Dancing across waves

Philipa Rothfield experiences Contamination and Distance at Next Wave

Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck in Contamination

Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck in Contamination

Although Melbourne’s Next Wave festival is for emerging artists, not all its performers are all that young or, for that matter, emerging. Contamination was a case in point. Produced by Kage Theatre (Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck), elements of this piece had sophistication and polish. Firstly, the design of the space: the theme was white. White costumes, white walls, white light—the lighting beautifully enacted by Ben Cobham whose work I admire. This time, he erected a wall of white plastic road barriers stage left, and gave them a warm, cream glow. Secondly, in a flash of surreal inspiration, Denborough and Van Dyck had their fathers appear in a back room, dressed in cream lounge suits, play chess, read the papers, and offer the odd comment over the length of the piece. Thirdly, the opening: three performers (Denborough, Van Dyck and Shona Erskine, all highly competent) enter and hang themselves upside down from three meat hooks, twisting and twining with a refined beauty. A hard act to follow but follow it they did, with a series of short pieces consisting of dance, talk, and comedy.

Some of the pieces were lovely, some funny, some not. There was some fine material in the movement. Denborough and Van Dyck are obviously very comfortable with each other and all three performed some entrancing sections. At times, Erskine looked a bit excluded from the action of the piece. Her presence was not as luminous as it usually is, and I think this was because the choreography was largely composed by the Kage duo. I’m not sure whether her contribution was fully thought through. Although she performed a strong solo towards the end of the piece, she was also latterly relegated to the side of the space. Also, the comedy skits were largely between the other two who obviously have the theatre skills and enjoy bouncing off each other.

There were some genuinely funny moments, such as the intervention of Van Dyck’s mobile phone, the appearance of the two older men, preparations for some Afro-Funk groove, and a Meatloaf impersonation to the repetitions of a drum machine (the music was skilfully created and managed by Garth Skinner). Other cameos were not to my taste, dependent as they were upon our laughing at ungainly representations of suburban, working class people.

Contamination was a rich work, with vivid moments and kinetic finesse. Structurally, I don’t know what the whole piece was ‘about’ but I’m not sure that matters. Within the hour or so of performance, there were many interactions and actions which demanded a committed attention, and offered aesthetic pleasures. If anything, I would have preferred to see some of its shorter moments developed into longer considerations.

Damien Hinds, Viviana Sacchero, Helen Grogan, Fiona McGrath, Elise Peart, Emma Fitzsimons and Zoe Scoglio in Distance, Be Your Best

Damien Hinds, Viviana Sacchero, Helen Grogan, Fiona McGrath, Elise Peart, Emma Fitzsimons and Zoe Scoglio in Distance, Be Your Best

Whereas Contamination was not a work of emerging but emerged practitioners, Distance, Be Your Best was jam-packed with young artists with a horizon of future work. A collaboration between Danceworks (director Sandra Parker) and Stompin Youth Dance Company (director Jerril Rechter), Distance brought together two groups of young people from the two sides of the Bass Strait. Indeed, the slowly modulated video shown on the back wall had its dancers tread both beaches of this rough and stormy expanse.

The work began with the two groups of dancers at opposite ends of a very big concrete hall. Slowly, slowly, they worked towards each other, in time, weaving, threading, assimilating and finally, separating. Clothed in silver, red and grey, these vibrant movers performed for well over an hour. Their movements simple, dancerly and well-executed, they looked comfortable in themselves and with each other.

One of the themes was isolation, both urban and semi-rural. The choreography was such that a rich texture of singular but linked movement was established and maintained, conveying a sense of autonomy (many bodies working independently). Towards the latter half of the piece, a series of duets transpired…washing in and out like the sea. Up the back, two women danced solos (or was it a duet?) in front of video projections. And predictably, the two groups finally regained their distinct identities. If this was a work about isolation and distance (certainly its conditions of production bespeak geographic separation), then its participants did not look the worse for it. There is something refreshing about seeing a lot of young people perform with integrity and vigour. Perhaps it has to do with the constructive effects of a collaborative project—one that ultimately defeats the alienation and isolation that formed the initiating theme of the piece.

Contamination, Kage Physical Theatre, Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, May 22 – 31; Distance, Be Your Best, Danceworks and Stompin Youth Dance Company, VCA School of Art, The Unallocated Space, May 2

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 8

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 1998