A nurturing Dancenorth

Bernadette Ashley

Dancenorth’s Tomorrow Makers is a deftly curated opportunity offered by Artistic Director Kyle Page to his Townsville ensemble to stretch their choreographic muscle. The program of five short works performed by five dancers included one by guest choreographer Paea Leach, a performer with Melbourne’s Chunky Move. None of the pieces demanded a single reading; all were deliberately open to interpretation, and the sense of freedom was palpable. “We are being supported to experiment and we might fail,” reads a collective program note from the choreographers.


Paea Leach, Body Like a Neon Sign

Leach’s Body Like a Neon Sign with its red lighting and initially stormy soundtrack (Flume: An Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music, Vol 3 by Fred Szymanski) produces a sense of impending disaster. Despite the large cubic space of the venue, the action is focused to the point of claustrophobia at times. Ashley McLellan, Georgia Rudd and Harrison Hall, dressed simply in androgynous black T-shirts and rusty jeans, relay anxiety as they cluster and stack themselves in co-supported shapes, open-mouthed and struggling to breathe—as though being gassed. Crying like curlews, they open the space in a cohesive trio, repeating turns and elegant extensions before clasping together again, like supplicants. They begin running, seemingly in panic, but the music changes and the heavy mood lifts. They pull their T-shirts over their heads, strip them off and don crowns of flowers and streamers. The warm lighting now suggests a summer festival sunset, but the lyrical, folksy sweetness of a Martha Wainwright song is playfully deceptive and short-lived as the chorus of “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” hits, just before the dancers meander offstage.

In her program note Leach writes, “For this work I drew from my current masters degree research into embodiment… the fact that we are multiple; holding, negotiating and provoking hugely divergent energies, states and presences within frameworks of form, lineage, our own personal embodied history and, of course, in relation to the larger (and aching) world.”

The work strongly suggested to me, in its first phase, an indeterminate suffering—a tone of despair and deep confusion permeating the global ether. The second phase seemed initially to embody denial, a flower child ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ response, but the song choice simultaneously undercuts the love-in with a robust and defiant ‘Fuck you!’ Leach worked my emotions across an unexpectedly broad spectrum. Dancer Ashley McLellan’s capacity to convey vulnerability through eyes and face as well as body was a decided asset to the immediacy and intensity of Leach’s creation.


Harrison Hall, Psycho: Act IV

McLellan also shone in Harrison Hall’s Psycho: Act IV, this time because of her exceptional physical precision and steely control of facial expression. Psycho is a vicarous journey into rave culture and, like a good dance party, builds slowly to controlled frenzy. Hall, McLellan, and Rudd were joined by Mason Kelly and Jenni Large under blue light, all wearing variations of white commercialised sports gear. The disconnected dancers each repeat their own set of gestures robotically and expressionlessly as the tempo increases, and just when the work is on the edge of becoming tedious, they suddenly create a series of crisp formations, smashing out perfectly synchronised semaphore while the bass pumps and the beat reverberates.

Changed positions during sudden brief blackouts keep the eye moving as does vintage footage of a horse seen onscreen galloping on a treadmill and again later in negative. The team marches forward, standing front and then side-on before commencing a series of high-kneed marching formations with sports shoes squeaking in time on the tarkett—an unnerving display of human dressage.

If achieving a bright rhythmic allure, Hall’s creation was coldly compelling, invoking a profoundly uneasy sense of contemporary alienation. Delivering the formidable precision and high energy demanded was a credit to the dancers; each, with gaze turned inward, appearing to not even notice one another.


Mason Kelly, Georgia Rudd, Together Indecision

Mason Kelly and Georgia Rudd’s Together Indecision starts with the duo so entwined and writhing as they move through the space that it’s difficult to know where one body ends and the other begins. Separating to charge towards one another and collide and reconnect, the work suggests something of the universal vagaries of relating.


Ashley McLellan, Free Dive

Ashley McLellan’s austere Free Dive, comprising solos by Hall and Kelly, is danced in silence, to focus attention entirely on the possibilities contained within movement, from minute detail to the full body.


Jenni Large, Baby Heaven Love Voice

Jenni Large’s Baby Heaven Love Voice features Kelly, Rudd, McLellan and Hall, wearing incongruous clothing, in a very likeable work with an unlikely soundtrack (Foreigner’s soft rock anthem, “I Want to Know What Love Is”). Between each repeated sequence the dancers swap items of their clothing, strip to black undies and, finally, each dressed entirely in another’s outfit, they invade and serenade the audience.

Tomorrow Makers was not flawless, but bold and absolutely pinging with potential. Kyle Page’s investigative rigour and insatiable curiosity have set the tone at Dancenorth, and supporting his dancers to take creative risks in these diverse works is a gift to the future of dance.

Dancenorth, Tomorrow Makers, direction, choreography Paea Leach, Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan, Georgia Rudd, Mason Kelly, Harrison Hall, dancers, Harrison Hall, Mason Kelly, Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan, Georgia Rudd; lighting design Thomas Roach; Townsville Civic Theatre, 4-6 May

16 May 2017