dance party art

keith gallasch: 180 seconds in (disco) heaven or in hell

Fondue Set, 180 Seconds in Disco Heaven or in Hell

Fondue Set, 180 Seconds in Disco Heaven or in Hell

Fondue Set, 180 Seconds in Disco Heaven or in Hell


The Fondue Set (Emma Saunders, Jane McKernan, Elizabeth Ryan) hosted with their trademark mix of wit, panache and gauche physicality, later leading their committed volunteer hoofers in the group dance they’d designed for the public at this year’s Sydney Festival. The sense of fun collaboration was typical of the night.

Six dance groups had been selected to work with six choreographers. The pairings had then been allowed a mere three hours to create a 180 second work to be performed on a large, raised stage amidst the requisite mirror ball sparkle and wafts of smoke.

Four of the creations provided the audience with fascinating ‘before and after’ perspectives. In a short prelude, the Natyalayaa Dance Company (Ushanthini Sripathmanathan, Asvini Rajasekaram, Hasini Wickramasekara) impressed with a demonstration of their classical credentials exemplified in supple and always surprising articulations of neck, shoulders and wrists and a fluid synchronicity of overall movement. This was followed by their collaboration with choreographer Byron Perry in which a host of classic disco moves were executed with the same verve and wicked smiles. The three bodies clustered as one and flowered into individual displays, and without suggesting Bollywood; this was something more distinctive.

Kita Performing Arts (represented by Sabrina Chou and Ruby Kao) demonstrated their classical skills with fans and twirling sticks before revealing their collaboration with Alisdair Macindoe. Here the focus shifted away from the skill-set to a more open expressiveness of the dancers’ bodies, propelling them dynamically around the stage and again revealing a sense of abandon. Like the Natyalayaa-Perry collaboration any sense of parody was kept in check by the dexterity and commitment of the two performers.

The Wickidforce Breakers entertained the crowd with quick serves of their hip-hop and break dancing skills before revealing, under the direction of Matt Cornell, a capacity to sustain moves and poses beyond fleeting moments of virtuosity. The piece was a reminder of just how much the forms have been explicitly and implicitly absorbed into contemporary dance.

Mel Rogers, Pure Welsh, Rishi Fox, Underbelly Dance

Mel Rogers, Pure Welsh, Rishi Fox, Underbelly Dance

Mel Rogers, Pure Welsh, Rishi Fox, Underbelly Dance

A popular highlight was choreographer Bec Reid’s tight-knit collaboration with Underbelly Dance (Mel Rogers, Prue Welsh, Rishi Fox). Underbelly first titillated us with some dextrous belly moves of the Middle-Eastern variety before disco-ing the formula, thoroughly integrating their quivering tummy balletics with showgirl verve.

Other groups simply offered their finished works. Panther (Madeleine Hodge, Sarah Rodigari) got down and drolly conceptual with a group of performers (Rob McCredie, Harriet Ritchie, Melissa Jones, Daniel Newell) who ogled the audience, wrote on cards with textas and offered the audience the inscribed words from disco song lyrics. VCA undergraduates collaborated with a couple of ornate armchairs on the creation of a circular, perpetual motion of bodies and furniture, odd couplings and erect posturings; shades of voguing. Finally, Kate Hunter added a dash of polished spectacle inspired, she says, “by Esther Williams, sharpie dancing and the Jazz Hand”, and choreographed to Amii Stewart’s Knock on Wood.

Between sets DJ Kelly Ryall and VJ Matthew Gingold kept the festive mood on the innovative boil and, after the performances, the impressively big-bandish Bamboos got the crowd dancing. Coming midway in the Dance Massive program, 180 Seconds provided just the right opportunity for audiences, choreographers, dancers and international presenter and producer guests to relax and take in some very different kinds of Australian dancing. The capacious and characterful Meat Market was ideal for the personal and collective narcissism of disco, while the event’s programming, with its artistry and lightly ironic distancing, made it much more a heaven than a hell.

180 Seconds in Disco Heaven or in Hell, Meat Market, March 9; Dance Massive, Melbourne, March 3-15

10 March 2009