REVIEW | ‘Potent and prescient dance’ – Seesaw Magazine

3 September 2021

The Ninth Wave comes with dynamic performances, strong production values and a powerful message about the state of the world, writes Nina Levy.

Dancing on a beach may sound romantic, but in reality it’s an unforgiving performance space. 

The expansive setting potentially dwarfs the dancers. The shifting nature of sand means the dance floor is unpredictable.  

And then there’s the weather. The first two nights of Perth Festival’s season of beach-based dance work The Ninth Wave were cancelled as high winds meant the work wasn’t safe to perform. Oh, and half the stage area was underwater, thanks to a higher than usual tide.

Though frustrating, the delays feel apt, given the work’s post-apocalyptic setting. 

Created by Queensland-based dance theatre collective The Farm, and presented in Perth in association with WA’s Co3 Contemporary Dance, The Ninth Wave takes place in a world almost completely submerged, with the sand representing floodwaters.

And, though they may not be able to control the wind and the waves, it’s clear from the outset that The Farm’s creative team – under the direction of Grayson Millwood and Gavin Webber – have this beach-gig thing under control. The sound (designed by Luke Smiles, with original music by Regurgitator’s Ben Ely) envelopes the audience, creating a sense of immersion that belies the vastness of the Perth coast. Mark Howett’s innovative lighting cleverly delineates the performance area.

Into this space rocket eight dancers (no spoilers, but their entry is a treat). The world may be ending but they’re here to party with wild abandon, powered by Ely’s trademark electric guitar riffs.

While The Ninth Wave is punctuated by rock music, in keeping with its title – referencing an old marine term for an unexpected large wave – surf-like surges of sound underpin the work, both aurally and atmospherically.

There’s no clear narrative, but plenty of material with which to create your own. The work proceeds almost vignette-style; it’s hard to pick highlights from the many treats.

Kate Harman’s solo under a street-light is one. Buried up to her knees, like a sand-bound mermaid, she arches and swings against the sound of long and mournful acoustic strings interspersed with electric guitar.

Another favourite sees the ensemble scrambling and collapsing, flicking cascades of sand. Lit liquid blue by Howett’s discreetly placed footlights, these sand showers curl like breakers over the dancers’ bodies.

Elsewhere the dancers conceal lights embedded in the sandy stage, creating a twinkling dance that complements trickling treble piano keys. As they pick up speed, each performer ripples in their own pool of light.

The use of three ladders is also a high point of the work, figuratively and literally. My favourite moment sees three dancers (Mitchell Aldridge, Mitchell Harvey and Alex Kay) floating atop these set pieces. Lit from below, they glow, the breeze on their clothes and hair adding to the illusion that they are paddling through air. 

Nine delightful child dancers make scattered appearances, their presence in this dystopian place an intermittent reminder of the legacy we are leaving our kids. The final moments of the work, in which the children watch the adults walk away, is almost unbearably poignant. 

It takes a powerhouse dancer to overcome the aforementioned challenges presented by sand, and the cast has, clearly, been carefully curated. Together with The Farm’s Harman and Millwood, WA dancers Aldridge, Harvey, Kay, Sam Coren (London/Perth), Scott Galbraith, May Greenberg and Georgia Van Gils are astonishing to watch, explosive and defiant. 

There’s a moment in The Ninth Wave when the dancers shine torch beams into the audience. As I feel the light land on my masked face, I am struck by the thought that the dystopia portrayed on stage has already arrived. 

The Ninth Wave actually premiered in 2018 at the Commonwealth Games, but when one considers what is happening right now – floods devastating areas of Queensland and New South Wales, the invasion of Ukraine and, of course, the pandemic – it feels disturbingly prescient.

Prescient and powerful. If you’ve managed to snaffle a sandy seat in this sold-out season*, guard it carefully – this one’s a hot ticket.

*Update 4 March 2022! More tickets have been released and the season has been extended until 6 March 2022.

Nina Levy

Potent and prescient dance