ensemble power

carl nilsson-polias: rogue: a volume problem, the counting, puck

Laura Levitus, Derrick Amanatidis, Danielle Canavan, Kathryn Newnham, Holly Durant, Sara Black

Laura Levitus, Derrick Amanatidis, Danielle Canavan, Kathryn Newnham, Holly Durant, Sara Black

Laura Levitus, Derrick Amanatidis, Danielle Canavan, Kathryn Newnham, Holly Durant, Sara Black


Byron Perry and Antony Hamilton, who are both dancers in Lucy Guerin’s Untrained, contribute their own choreographic turns for the first and second segments respectively. Compared with the fresh-faced members of Rogue, Perry and Hamilton must qualify as senior statesmen—with the exception of Harriet Ritchie, the ensemble all graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2006. The concept and choreography for the third and final section of the night’s offerings are credited to the ensemble as a whole, with Sara Black and Derrick Amanatidis stepping up to direct their colleagues.

Perry’s work, A Volume Problem, begins with a spotlit box wrapped in fake grass. Crowded around the box are the seven dancers, their hands darting across the greenery and then retreating. Fingers become legs, become bodies, become mouths. The images fold out and back in dexterously until two protagonists arrive in the form of disrobed speaker cones. Individuated from their familiar box and mesh habits, the cones are easily anthropomorphised with their central circle suggestive of a monocular perspective. Given a set of finger legs and the ever-propelling beats of Luke Smiles’ sound design, the speaker cones soon find themselves bounding about on the grass in harmonious stereo.

It is a beginning that echoes, with a touch more ornateness, the opening moments of Elbow Room’s excellent There (Melbourne Fringe 2008; p40). And, just as in There, this micro beginning bursts out of its frame when the speaker cones disappear and their character is transferred into the larger bodies of the dancers themselves; the contained box stage giving way to the stage proper. The dancers have their hair pulled back in simple ponytails and are dressed in grey shirts and black pants that give them an appearance of anonymity, androgyny and austerity—the focus is on movement, not bodies. The dance itself is steeped in the waves and beats of sound, with Smiles’ mastery of drum and bass composition a vital player.

As solos, duets and ensemble moments come and go, the figurative language of Perry’s choreography remains intact. Each body produces a beat and concentric circles of sound waves that emanate, propagate and overlap with those of others. The result is interference, both constructive and destructive, that either amplifies or mutes one’s partner. Towards the end, Ritchie and Amanatidis solo in isolation and then come together, the beat becoming that of their hearts and the very specific form of propagation that this entails.

Hamilton’s piece, The Counting, does away with Perry’s austerity from the outset. The costumes by Doyle Barrow, fluoro leggings and thin white cotton singlets, sit somewhere between Merce Cunningham and an American Apparel advertisement. The dancers, who have suddenly been given gender and sexual presence, are accompanied by an amazingly slappy bass line and undulate in unison.

Yet, despite its grinding sensuality, there is something very formalistic in Hamilton’s choreography here. He tweaks and replays movements and gestures with a modernist sense of purpose—seeking nothing more than a rediscovery of forms, of shapes and physical textures. There is no narrative or psychology to speak of, nor any of the impish fancy that characterised Blazeblue Oneline (RT85, p35) or I Like This (a collaboration with Perry, RT89, p12). Not that this is surprising per se because, as a dancer, Hamilton has always seemed particularly entranced by the quality of movement and this explorative instinct has made him one of the most formidably gifted dancers in Australia.

The final part of the night’s program is named after the prankster sprite Puck, though the arcade-like set by Anna Cordingley suggests that the title may well reference the video game Shufflepuck as well. The twin associations work well together because the piece, especially created for this Malthouse season, is all about interactivity. The rise of video games as an artform and medium of entertainment has dubiously, though nevertheless firmly, entrenched interaction as a byword for contemporary. The concept in Puck is that the audience, equipped with various noisemaking devices can, with the sounds they create, prompt certain responses in the dancers: go back to the beginning, change places, wiggle while dancing.

The effect of course is utter mayhem. The audience is put to the test in deciding how disruptive or respectful they want to be. But a fundamental paradox is set up because it is the disruption that creates the elements worth respecting. The form is inherently messy and prone to somewhat facile conclusions—in the end, all that can be affected is the pictures we see as an audience. While there are moments of exaggerated emotion, it will be interesting to see if Rogue can develop this cheerfully enjoyable concept into something that extrapolates more on the relationship between the audience and the performers, between the eyes and the bodies, between what is liked and disliked, where the stakes are almost as high as they once were in the interaction at the Colosseum. That could make for some real mischief.

Rogue, A Volume Problem, choreographer, costume designer Byron Perry, composer Luke Smiles, original set construction Anita Holloway; The Counting, choreographer Antony Hamilton, sound design Pansonic, costume designer Doyle Barrow; Puck choreography, performance Rogue: Derrick Amanatidis, Sara Black, Danielle Canavan, Holly Durant, Laura Levitus, Kathryn Newnham, Harriet Ritchie; Tower Theatre, CUB Malthouse, March 11-15; Dance Massive, Melbourne. March 3-15

RealTime issue #90 April-May 2009

© Carl Nilsson-Polias; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

14 March 2009