight, speaking with full-on anger at what was seen as the unacceptable social conditions of the present time.

Ziesing’s choreography worked to explain those conditions. It began with highly organised and geometrically structured movement and groupings but slowly broke into more dramatic scenes that sometimes looked like street dancing and other times as an effort to break free from conventions, or to be included as part of a wider community.

Mark Dyson’s lighting added particular strength to this section, which at times was lit red and, as a result, added a sense of anger to the action. The commissioned score from Adam Ventoura also added to the theme of anger. It was relentless, loud and percussive and brilliantly suited to the action, and vice versa.

As this section concluded, the angry young man reappeared and finished off his tirade of anger. Now slowly morphed into When?, choreographed by Jodie Farrugia. The dancers continued their anger but I missed the point of the women balancing books on their head. It reminded me of the June Dally Watkins 1950s manner of teaching young people good posture and deportment. Was it meant to suggest perhaps that books and greater knowledge hold the key to overcoming problematic issues?

But the continuing anger towards perceived unacceptable conditions was very clear towards the end as protest placards were held up and the performers crowded the stage and glared accusingly out at the audience. Somehow, however, this demanding ending left me cold. Is the future really so hopeless? And the brief return to the joy of life after the curtain calls did little to appease.

For me the opening section was the most successful of the three. It was clearly structured, true to the period, and engaging as well thought provoking. But what struck me about this show in particular (although it probably is a feature of every QL2 show), was the commitment, intensity and strength of contemporary technique these young dancers show as they perform. I loved too the strong production values (again an ongoing feature of QL2 productions).

But surely the world is not all gloom and doom?

Michelle Potter, 22 May 2021

All photos © Lorna Sim. And what a fabulous collaboration there is between Sim and QL2!

Featured image: Final scene from ‘When?’ in REBEL. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Leap into Chaos. QL2 Dance

15 October 2020, Canberra College Theatre

As a result of the COVID 19 situation, two of the annual initiatives of Canberra’s youth dance organisation, QL2 Dance—the Quantum Leap program for senior performers and the Chaos Project for younger dancers— were combined this year, hence the over-arching name Leap into Chaos. The performance also took place in a different, but well resourced venue, and with a much smaller than usual number of people seated for each performance (with physical distancing in place).

The younger dancers gave us a multi-faceted work called Touch. In seven parts, with choreography by Ruth Osborne, Steve Gow, Alison Plevey, Olivia Fyfe and Ryan Stone, Touch showed a range of different reactions to the coronavirus pandemic. There were masks, worn and then taken off with a shout of pleasure; references to hand washing; social interaction; acts of kindness; finding one’s place in the world; and a closing section filled with the joy of being able to perform live again.

Scene from Touch, QL2 Dance, 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim

While I wish one or two sections had been a little shorter, as ever I was impressed with the ability of the Chaos dancers to enter and exit the stage so smoothly and to use the space of the stage so effectively. Apart from the development of creativity during the choreographic phase when the dancers have the opportunity to contribute ideas, the value of the Chaos Project has always been the development of an understanding of stagecraft. The young dancers always do themselves proud in this respect.

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The second half of the program was an outstanding work, Sympathetic Monsters, choreographed by QL2 alumnus Jack Ziesing to a soundscape by Adam Ventoura. Ziesing is currently working freelance as a dancer and choreographer and, in creating Sympathetic Monsters, was inspired by a book by Shaun Tan called The Arrival. The impact of Sympathetic Monsters sent me in search of some information about The Arrival, which it turns out is a wordless book, a migrant story told using a series of images only. Tan himself says it concerns in part ‘the “problem” of belonging’, which ‘especially rises to the surface when things go wrong with our usual lives.’

I loved looking at Ziesing’s work without knowing anything about Tan’s book. His choreography alternated between group movement, exceptionally well performed by the dancers, and solos in which dancers pushed their bodies into fantastically twisted shapes. In its structure the work was endlessly fascinating. The dancers mostly entered one by one to perform a solo. After finishing, they moved upstage and stood in a line across the back of the stage space until they engaged in a group section. At the very end, the group, acting as involved onlookers, encircled two performers who moved together in a kind of complex duet. The work was lit by Craig Dear of Sidestage and his pronounced use of shadowy effects added to the drama of the movement and the power and mystery of the work.

Scene from Jack Ziesing’s Sympathetic Monsters, QL2 Dance, 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim

But reading about The Arrival further opened up the work, if in retrospect. There it all was in movement—the isolation; the belonging or not belonging; the group versus the individual; the sympathy juxtaposed with its opposite. Many thoughts came crowding in and even the title made some sense. I am looking forward to seeing the work again when QL2 Dance offers it as part of a streamed event later in October. Sympathetic Monsters was an exceptional work.

Michelle Potter, 17 October 2020

Featured image: Scene from Jack Ziesing’s Sympathetic Monsters, QL2 Dance, 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Scene from 'Power'. QL2, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Power. QL2 Dance

18 October 2019. Theatre 3, Canberra. The Chaos Project

The Chaos Project has long been a feature of the Canberra dance scene. Designed for the young and less experienced of the dancers who are part of the QL2 Dance community, each year it has a different theme. This theme is examined through a series of short works, which are combined seamlessly into one, hour-long production. Each section is choreographed by a professional choreographer and a few older dancers from the broader QL2 Dance community join with the younger ones to help the overall work move along effectively.

In 2019 the Chaos Project had the theme of power—in a variety of manifestations. The youngest performers danced out ideas of physical power, to choreography from Olivia Fyfe. The intermediate group (intermediate in age and experience) examined, through the choreography of Alana Stenning, the idea of ‘superheros’ and asked the question ‘who is the real superhero’? The older dancers performed choreography by Steve Gow and their theme centred on who abuses power and who uses it wisely. An introduction and conclusion were choreographed by Ruth Osborne and two other works completed the program, one an all-girl piece with choreography by Fyfe and Stenning, and one for boys only with choreography by Gow.

Scene from Alana Stenning’s ‘And I’m…’ from Power. QL2 Dance, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Choreographically, Power was well-constructed throughout and what always surprises me (although by now it probably shouldn’t) is how the technical limitations one might expect to see in young dancers are in fact never obvious. If they are asked to move in unison, they do. If a solo is required it always looks strong. And the sheer dedication and involvement of every dancer shows clearly. Credit here to the choreographers!

Perhaps the most fascinating part of Power was the all-girl section, ‘I Rule’, from Fyfe and Stenning. As it began the voice of a narrator could be heard telling the story of a princess in a far away land and her impending relationship with a suitor. My heart sank momentarily. But, as the dancers began to act out and dance this story, their attitude began to change. Towards the end they rejected the story and the role the princess was expected to play and by the very end their outraged voices drowned out the narrator. Feminist power at work!

Scene from ‘I rule’ from Power. QL2 Dance, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

The Chaos Project is a great initiative from QL2 Dance. It gives young dancers opportunities they rarely get elsewhere. Those opportunities include in particular the power to make a creative input to dance, since the dancers contribute ideas on how the work will unfold, both conceptually and technically. But it also gives them the opportunity to see how a professional choreographer works; how to use the space of the stage effectively; and more.

The Chaos Project is just one of the ways that QL2 develops and nurtures potential artists and audiences and gives work to professionals working across the arts.

Michelle Potter, 21 October 2019

Featured image: Scene from the closing moments of Power. QL2 Dance, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Scene from 'Power'. QL2, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Scene from ‘Power’. QL2, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Ryan Stone (centre) with Olivia Fyfe (left) and Alana Stenning in From the Vault, 2019. Photo: Lorna Sim

From the Vault. Australian Dance Party

20 September 2019. A ‘secret vault’, Dairy Road Precinct, Canberra

Dairy Road Precinct, on the edge of Canberra’s industrial suburb of Fyshwick, may be the least likely venue imaginable for a dance performance. A largely uninviting area, it is filled with buildings in hard-edged contemporary architectural style; there is little adequate signposting; and the precinct is difficult to navigate and to find the building one wants, even in daylight let alone at night. It is home to various organisations and start-up companies and seems to be filled with warehouses and vehicle yards. But a large warehouse, once used as a storage bunker by the Australian Mint, was the somewhat surprising venue for From the Vault, the latest production staged by Alison Plevey and her Australian Dance Party.

From the Vault looked at personal values that the Party thought were significant in our current society. The ideals that topped the list during research for the work were Safety, Freedom, Wealth, Individuality, Truth and Connection. Each of these ideas was examined in a distinct section with one particular dancer leading each part. While the values being put forward were not instantly recognisable (I later read the program notes), From the Vault was clearly about people’s emotions, thoughts and personal ideals. It was a work with which we, the audience, could immediately identify and it really didn’t matter if one’s thoughts strayed from what was written in the program (especially if it wasn’t read prior to the performance). I saw the Wealth section, for example, as being about greed and even gambling, and of course related it instantly to the original function of the performance space, especially when coins rained from above and were exchanged and tossed between the dancers. But, with its emphasis on people and their values, however one perceived what those values were, From the Vault was by far the best work I have seen from the Australian Dance Party.

Of course to be the best work I had seen from Plevey and her Party, From the Vault also needed to be expertly staged and well danced, costumed and lit. The five dancers, Stephen Gow, Olivia Fyfe, Eliza Sanders, Alana Stenning and Ryan Stone, all performed with the power and commitment we have come to expect of them.

Stephen Gow (centre) with dancers from the Australian Dance Party in From the Vault, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Stone was the standout performer. He led the section that represented Individuality (although to me it seemed more like gentle dominance). The section began with a kind of Mozartian flourish as dancers performed a dance built around a very eighteenth-century reverence. But then, accompanied by Alex Voorhoeve on his magical electric cello, and with a sound design from Andy McMillan, Stone began some of the most beautiful (and I should add individualistic) dancing I have seen for a long time. His limbs seemed to have no restrictions at all, such was the fluidity and freedom with which he moved. His speed and elevation were a joy to watch, and I loved the way he covered the space with his larger movements. I was also impressed with the way in which his body, and every part of his body, filled the immediate space around him. Nothing was a mindless gesture and he seemed totally absorbed in his execution of the choreography. He was a dancer possessed.

Mark Dyson’s lighting design added much to the atmosphere with a strong use of colour, down lighting and contrasts of light and darkness. There was mystery there, and the large space available in the ‘secret vault’ allowed dancers to appear and disappear throughout the performance. Costumes by Imogen Keen, with a mix of fabric from denim to patchwork splendour, were distinctive, attractive and quite chic.

Scene from From the Vault. Australian Dance Party, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Alison Plevey directed From the Vault and did not perform herself, as she usually does. With Karla Conway as dramaturg, focused direction from Plevey, and an exceptional creative input from the whole team, this work had power and coherence and was an immersive experience for the audience. Four and a half stars.

Michelle Potter, 22 September 2019

Featured image: Ryan Stone (centre) with Olivia Fyfe (left) and Alana Stenning in From the Vault. Australian Dance Party, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Ryan Stone (centre) with Olivia Fyfe (left) and Alana Stenning in From the Vault, 2019. Photo: Lorna Sim
Scene from 'Where we gather' from Two Zero, Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Two Zero. Quantum Leap

For reasons that escape me, my Canberra Times review of Quantum Leap’s Two Zero, filed first thing Friday morning (the morning after!), has not yet appeared online, as is the usual practice. The review may appear in the print edition of The Canberra Times on Monday 13 August. In the meantime, here is an expanded version of that review.

9 August 2018, The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

Two Zero celebrates twenty years of dance by Quantum Leap, Canberra’s youth dance ensemble and the performing arm of QL2 Dance. The program was set up as a continuous performance in eight sections, three of which were restagings of works from previous seasons with the other five being works newly created for this particular occasion.

In the terms of choreography, the standout work was Daniel Riley’s Where we gather. It was first seen in 2013 as part of Hit the Floor Together and was remounted for this 2018 season by Dean Cross with final rehearsals overseen by Riley. Where we gather explored the idea of young people from Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds working together. It showed Riley’s exceptional use of organic and rhythmic movement patterns, and his remarkable feel for shape, line, and the space of the stage. It had been so well rehearsed and was so beautifully danced that it was hard to accept that the dancers were part of a youth ensemble. The film that preceded it (also from 2013) was a fascinating piece of footage showing, with close-ups and long shots, dancers performing outdoors in a landscape that epitomises the ‘wide brown land’ of Australia. The seamless transition from film to live performance was engaging to say the least as a scrim that had been the screen slowly lifted to reveal the dancers onstage in more or less the same position as the final screen image. And the dancing began. Where we gather with its accompanying film opened the show and set the scene for an evening of which QL2 Dance can only be extraordinarily proud.

'Where we gather' from 'Two Zero'. Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim
From film to performance of Where we gather from Two Zero. Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Jodie Farrugia’s This land is calling from the project Identify of 2011 was remounted for this season by Alison Plevey and was perhaps the most moving work on the program. Its focus on aspects of migration to Australia from the arrival of convicts to the present waves of refugee migration was powerfully yet simply presented. Suitcases were used as props by some, others had nothing, a convict was chained round the wrists. Groupings were sometimes confronting, sometimes comforting. It was a thoughtful and forceful piece of choreography enhanced by lighting and projections that opened our eyes to the extent and diversity of migration to this country.

Scene from 'This land is calling' in 'Two Zero'. Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Scene from This land is calling from Two Zero. Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

I was intrigued by Eliza Sanders’ section called Bigger. It was a new work for ten female dancers, which examined the impact of shared female experiences and their outcomes. Sanders choreographs in a way that seems quite different from her colleagues. Her movement style is mostly without the extreme physicality of other Quantum Leap alumni and yet is fascinating in its fluidity and emphasis on varied groupings of dancers. I was not all that impressed, however, with its opening where all ten dancers were huddled (or muddled) together each holding some kind of reflecting object. It turned out to be a sort of perspex magnifying glass that indicated (we slowly discovered) the growth of experience. I could have done with less emphasis on the magnifications. The moments without them were full of joyous movement.

Scene from 'Bigger' in 'Two Zero'. Quantum Leap 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Scene from Bigger from Two Zero. Quantum Leap 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Other works were by Sara Black, Fiona Malone, Steve Gow and Ruth Osborne. All added an individualistic perspective to the evening.

One aspect of the show bothered me. Black and white striped, calf-length pants were a feature of the costume design for several sections and were worn under differently coloured T-shirts. They worked in some but not all sections. In Ruth Osborne’s Me/Us, a new work in which the dancers spoke of their thoughts about themselves and where they saw their place in society, they were at their best. Similarly they worked well in Steve Gow’s strongly choreographed Empower. But I thought they looked ugly underneath the white floating garments used in Bigger.

Scene from 'Me/Us' in Two Zero. Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Scene from Me/Us from Two Zero. Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Nevertheless, Two Zero was a thrill to watch and its finale Celebrate! showed us a mini retrospective of what had happened before. The achievements of Quantum Leap, its collaborators across art forms, and the remarkable list of alumni who have emerged from it over twenty years, are spectacular. May the work continue for at least another twenty years.

Finale to ‘Two Zero’. Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim
Finale to Two Zero. Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Two Zero: Choreography: Sara Black, Dean Cross, Jodie Farrugia, Steve Gow, Fiona Malone, Ruth Osborne, Alison Plevey, Daniel Riley, Eliza Sanders. Music: Adam Ventoura, Warwick Lynch. Film: Wildbear Entertainment. Lighting: Mark Dyson. Costumes: Cate Clelland.

Michelle Potter, 11 August 2018

UPDATE (13/08/2018): see the shorter review online in The Canberra Times at this link.

Featured image: Scene from Where we gather from Two Zero. Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Scene from 'Where we gather' from Two Zero, Quantum Leap, 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Dancers of QL2 in 'Not like the others', 2017. Photo Lorna Sim

Not like the others. QL2 Dance

13 October 2017, Theatre 3, Canberra

This year the annual Chaos Project from young Canberra dancers aged from 8 to 18 had the theme of difference. Alison Plevey, currently acting artistic director of QL2 Dance while Ruth Osborne is undertaking research overseas with a Churchill Fellowship, writes, ‘…it explores how we are the same, what makes us different, how do we feel about being different, do we feel pressure to do, think and look the same, and ultimately Not like the others celebrates the joy and power in difference. For young people, being able to be themselves and to feel comfortable in doing so, is critical and the dancers, whether they were 8 or 18, and whatever their level of emotional maturity, embraced the seven separate sections that made up Not like the others with gusto. Using dance as an educative tool is one of the great strengths of QL2 Dance

This year the three choreographers working on the show, Alison Plevey, Steve Gow and Jack Riley, made sure that in each section the theme was very clear. The younger group had a strong section, Square Peg, in which there was an exploration of how they saw themselves. ‘I was born in Canberra’ said one young dancer, and all those who identified in this way grouped themselves with her. Another dancer said ‘I can whistle through my teeth’ and the same thing happened, with appropriate accompaniment. And so on. It was a simple, but effective exploration of the theme, and was the work of Plevey.

I especially enjoyed the section by Steve Gow for an older group of dancers. Called ‘Virtual Identity’, it looked at social media as a way of conforming to expected notions about who we are: ‘Get the perfect picture’, ‘Write the perfect post’ and so on. Visually and choreographically Gow made an arresting statement about conformity and I admired the use of masks to get across the idea of conformity and the lighting (Kelly McGannon) of this section. Gow’s use of groups of dancers in constantly changing arrangements made this section simple but powerful.

Dancers of QL2 Dance in 'Virtual identity' from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Virtual identity’ from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Probably the most sophisticated section was Jack Riley’s ‘Allone’. It explored the idea of the power one person can have in society. Riley used probably the most senior of the dancers to examine this idea and made use of long wooden sticks as props to symbolise the roles one might have in society. I have admired Riley’s shorter works on previous occasions. In these situations, he has the ability to structure a work carefully and intelligently, and to use his widely varied movement experience to get his ideas across. ‘Allone’ was admirable and I suspect its relative brevity was to Riley’s benefit.

Dancers of QL2 Dance in 'Allone'. Photo Lorna Sim
Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Allone’ from Not like the others. Photo: © Lorna Sim

As ever, the closing sections of the QL2 show were expertly choreographed as a continuous part of the show. But the highlight of Not like the others was the strength of its message. Having a good idea for a show is one thing. But being able to put it across to an audience with the power that Plevey, her collaborators, and a bunch of young dancers did deserves much respect.

Michelle Potter, 14 October 2017

Featured image: Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Square peg’ from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dancers of QL2 in 'Not like the others', 2017. Photo Lorna Sim