Young creatives show commitment

Review: Co:3’s Act-Belong-Commit Co:Youth Ensemble, “Project Next 2019” ·
All Saints College – Centre for Performing Arts, 20 July ·
Review by Lauren Catellani ·

“Project Next 2019”, by Co:3 Australia’s Youth Ensemble, allows audiences the chance to ponder art in both its visual and performing states. An annual offering by the youth wing of WA’s flagship contemporary dance company, this year’s incarnation of “Project Next” is inspired by time spent at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. With guidance from industry professionals Laura Boynes, Brooke Leeder and Scott Elstermann, the young dancers delve into their own experiences of viewing and understanding art.

Presented in multiple segments, the work sees the dancers employ their bodies to transform into works of art while also embodying the act of perceiving, feeling and experiencing art work. They skim the surface of related concepts such as observing and being observed, finding strategies that can be used to direct focus, investigating the ways our increased use of technology has changed the way we view art, and exploring ways to reimagine an artwork in a live performance setting. Each section of the work generally provides a simple but nonetheless effective examination of the concept.

A section where an art work is set up in the centre of the space to be viewed, for example, sees a group of dancers gather around. As they try to get a good picture with their imaginary phones, they slowly suffocate the work. This image calls into question the role that our phone cameras play in our engagement with art, perhaps suggesting that we should allow the experience of viewing art to remain ephemeral.

Cardboard boxes and handheld lights are cleverly and thought-provokingly utilised to explore the tools artists use to position viewers’ focus, and distort or conceal parts of the body. A particularly compelling section is performed by the oldest group of dancers, who use the hand-held lights to reveal certain parts of their bodies in static positions. As they begin to engage in full body movement, this becomes more complex; images become blurred as bodies merge and dissolve into the the dark space.

The ensemble is a well-connected and energetic group of dancers and, while the age groups are visibly separated by different costume designs and choreographic sections, the way the pieces are knitted together ensures that the work, as a whole, feels seamless.

All of the dancers whether they are 7 or 16 have the opportunity and the confidence to share their individual movement qualities and personalities. There was, evidently, space within the choreographic process for the young performers to explore their own creativity; a credit to their choreographic leaders Boynes, Leeder and Elstermann. It was most enjoyable to see the level of commitment to the work’s intention, both physically and emotionally, from all of the dancers no matter what  their age.

“Project Next” is an annual event. This year’s performance played July 19-20. Find out more about the Act-Belong-Commit Co:Youth Ensemble on the Co3 Australia website.

Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

Civil rights and wicked humour

THE LINE

Ledger Theatre, Perth,

May 15

 

RITA CLARKE

The Line is a collaboration between Co3 artistic director Raewyn Hill and associate artist Mark Howett, with dance director Erynne Mulholland.

It stems from a covenant that ended in 1954 prohibiting most Aboriginal people access to the City of Perth after 6pm.

The battle lines created on stage makes viscerally human and universal the soulless law-makings of history.

Accompanied by ominous rumblings, on a vast, misty stage hang seven swings, their chains stretching high into the rafters. Aided by Howett and Chloe Ogilvie’s haunting lighting, the swings prompt thoughts of people manacled in heavy neck-chains or lynchings.

Sitting silently on these swings or dancing between them, the superb Andrew Searle, Katherine Gurr and Ian Wilkes fight, shout, hug, implore and propel each other through space and time in a riveting display of strength, intensity and conviction – a constant in Hill’s choreography.

A folk-like, galloping motif precedes bouts of fighting and intersperses close-bodied, gripping duets and trios where the head is often hugged or forced down or the eyes covered. Gurr is lifted and assaulted and in turn assaults. Her demise, when it comes, is extended in its death throes but exquisitely performed.

The men are aptly clothed in contemporary suits and tan leather shoes, and Gurr is dressed in a tight frilled dress and heels.

Howett has the enviable talent of being able to combine salutary lessons in story telling with a wicked sense of humour.

Into the furore come sections of slow-motions slapstick, recalling black –and-white silent films with the Chaplinesque motifs of exaggerated facial reactions, of unintended recipients in the way of a fist.

Eden Mulholland, on piano, guitar and drums, and James Crabb, on classical accordion and drums both of them singing, at times join the fray, the music fraught, passionate and satiric.

The most outstanding moment is the brilliant production belongs to Wilkes speaking in is Whadjuk Noongar tongue this, tall, fine-figured man enacts his people’s woe in a sublime solo created by Hill’s accurate reading of his talent, blending sharp Aboriginal movement with contemporary Western dance. It moved me close to tears.

The Line (Co3)

This three-hander about the infamous colour bar in several WA settlements is one of the company’s best.

State Theatre Centre of WA
Reviewed on May 15, 2019 by Jonathan W. Marshall on May 20, 2019

LIMELIGHT

The Line is a three-hander from Co3 choreographed by artistic director Raewyn Hill in association with Mark Howett of Ochres dance and The Farm. Although Hill’s elegant lines and slightly jagged swirls of the limbs are clearly present (especially in the multiple short solos), it is Howett’s approach to structure and physical conflict that distinguishes the overall performance.

The piece takes its title from the infamous colour bar enforced in several West Australian settlements, which made it illegal for Indigenes and indeed most people of colour to be within city limits after dark. This topic has been dealt with choreographically by Broome’s Marrugeku (Burning Daylight), in film (The Coolbaroo Club) and theatre (Yirra Yaakin’s Waltzing the Wilarra). Co3’s The Line is perhaps the most abstract of these treatments.

Hill and Howett take their inspiration from accounts of a rare locale in Perth where these rules where routinely flaunted, namely the working class carnival grounds variously known as “Ugly Town” (after the charitable men’s association which administered it) or “White City” (after its main building, which was intended to evoke another of the same name from the 1893 Chicago World Fair).

The Line opens with the cast hanging from three of approximately five swings at the end of long chains which disappear upwards in the fly gallery. Near the conclusion of the piece, a lone dancer (Ian Wilkes) swings towards the audience in wide, powerful arcs, reaching high before falling back each time, a possible transcendence of racism and social pain which never quite works because the soaring body must always return to earth.

In addition to the set, the music also places us in the realm of this slightly run-down early 20th century entertainment complex. The score from Eden Mulholland (guitar, mandolin, piano, voice) and James Crabb (accordion and electronics) recalls Tom Waits’ deliberately punk-ish adoption of European folk and traditional forms which eventually explode into something darker, more electric and distorted.

The Line features a well turned out, white lad about town (Andrew Searle), an equally dapper black man (Wilkes), and a white woman in a flowing, frilled dress, the colours of which are subdued, yet the patterning is intense (Katherine Gurr). These costumes thereby identify our characters as 1920s working class folk out in their finest.

The relationship between the trio is unstable, and they do not necessarily play the same characters throughout. These are rather types, standing in for a moment of historical possibility, a realm where shared games and dances often seemed more important than social constraints, but where these constraints never entirely left. The performance thus shifts from slapstick fun (a repeated, loose-limbed man-versus-authority-figure sketch) to gestures which are tense, riven, and finally all but exhausted.

Searle periodically calls Wilkes out for being behind the line, shouting out: “You”! But he is not a policeman, and at other times he interacts positively with Wilkes. Exchanges alternate from friendly, yet still pained physically powerful exchanges, slapstick pursuits, and then into Howett’s characteristically extended, grabby, awkward piling of bodies into, and against, each other. The men push and clamber at one another, Gurr’s face is smothered by a wayward palm, unsteady, unstable lifts and climbs build and collapse, as each dancer almost falls over, driving the group from one side to the next.

It is perhaps the more dancerly solos which most eloquently express the divided, contradictory nature of the characters’ lives. Hill’s choreography has never seemed so hard and so angry before—yet still edging into the lyrical. Befitting both the music and the historical setting, there are scraps of jigs, waltzes and tango. Gurr drops into deep crouches and arches her back before swinging her limbs to close them around herself, as she gazes out harshly. Searle marks out horizontals and diagonals, pulling his form up as he points at an angle down. These are positions which suggest mastery and a pleasure in bodily action, but executed with a drive and a force that suggests trauma is part of what drives them.

It is quite a feat for three dancers to carry such a long piece, and all are superb. It must be acknowledged though that Wilkes has of late become one of the most fascinating and appealing dancers in Australia. Deeply trained in Indigenous performance, he has acquired expert skills in contemporary non-Indigenous choreography. As his arms form strong brackets about Gurr’s torso, or his hands reach cautiously in and around between her limbs and behind to embrace her, there is a softness and an uncertainty, or feeling through of the movement as it is executed. This distinguishes him from his on stage peers. Where they snap and click, he dabs, pulses and glides.

The Line is not without flaws. Howett’s recurrent use of repetition to produce a world where even mundane gestures morph into acts of pure abstraction, almost as frequently means that he over-extends his sparse choreographic language. He also has a tendency to stage a climax, only to deliberately vex our expectations by offering at least one, if not two, slight returns along the long road to the finale. An outside editor could be useful.

Nevertheless, with the three dancers at the top of their form, and a choreographic language which both conveys clear meanings, but which never settles on this, shifting between abstraction and darkly comedic character-based action, this is to my mind the Co3’s best show.

THE LINE

LUCY EYRE — MAY 17, 2019

“THE LINE”, making its world premiere at the State Theatre Centre, is a compelling and moving dance-theatre piece by co-creators Artistic Director Raewyn Hill and Co3 Australia Associate Artist Mark Howett. In line with the ethos of Co3 Australia, the State’s premier contemporary dance company, the production is certainly “generating contemporary conversations through dance”. The production portrays the absurdity and brutality of a dark period of West Australia’s history that reveals an apartheid-like system. Between 1927 and 1954 a five square kilometre area of the Perth city centre (and other areas of the state) was prohibited to Aboriginal people who had to show a ‘native pass’ if caught in the area after 6pm.

The simple yet remarkable set, jointly conceived by Raewyn Hill and Mark Howett consists of seven swings with long chains. As the curtain rises we see dancers Katherine Gurrand guest artist, Noongar dancer, Ian Wilkes on the upstage swings, swinging back and forth toward each other. This fascinating image is emotive and symbolic of the relationships between Aboriginal and white people: moving toward each other, then moving apart – missed opportunities for coming together.

Enter the third dancer, Andrew Searle, who plays the law enforcer, which prompts a comic, silent movie-like chase when Searle asks Wilkes for his pass. This motif is repeated during the piece and proves to be symbolic of the inequality that persists, disrupting the moment and all of the potential and opportunities.

Working alongside the dancers are two musicians who are positioned in the apron but often join the dancers on stage with live accompaniment. Guitar, piano, drums and vocals by Co3 associate artist, composer and music director Eden Mulholland are complemented by the amazing, internationally renowned classical accordionist, James Crabb. Their integral contribution to this production is flawless.

Co-directors Hill and Howett have created a powerful, entertaining and thought provoking piece giving the dancers an opportunity to combine dance and theatre and they certainly surpass the challenge. Gurr, Wilkes and Searle have seized the premise and choreography with enormous commitment, energy and intensity that deserves the highest praise. Their outstanding performances are mesmerising!

“THE LINE” and other productions such as Ochre Contemporary Dance Company’s “Kwongkan” (Sand) seen at Perth Festival, (also created and directed by Mark Howett), bring these ignored parts of history to the fore to encourage awareness and conversation. It is evident that dance companies are leading the way in Perth to(unashamedly) deliver bold and fierce productions that are finally reflecting Australia’s history. Howett admits “that in order to grow one has to go through a journey of truth telling, and to do that there needs to be acknowledgment, recognition and compassion. It is crucial so that we actually start having a conversation about healing and equality.”Indeed, “THE LINE” provides glimpses of what that conversation could be and how the healing and equality can enrich all of our lives.

It is apparent that the creators and artists have done the research: from scouring State Records; Stephen Kinnane’s family memoir Shadow Lines; and consulted with elders including Lynette Narkle, Richard Walley, Darryl Kickett and author Professor Anna Haebich. “THE LINE” has a richness in its narrative and performance that implicitly depicts multiple layers of history that resonate in 2019. The repetition of scenes represents the ongoing struggles that persist, and the effects of shame, violence, distrust, and disharmony that perpetuates and escalates. When the final scene continues relentlessly, even as the curtain falls, it is a powerful reminder of the circular pattern of events, of things that happened and continue today behind closed doors, that can no longer be ignored.

Don’t miss “THE LINE”. Only three shows left, closing on 19 May.
Dates: 17 – 19 May 2019
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of Western Australia Performances: 17 and 18 May, 7:30pm; 19 May, 4pm
Tickets: Perth Theatre Trust www.ptt.wa.gov.au $25-$55
Photo credit: Daniel Carson.

Review: The Line, State Theatre Centre of WA

NERIDA DICKINSON

CO:3’s latest production is a passionate exposition of historical injustice through contemporary dance.

CO:3 performers Katherine Gurr, Andrew Searle and Ian Wilkes. Image: Daniel Carson.

CO:3 draws on its Western Australian core, using choreography to share complex and uncomfortable settler history. The Line describes a geographical exclusion zone around central Perth – from 1927 to 1954, Aboriginal people needed a pass to enter the prohibited area after dark.

Performers Ian Wilkes, Andrew Searle and Katherine Gurr showcase CO:3’s extraordinary athleticism through an eclectic collection of styles and modes. All three demonstrate versatility with rapid transitions between light-hearted, rambunctious slapstick chase scenes, jaunty jigs, intense stylised solos and a narrative arc with a stealthy atmospheric crescendo from comic thuggery to impending menace to violent rage. With expressive faces matching the mood and action, their mannerisms evoke the movements of early silent movies, complete with exaggerated silent dialogue. The chase scenes escalate from slapstick to tragic with the introduction of a handgun, honouring Chekov’s injunctions. In sober contrast, Wilkes sits on a long swing and recites the precise formal description of the line’s boundaries, his stream of words feeding into a loop that echoes and doubles back on itself, remorseless in its arbitrary definition.

The narrative sections are interspersed with captivating solo and combined performances. Wilkes’ long limbs move gracefully in a sympathetic adaptation of traditional movements, creating a motif to rebut his cartoonish characterisations and demonstrating the power and endurance drawn from the quiet depths of local culture. Searle’s turns are powerful and striking, his body twisting, spinning and contorting with controlled elegance, the choreography highlighting his charismatic stage presence. In contrast, Gurr’s solos feature a precisely timed succession of rigid poses, as meticulous as a machine or stop-motion animation, in a demonstration of exacting human physical control. Gurr shines when dancing with Wilkes or Searle, adapting to complement each of them, not only physically but in her emotional projections. In one moment when all three come together, their intertwined bodies create the impression of fluid ease through a remarkable coordination of timing, strength, flexibility and artistic sensibility.

Eden Mulholland and James Crabb stand visible in the orchestra pit, performing the original score that reflects the swift transitions between the rambunctious, jaunty, whimsical, vicious and reflective sections on stage. The musicians interact with each other as they play, Mulholland moving between various instruments and vocal interludes while Crabb’s accordion has an unusually expressive range, including a ragged breath at the edge of silence, heightening on-stage tensions. At times the two of them venture onto the stage.

Mark Howett’s lighting design seems simple with sections of white light, but it evolves to play with the shadows as much as with the traditional spotlight. Empathetic with the movement, the increasingly complex lighting combines with judicious use of smoke to enhance the sense of space, mood and distance.

While amazed by the physicality of The Line, many audience members were shocked by the subject matter, murmuring ‘Why didn’t we learn about this at school?’ Beyond its impressive technical and demonstrative choreography, CO:3 does not shy away from bringing the hidden past of settler society to modern scrutiny and reflection. Artistic director Raewyn Hill demonstrates her willingness to push the company as dancers and entertainers but also to push audiences beyond witnessing her signature joyous athleticism to appreciate deeper concepts.

4.5 stars out of 5

Creators: Raewyn Hill and Mark Howett Composer / Music Direction: Eden Mulholland Musicians: Eden Mulholland and James Crabb Set Design: Raewyn Hill and Mark Howett Lighting Design: Mark Howett
Costume Design: Raewyn Hill
Dance Director: Erynne Mulholland
Production Manager: Mark Haslam
Stage Manager: Georgia Landre-Ord
Performed by Katherine Gurr, Andrew Searle and Ian Wilkes 15-19 May 2019
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA

Co3 Australia: The Line

Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of Western Australia, 15 May

Co-created by Co3 Artistic Director Raewyn Hill and Co3 Associate Artist and Nyoongar man Mark Howett, The Line is performed by Andrew Searle, Katherine Gurr and Whadjuk Nyoongar man Ian Wilkes. The three dancers were outstanding, mastering complex, bold choreography that demands stamina, versatility and acumen. Set to a superb score by Eden Mulholland, the work’s minimalist, ambient stage settings (designed by Hill and Howett), evocative 1930s- style costume designs (Hill), and skilful lighting (Howett), produce fifty taut, tense, tightly- packed minutes of dance.

A Welcome to Country from Darryl Kickett opened proceedings. Kickett also spoke movingly of the power of performance in growing relationships, and how traditional performance and dance has served Nyoongar culture for thousands of years.

Through intense and edgy contemporary dance, The Line is a figurative, visceral response to a shameful period in West Australian history. From 1927 until 1954, prohibited areas for Aboriginal people were declared and policed in parts of the State. Aboriginal people were considered to have committed an offence if they came within a boundary of approximately five square kilometres within the City of Perth after 6pm, unless they could show they were in “lawful” employment. And, apparent in the staging, are traces of the White City Amusement Park on the Perth foreshore, which provided – for the “poorest sections of the community”– swings, canned music and dancing, and was popular with Perth’s Indigenous people as well as the white population before it was closed down in 1929.

Mulholland and classical accordionist James Crabb performed Mulholland’s score live, with variety and virtuosity. With instruments set on either side of the auditorium in front of the audience, the musicians cross in front of the stage occasionally and, at times, join the dancers on stage. Mulholland says he wants his score to “be life-affirming and play against the darkness of the subject matter,” and it is one of the production’s strengths, incorporating accordion, piano, guitar, percussion, synthesizer and also Mulholland’s haunting falsetto voice.

Seven swings are suspended from the fly bars over a smoky stage, and these are incorporated into the choreography and seem to offer respite. The three performers – Katherine Gurr in a floral-patterned, oblique-hemmed dress, and Andrew Searle and Ian Wilkes in trousers, jackets and waist-coats – launch into lively swing dancing, which soon degenerates as the dance becomes jagged, out of kilter and relentless, and the dancers grapple and fight each other, with suggestions of conflicted romance and strained, uneasy relationships.

In stark detail, a lengthy monologue (brilliantly delivered by Wilkes) names all of the many street boundary lines of the prohibited area. After this, only a few single words “You” and “Jacky Jack” are spoken – or rather shouted, in a hostile manner – until the work’s apogee. The movement language used is fractured, disjointed, unnatural and disturbing, effectively reflecting distress and repercussion. Skilfully conceived slow-motion sequences were expertly performed. And Wilkes’s final solo – which incorporated traditional dance and language, and gestures – was powerful and compelling, reaching across years of racial discrimination and injustice to connect with a contemporary audience.

Margaret Mercer, Dance Australia

A richly layered work

Review: Co3 Australia, The Line ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre of WA, 16 May · Review by Nina Levy ·

At the heart of Co3 Australia’s latest contemporary dance work, The Line, is a story of racial segregation.

This story may be unfamiliar to many West Australians, but it’s part of our not-so-distant past. Between 1927 and 1954, there was a law in place that banned Aboriginal people from entering the City of Perth’s boundaries after 6pm, unless they could prove that they were in “lawful employment”. The work’s title refers to the boundary lines of what was known as the Prohibited Area.
It’s a tough topic to tackle, particularly through the non-verbal medium of dance. Nonetheless, The Line’s directors – Co3 Artistic Director Raewyn Hill and Artistic Associate Mark Howett – have created a work that resists the temptation of a simple plot. Though interspersed with narrative elements, it is up to the audience to draw the threads together.

What we do see is an Aboriginal man (Noongar dancer Ian Wilkes) and a white woman (Katherine Gurr), who appear to be a couple. They are repeatedly pursued, interrogated and attacked by a man – some kind of policing officer – played by Andrew Searle.
The design elements of the work are immediately striking. As the curtain rises we see seven swings hanging from the fly lo, suspended by long chains that slice the space. A narrow tube of light crosses the darkened back of the stage, intersecting the vertical lines of the swings. Perched high above the dancers, it appears stationary… but time will reveal otherwise. In the dim, hazy light, the atmosphere is eerie as two dancers (Wilkes and Gurr) make lazy, sweeping arcs, on symmetrically placed swings. The peace is broken as the official-type man shouts loudly “YOU!” and mayhem ensues.

A richly layered work From here the choreography oscillates between anguish and slapstick. Though the conflict is primarily between the Aboriginal and the white man, all three characters seem to be constantly wrestling with one another, and with themselves. The tension rarely lets up, and though this is, no doubt, intentional, it’s exhausting to watch. An exception is a gorgeously so solo that blends Auslan signs with gestures from traditional Aboriginal dance (beautifully danced by Wilkes), followed by the soothing to-and-fro of the three dancers swinging, bathed in pyramids of light.

It can’t last though and soon we’re plunged back into the cartoon-like violence that punctuates the work. Though horrifying to watch, these repeating scenes of slow-motion violence are fascinating for the skill of both choreography and execution.

Throughout the work, Eden Mulholland’s score is, quite simply, fabulous. Played live in the main, the layers of sound range from long and eerie notes interspersed with storms of recorded voiceovers and ominous rumblings, to a rollicking, romping, 1930s jazz vibe. With James Crabb on classical accordion and Mulholland on a startling array of instruments (various guitars, piano, synthesizer, vocals, percussion), the music is a glorious performance in itself.

The design elements of this work are exceptional too, and with such a rich visual and musical backdrop, a cast of three – the number dictated, presumably, by budget limitations – seems too small, especially in relation to the scope of the issues that the work is tackling. It seems odd, too, to have only one Aboriginal performer, given the work’s context.

That said, the three dancers gave compelling performances on opening night, displaying admirable physical and emotional stamina. Though the duo and trio work was impressive, it was in their solo moments that each dancer shone brightest, Searle slicing and dicing, Gurr arching and melting, and Wilkes gently gesturing.

The repetitive structure of this work, in combination with the near-constant tension, feels unrelenting and – ultimately – unresolved. Though these artistic choices are effective, in terms of representing the discrimination that Aboriginal people have suffered and continue to suer, personally, I found myself longing for relief.But perhaps that was the point.

Around me, audience members rose to their feet to applaud.

The Line plays until May 19.

Pictured top are Ian Wilkes, Katherine Gurr and Andrew Searle in “The Line”. Photo: Daniel Carson.

MoveMe Dance Makers: Feats of strength

Rita Clarke, The Australian

Richard Cilli’s short, arresting curtain-raiser This is Now opens Co3’s double bill in the MoveMe Dance Makers Project. Fourteen dancers from Link Dance Company emit strange noises and reveal red synthetic pompoms that cover their hands. They make a swishing sound as they intricately vacuum up the space with magnificent chutzpah.

Co3’s In-Lore Act II, choreographed by Chrissie Parrott, is about a ghostly stranger (Tanya Brown) who disrupts a family of five. Parrott’s work demands almost superhuman strength, gladiatorial endurance and dramatic power, which Co3’s Brown, Ella-Rose Trew, Katherine Gurr, Zoe Wozniak, Andrew Searle and David Mack possess in spades. Space for Parrott is like a canvas: she situates important things in different pockets of the stage so you need to be vigilant. There’s a wooden table to the side where dancers are manipulated and silently and furiously argue. Duets are performed with torturous impact, in which shoulders enforce subservience.

A recurring action, in which one dancer stands behind another and both put out their curved arms, is quite beautiful. It’s sad, joyous and magnificently performed, with tantalising music by Eden Mulholland. You can never tear your eyes from a multifaceted Parrott work or the superlative dancers of Co3.

In You Do Ewe the same dancers, plus Mitch Harvey (replacing Mack), perform a humorous piece commissioned by Co3 from Amy Wiseman, Carly Armstrong and Jessica Lewis of Unkempt Dance. Searle is a self-obsessed show host and the others eager contestants. Talking incessantly, donning outrageous wigs and showing off, the six compete with utter contempt for decorum. The top moment is Wozniak’s spotlit performance like Beyonce. With Mulholland’s music, this is an audience-pleaser, clever and fun.

The WA Dance Makers Project showcases variety and creativity

Graeme Watson, OutinPerth

Western Australia’s premier contemporary dance company Co3 Australia deliver a trio of treats with the WA Dance Makers Project. Celebrating the work of local choreographers, the performances cover a diverse range of styles and show that modern dance can be many different things.

First up was a performance from the WA Academy of Performing Arts’ Link Dance Company. Richard Cilli’s This is Now would make for a perfect video clip for Daft Punk’s next release.

Cilli trained at WAAPA and was a member of the Steps Youth Dance Company in his teenage years – that company has since morphed to become Co3’s Act-Belong-Commit Youth Ensemble, so it’s wonderful to see a dancer progressing through their career and into choreography.

The stage was filled by fourteen dancers dressed in dark tones with scarlet splashes. They began to boldly make sounds. “Pom! Pom!” they chanted, followed by a mix of whooshes, whizzes, brrrrrrs and other sounds.

Slowly from behind their backs they revealed they were each holding two red pom-poms, “Pom! Pom!” indeed. So began an energetic and fast moving piece that explored the theme of how organisations evolve descending in and out of chaos. The second piece from dance legend Chrissie Parrott was a more narrative based piece. In-Lore Act II began with a family sitting around the dining room table, the light of an old 1970’s TV flickering upon them. On the other side of the stage a woman in a white dress stands under a spotlight, slowly she begins to enter and interact with their world.

While Parrott’s latest creation is a narrative based work, exactly what that narrative is though is probably different for each audience member. There are themes of family, disruption and possibly infidelity throughout the work. The overwhelming feeling watching the performance was one of dread and impending violence, which is impressive because there was nothing that particularly triggered these emotions, but the combination of movement, sound and lighting oozed trepidation.

The final piece You Do Ewe, a new commission from the trio Unkempt, was a lighthearted, comedic and fun piece. One by one the dancers took to the stage introducing themselves. As each performer came in to the performance space they would grab the microphone and begin chatting away.

They progressed into a cha-cha tango routine where nothing was quite matched properly. Hands which would have traditionally been on a partner’s shoulders were instead of their knees or elbows or buttocks, creating a comedic and odd series of movements.

What was lovely about this work was that the dancer’s individual personalities were central to the performance, you got a feeling of really getting to know Andrew, Ella-Rose, Katherine, Zoe, Tanya and Mitch. It was camp and crazy, abrasive and loud. Some of the individual segments perhaps went a little too long, and while the material drew howls of laughter from the opening night audience, I wondered what the reaction would be in subsequent performances when the number of friends and family would be lower.

The great strength of this collection of works is its diversity, they are three distinctively different pieces in style and tone, a tasting plate of what contemporary dance can be.

A dynamic showcase

Jo Pickup, Seesaw 

Co3 Australia’s “WA Dance Makers Project” opened the 2018 MoveMe Festival of contemporary dance with a triple bill of new works. As the name suggests, the season has been specially designed to showcase the choreographic talent here in Western Australia – and with the wealth of dance talent on offer in this state, one might imagine curating such a season to be an unenviable task.

Co3 Artistic Director Raewyn Hill relished the opportunity, however, describing her curatorial choices as a chance to bring together “unique and dynamic women” to “celebrate a powerhouse of WA female choreographic talent.” From the creepy to the comedic, her favoured works presented a diverse array of contemporary dance, providing a powerhouse experience for viewers.

The curtain-raiser was a piece by celebrated contemporary dancer Richard Cilli who, though WA-born-and-trained, was obviously an exception to Hill’s female-focused vision for the season. For his “WA Dance Makers” piece, entitled This Is Now, he worked with dancers from WAAPA’s student company, LINK.

From this work’s beginning, the audience is drawn into a dark environment pulsing with fiery heat. Fourteen dancers appear out of the dim, dressed in red and black, to take their place on stage armed with determined, steely glares.

It is, therefore, an interesting twist to see them erupt into a strange melodic word-song – repeating the word “pom” at various pitches and intervals, creating a whimsical barbershop choir. This bouncing melody segues into equally unexpected movement sequences; the dancers are revealed to be sassy, pom-pom toting cheerleaders.

Yet this is no ordinary half-time fan-squad display. This team of high-kickers stabs and thrusts its red accoutrements into the air with a gusto that borders on maniacal. There is certainly a dark underbelly to the group’s glossy, swishing veneer.

Highlights of this work were the quintessential team-USA style routines, replete with disciplined formations and breakaways, performed by the LINKers with a nice mix of splendour and spirit.

After a short blackout, it was time to see veteran WA choreographer Chrissie Parrott’s latest creation – In-Lore Act II, another work with a strangely dark atmosphere.

As the stage lights go up, we see a small “family” of characters clad in dusty, old-fashioned Scottish garb, sitting around a large wooden dining table. Their house is stuffy (perhaps haunted?) and the air is filled with a spooky, unnerving tension.

The opening solo (danced by Tanya Brown) presents a tortured spirit-figure in a cream silk-satin nightdress. Under the spotlight, her moves are a mix of the beastly and the beautiful. Flinching and flowing, she appears to be suffering under the weight of something colossal, as if there is something terrible repressed deep inside her.

The piece continues in this eerie vein as six dancers (Ella-Rose Trew, Andrew Searle, Katherine Gurr, Zoe Wozniak, Tanya Brown and David Mack), play out narratives of various strained relationships (between family? lovers? It’s never quite clear). The soundscape, composed by Eden Mulholland, is full of shrill cello strings countered by low- electronic rumblings. These sounds coat the auditorium in a mist of music reminiscent of Wuthering Heights.

Overall, this piece is a rather slow-moving mystery, peppered with occasional thrilling moments when dancers are grouped in trios or duets that allow them to wholeheartedly embrace their characters within the overarching old-lore tale. In this regard, Zoe Wozniak was a stand-out on the night.

The final work, performed after the show’s short interval, was You Do Ewe by Unkempt Dance, a crowd favourite that was a much-needed emotional upswing after the intensity of the first half.

Unkempt Dance is a collective of three female WA choreographers: Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis and Amy Wiseman, and their combined forces consistently produce dance theatre work that is witty, cheerful, and so damn clever! In You Do Ewe they take the audience on a hilarious romp through their Co3 cast members’ inner-psyches, using a single microphone; a series of playful puns, and a bunch of sheeny-shiny acrylic wigs.

The performances by cast members Ella-Rose Trew, Andrew Searle, Katherine Gurr, Zoe Wozniak, Tanya Brown and Mitch Harvey were a delight. Each performer brought a unique flavour to their various roles – which swung from playing effusive, overblown game-show hosts, to being raw, vulnerable versions of themselves.

All in all, it’s a work that proved highly entertaining and wonderfully thought-provoking.

So here’s to more opportunities to showcase the work of WA dance makers in future. This “WA Dance Makers” triple bill was a reminder that our state’s dance artists have so many dynamic ideas to share, not just at MoveMe festival time, but all year round.