REVIEW: Brisbane Festival – Dance Australia

Brisbane Power Station
MONSTER ANGEL
Phluxus2 Dance Collective
September 16

ORIENTATION
Northern Dance
September 21

After two years of a rather sober programme, the Brisbane Festival was back this year with an effervescent selection of dance works, reminiscent of the pre-Covid years. Although none were international, five works represented some of the country’s best contemporary dance, including a cover by the daring Australasian Dance Collective Consequences, The eccentric and captivating Restless Dance Theater Gutterand uplifting Manifestchoreographed by Stephanie Lake.

Reviewed here are the other two proposed works, Angel Monster(Phluxus2 Dance Collective) and Dancenorth’s Guide.

Angel Monster premiered in 2019 as part of Brisbane’s Supercell Festival of Contemporary Dance and recently returned from appearances at the Edinburgh Festival. In an at times dystopian exploration of feminine and feminist themes, artistic director and choreographer Nerida Matthaei has woven stories and imagery into a collage of dance, theater and music (Andrew Mills) that draws inspiration from the #metoo and # idon’tneedfeminismbecause.

On a pushed performance space, seven cream fabric bags, resembling cocoons, hang above the five dancers, all of whom are wearing flesh-colored panties and bras. The spoken text, interspersed with grunts, sighs and laughter, combines with an abstract vocabulary of daily movement to weave a loose, image-rich narrative.

A wash of matching clothes spilling out of cocoons is used as a metaphor to explore female issues of empowerment, consent, violence and rape – dancers creating a collage of clothes on their bodies by wrapping various objects around them. In one section, the audience is invited to perform a geometric pose of the garment over space, and in another, the garment stretched over a dancer’s head appears to signify oppression and violence.

All the dancers were fully engaged in the work, which had moments of disturbing power. Hsin-Ju Ely was particularly notable for his technical mastery and powerful dynamics.

Angel Monster’s rigorous exploration of the feminist agenda, is undoubtedly valid; however, sometimes a lighter touch would have been welcome.

Dancenorth’s Guide was undoubtedly the highlight of the Brisbane Festival dance programme. Choreographers Amber Haines and Kyle Page – a formidable duo – have created a work that is inventive in its conception and execution.

Wayfinding, a term coined in the early 20th century by urban planner Kevin A. Lynch, recognizes the importance of the environment in navigation. Orientation, or navigation by the sun and stars, has of course been a practice for centuries in First Nations cultures.

Haines and Page drew on this evocative theme of finding a way to create an extraordinarily vibrant work that sings positively with joyful energy. A bespoke eight square meter inflatable stage supports dancers, allowing for more creative exploration of movement vocabulary, including off-center flips, and jaw-dropping hanging moments, all beautifully mastered. It takes the concept of a suspended floor to a whole new level.

A frenzied opening by seven dancers in colorful pants and tops (design by Hiromi Tango) to the techno rhythm of a sound score compiled by Bryon J. Scullin, in collaboration with Hiatus Kaiyote, is suddenly and literally floored by a huge cascading jumble of cord knits in vibrant primary colors. As an indication of the amount of thought and detail applied to the design of Guidethese 70 kilometers of cords, from salvaged wool, were created during a series of knitting sessions in Brisbane and Townsville, in a nod to the theme of orientation, but also, according to the program notes, as a “celebration of heart, body, connection, and community”.

It was a real collaboration and Niklas Pajanti’s lighting added to the liveliness, including several brief moments of strobe, which fracture the dancers’ movement, the flickering effect creating another visual dynamic. The placement of 100 light and sound beads (Pajanti in collaboration with Scullin) throughout the auditorium, when held by the audience, created another immersive layer to the work.

The seven dancers were spectacular in their athleticism, but a haunting Marlo Benjamin solo of liquid fluidity was a highlight. Seemingly boned, she moved off the ground and back down, sliding and rolling in a motion that had no beginning or end.

Guide has a sort of psychedelic 1970s hippie vibe and (some minor timing issues with the lighting notwithstanding) was contemporary dance at its most engaging.

–DENISE RICHARDSON

Gerald R. Schneider