Inner Utopias

Helen Omand

Restless Dance Company, Starry Eyed

Restless Dance Company, Starry Eyed

Restless Dance Company, Starry Eyed

Restless Dance Company’s Starry Eyed directed by Kat Worth, draws its audience into an intricate world of gestures where space and time intensify into a climactic, breathless question. Despite its title, Starry Eyed doesn’t entertain culturally constructed visions of glamour or false images of pop culture success. Rather the work trespasses into the inner world of dancers as they grapple with the dystopian reality of their own means of creating pathways, choosing directions and dealing with ambition. Starry Eyed asks, “What do we learn about ourselves while getting to where we want to go?”

This organic process is symbolised by the sound of a Tibetan bowl, played by composer Heather Frahn, which gently wakes the dancers. They begin breathing deeply as a continuous shower of dried rose petals falls. A small dance of breath initiated, falling, rolling, settling for a moment, suggests an unfolding universe. The sound of bells draws the dancers into densely-woven actions that suggest self-examination around past success and future survival: impatient finger tapping, caressing faces, heads shaking to rid themselves of debilitating self-talk, reclining contemplation. Low level falling, rolling bodies slowly fill the spaces left open by pockets of light. An ascending, reaching dancer breaks the hypnotic meditative state of shifting bodies.

A pulsing earth beat draws the dancers’ dreams to the surface as they sketch shapes in the fallen petals of past success. By moving the petals, the dancers map self-fulfilling prophecies, gazing into their momentary creations as if reading leaves in a teacup. Itchy feet glide through the petals, testing the water before taking the leap. They wind up with swinging arms, dusting off the past to prepare for the future. There are so many directions, which do you choose? The future is like walking blind. Perhaps if I run ahead I’ll catch it?

The soundscape grows denser as the pace builds. Live vocals beckon the dancers like a siren song, singing their dreams into existence. They respond but it’s not easy. Protective huddles are hurdled, sparks of ideas are pocketed, gestural pages turned. Dancers are stopped mid-stride and taken down. Movements become more automated as the bodies walk imaginary urban streets, punching imaginary time cards, avoiding eye contact, negotiating narrow footpaths at the edges of the space. It’s here I notice the uniform quality of Gaelle Mellis’ earth-toned costumes. Meanwhile, a solo of yearning, breaking free, reaching and falling captures the emotions of the race only to be stopped and returned to the fold. The residue of potential success is collected by dancers breaking from the controlled urban environment, carrying each other, catching falling bodies, gently easing them to the ground, messing up the space with running, sliding, falling down and getting back up. They end in a line across the front of the stage, lit dramatically by designer Geoff Cobham, telling personal stories. This chattering wall of a desiring mass is paradoxically juxtaposed with the invitation to share each dancer’s private thoughts.

Secrets made public abruptly stop. The lights swing, imbuing a sense of vertigo, exposing too much. The dancers slowly, delicately step backwards while looking tentatively at each other. Who will break out, who will succeed, who will fail? A brave duo falls out of line, triggering a climax of sound and movement. The relentless falling of petals and bodies is on. Dancers slide, fall and recover, greedily grab, stuff, roll and bathe in the flowery sea that symbolises reward and success—an act of resisting the dystopian world. The intoxicating perfume of petals hits me at this moment and, with the profusion of images and actions, triggers a heady mix of associations about memory, survival and emotion.

Starry Eyed, Restless Dance Company, director Kat Worth, composer Heather Frahn, lighting Geoff Cobham, design Gaelle Mellis; AIT Arts X Space Theatre, October 10-17

RealTime issue #58 Dec-Jan 2003 pg. 32

© Helen Omand; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2003