Something good, something really good
Varnya Bromilow, Seesaw Magazine.
When you see something good, something really good, it can take a while before you realize it. It’s a little like the first few pages of a novel whose spine you’ve just cracked. You’re in it, but you don’t know quite what you’re in. Is it any good? It’s often pretty hard to say for the first ten minutes, or the first chapter. It’s the delicious risk of art – you never quite know what your experience will be.
On Thursday night I was about fifteen minutes into Co3’s The Zone when I had that joyful realization: this is really, really good. Which isn’t to say I wasn’t enjoying the show from the moment it began… I was, but there’s a real excitement in the transition as viewer when you move from simple enjoyment into something more akin to awe.
Raewyn Hill’s latest work draws its inspiration from extreme weather. Specifically, her personal experience of Cyclone Yasi and the Queensland floods (where Hill was the artistic director of Dancenorth). The Zone is Hill’s second work created specifically for Co3 and in my mind, easily her best.
In a truly gorgeous, starkly white set designed by Japanese set designer Satoshi Okada, dancers drip down the walls, dropped from panels embedded in the upper half of the set. Garbed in black, monk-like robes, they spin towards each other, dervish-like. Downstage, almost in the audience, Eden Mullholland hovers, watching the whirling figures, a guitar straddling his mid-section. Mullholland is one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed composers and a frequent collaborator with his compatriot, Hill. His eclectic, lavish score forms an integral part of the work. While initially I had scrawled in my notebook, “Waterboys on holiday in Spain”, later entries included “Dead Can Dance”; “Radiohead”; “This Mortal Coil”; and “Bon Iver”. Using a combination of live instrumentation (piano, guitar, vocals) and loops, Mullholland’s music adds a whole other dimension of enjoyment to the show. And the fact that he looks like David Lynch doesn’t hurt.
But back to the dance. The Zone is a meditation on the ties of community that bind us in extreme events. Hill’s dancers are alternately survivors, rescuers, victims – or sometimes the elements themselves. From a packed mass of shivering, wailing bodies to a desperate cluster of grappling figures, pulling each other to safety, each dancer brings the storms to vivid life. They join forces against forces they cannot control; humanity jammed together in its attempt to endure. As you might imagine, much of the tone of the piece is frenzied, dancer’s bodies clamped together or blown apart. But it’s not all darkness…one of the messages Hill set out to convey was her awe at the common community spirit she witnessed. There is a particularly beautiful phrase in the latter third of the show when the music lightens and the dancers come together as a joyful ensemble. What’s more gorgeous than watching dancers in ecstatic unison, secret smiles betraying their pleasure at the act of dance?
Then it changes again. Mulholland’s score evolving into an exquisite Latinate mass, dancers chanting and moving as one. A sort of evangelical assembly of supplicants, shuffling around the stage in a cloud of voice. The dancers are all so good, so generous with each other, that it’s impossible to pick stand-outs. As the guest artist, Andrew Searle shines but I can never stop watching WA’s Mitch Harvey – this is in part because he’s so damn good and in part because he towers over everyone like a member of some super-handsome alien species. (As a tall person myself, I just don’t understand how it’s possible that someone of Harvey’s height can possess such mastery over his limbs.)
The work concludes with another exultant ensemble section, the dancers shifting in seamless unison to Mulholland’s punky rhythms. Finally, in a cheering, exuberant burst reminiscent of the glorious Batsheva Dance from Israel (Perth Festival 2014) we have a dance-off as the community celebrates its survival.
Hill’s team of dancers have never looked so confident, so easily proficient. In blending an exceptional musical score with evocative, dynamic movement Hill has produced a show that is as compelling as it is inspired. Go see it.
Image by Stefan Gosatti.