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.