REVIEW | Archives of Humanity, ’emotive, powerful and original’ – Dance Australia

22 February 2021

Choreographed by artistic director Raewyn Hill, the work is a one-hour contemporary piece on human existence.

Set in the State Theatre Centre’s Studio Underground, Archives of Humanity is an event before the dancing even begins. The corridor leading to the stage area envelopes audience members in a flock of handmade black birds (from Raewyn Hill and Naoko Yoshimoto’s The Bird Makers Project) which are strung from the ceiling. The corridor then opens up to reveal a large square block of sand in place of a stage.

The piece opens with a quick and repetitive baseline as the entire cast of dancers emerge onto the sand, walking slowly and purposefully.  Eden Mulholland’s musical composition, a mix of electronic sound with excerpts of Vivaldi’s Gloria, is unorthodox, edgy and brooding, and creates an unsettling atmosphere in contrast with the laborious movement of the dancers.

The choreography experiments with levels and asymmetry, and the dancers travel the stage as a group in cyclical patterns throughout the piece. The slow and controlled movement, coupled with the sand softening the dancers’ footsteps, establishes a slow-motion cinematic experience. The slow movement remains throughout the piece, save for a few pockets intense and powerful sequences.  However, when the dancers slip into these pockets, they perform with strength and the full force of their abilities.

The asymmetry of the choreography, and the diversity of the cast, is complemented by the costume designs (by Hill), which comprise of mostly black and white skirts, blouses and Elizabethan ruffs. Each dancer’s costume is different to the next, adding another layer to the commentary on human diversity. One or two costumes are vastly different to the others which is, at times, distracting. However, the distraction is easily forgiven, as the overall impact breaks down gender stereotypes and complements the piece well.

The entire performance is extraordinarily artistic, with the final moment of the piece serving as art in its finest form. The dancers pencil roll upstage in the sand whilst other dancers sprint downstage, evoking an air of desperation. The result is not only visually striking, but undeniably moving.

By the end of the piece, the once pristine and flattened sand is completely torn up, perfectly demonstrating the excellent use of space in the choreography.

This work is emotive, powerful and original; a creation Raewyn Hill and Co3 can be very proud of.