REVIEW | ‘Melancholic and touching’ – Dance Australia

3 September 2021

Just like Ivan Aivazovsky’s 1850 painting, The Ninth Wave, this production (of the same name), directed by Grayson Millwood and Gavin Webber of The Farm, explores the contrast between devastation and beauty. This 60-minute piece is set on a vast expanse of City Beach Park after sunset and involves a cast of nine adults plus the Co3 youth ensemble. With overturned cars and buried streetlamps, the beach portrays a classic post-apocalyptic wasteland.

The performance begins with a bang. As the audience found a spot on the sand to sit, two children can be seen in the distance, illuminated only by the flicker of the torches they are holding. The children follow the soft thudding of bass towards a sunken car, and just as they begin to inspect it, eight dancers burst out from the vehicle. The bass intensifies and the dancers whoop and gyrate, as if drunkenly leaving a party. After such an ominous build up, this moment created a wave of shock and laughter amongst the audience and, for me, a sense of curiosity for what was to come.
Without following a strict plot, varying scenes unfold to depict contrasting emotions such as denial and acceptance. The choreography, inventive and bold, makes the most of what the sand has to offer, with lifts and throws that would ordinarily be too dangerous for a hard stage.
The final scene is particularly beautiful, as each adult dancer is embraced by a child before the adults are swept backwards into the darkness. As the children watched the adults be taken by the sea, my heart broke for the generation of children soon to step into responsibility for the current world. The presence of the Co3 youth ensemble was a powerful inclusion in the performance.
As for the adult dancers, the entire ensemble hit every moment with strength. It was clear the dancers had worked hard to earn the stamina required for the unforgiving terrain of the beach. Equally impressive was the dancers’ ability to find their positions not only in the dark sand, but on such a broad and tumultuous area, a feat requiring great teamwork and shrewdness.
With the piece being set on the beach, I was initially sceptical about the production quality but my scepticism was quickly put to rest. The lighting design by Mark Howett is a true feat; the different angles of the lights (buried into the sand, overhead and on the sides of the area) all have purpose and enrich the dancers’ storytelling. The sound design by Luke Smiles is similarly sophisticated and able to project Ben Ely’s original score from various points.
The costumes, designed by Tyler Hill and originally designed by Vilma Mattila, are simple, yet fitting for the show. Some of the jeans and t-shirts worn by the dancers appear a little too polished for the wasteland theme, but they are a good neutral choice for the non-linear storyline.
The Farm originally designed and performed The Ninth Wave as a world premiere at Surfer’s Paradise beach for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. It is apt that the show be revived at a time where disaster themes hit a little closer to home.
With the assistance of the wild beach environment, this show highlights the future as having potential for both horror and humanity. The Ninth Wave shows the importance of protecting and saving the younger generation, a notion that is both melancholic and touching. The production is an ambitious one, and was well-executed; it is certainly a production to remember.