Ethereal exchanges

Mike Bodnar: Polytoxic, Tradewinds

Leah Shelton & Lisa Fa'alafi, Tradewinds, Polytoxic

Leah Shelton & Lisa Fa’alafi, Tradewinds, Polytoxic

Leah Shelton & Lisa Fa’alafi, Tradewinds, Polytoxic

As the music for Polytoxic’s Tradewinds becomes more focused and takes on a simple piano melody, there is just enough sunlight remaining to make out the shape of two women in billowy white dresses walking on the surface of Darwin’s Waterfront Recreational Lagoon. These fairytale-like figures bend slightly to inspect a few of the many origami boats floating in the lagoon. Though they converge in the centre of their watery stage they don’t seem to notice one another as natural light gives way to the pale yellow and red projected onto their dresses.

Tradewinds is the work of Brisbane-based dance theatre company Polytoxic teamed with visual artist Samuel Tupou. By means of a submerged barge the two women seem to walk and dance on water while their elaborate dresses and the simple props they hold form screens for a dreamy laser show. This is an encounter between two women, perhaps two cultures, similar but distinct, brought together by the Pacific Ocean tradewinds.

There are times when the dresses are almost perfectly reflected in the water. The figures are bathed in liquid light that changes from purples and greens through to yellows and blues. The dresses and the umbrellas provide a surprisingly flat plane on which to project crisp and clear images of pigs, dragonflies and Polynesian patterns. Palm trees grow on the dresses and we see the dancers at times react to these animated figures.

The performance is set to a simple musical arrangement. Beginning with piano and xylophone it replicates the naïve demeanour of the characters interacting with their new surroundings. There is a bubbly, almost underwater theme to the melody that creates a feeling of levity and wonderment. That sound moves to a faster tempo and a more complex melody when the women, who have been moving on their own, reach out to touch, and as if in a mirror reflection, trace the other’s movements.

At one point the women exchange the hand-held fans they flutter, suggesting similar but distinct cultures. Though the fans are different shapes, they perform the same function and are used with ease. Similarly, the two move together in the same direction but never quite make a perfect reflection of the other until the motion and the music slow to end the show in the blue light of imagined Pacific waters.

To properly see the laser projections, the large crowd needed to gather in front of the performance. Some form of elevated seating might have enabled more people to enjoy it. Those fortunate enough to find a good spot were treated to a dreamy and ethereal spectacle worthy of a fine location.

5 September 2013