Breaking the rules

Susanne Kennedy: Stompin Youth Dance Company, Age of Consent

Lily Noonan and Sylvia Claridge, Age of Consent

Lily Noonan and Sylvia Claridge, Age of Consent

A radiant turquoise wall seeps pink light, warmly greeting audiences arriving for Stompin Youth’s latest dance work, Age of Consent. A futuristic vending machine requires us to speak into it before tickets are dispensed with a too soothing voice oozing automated menace. Extra-terrestrial lights crane above the hall’s tiered seating, to which we’re escorted and allocated age-tags. The space fills with urgent, automated whispers, sweeping us through a reverberating void.

The entrance wall of milk-crates is reconfigured to form 5 dividing walls on a central platform, each containing a peephole. The walls allow half the audience to partially view scenes played out before them, while the remaining half are privy to the uncensored version.

The vignettes—a girl dancing seductively in her room, young people venturing first touches, the surreptitious application of makeup, shotgunning a can—depict the forbidden in a voyeuristic form, while sound effects and voiceovers snake around the walls. In this way the work rotates and gradually unfolds on a spare yet cleverly devised set, reminiscent of Lars Von Trier’s Dogville and similarly functioning to bring the drama into sharper focus.

The set is suddenly and violently dis-assembled to the tense rhythm of a bouncing ball. Mattresses are introduced and the sexes divided. In a nice inversion, boys preen and groove in a nightclub while girls lounge and leer. As the night progresses, intoxication is conveyed in limp, puppet-like movement, accompanied by a slow, aggressive soundscape. Trouble could be just around the corner and there’s a sense of clinging eroticism, at once languid and intensely menacing. Voiceovers recounting bouncer/ID stories drop the intensity, but the energy rises again with a montage in which a progression of dancers is each asked to ‘act your age’ to dramatically different pieces of music.

Composer Luke Smiles manipulates electronic recordings live, dropping or accentuating layers in response to the energy of the performance. The symbiosis achieved between sound and choreography is one of the strongest aspects of Age of Consent and the director, Luke George, believes this is largely attributable to Smile’s considerable experience as a dancer.

Age of Consent emerged from an exploration of the written and unwritten codes that pervade and influence young people’s lives. A 12 month creative development involved 30 young dancers. Luke George says he was careful not to impose his stylistic preferences, preferring to shape the dancers’ own responses to the subject matter. The exception was the final sequence in which 2 groups of dancers move in formation to the rattling pulse of marching drums, but with an ironic twist. Influenced, he says, by the “highly objectionable Bitch Rock” band Peach, George introduced a defiant shoulder thrust, to represent the way it feels to ‘break the rules.’ Military elements gradually dissolve into ecstatic anarchy and Stompin’s trademark electric energy—a fitting finale.

Stompin Youth Dance Company, Age of Consent, director Luke George, sound Luke Smiles, design bluebottle; Pilgrim Hall, Launceston, May 6-9

RealTime issue #61 June-July 2004 pg. 49

© Susanne Kennedy; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2004
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