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