WTF 2014 Brisbane Powerhouse
February 13 – 23 2014
OperaQ Studio & Dancenorth
February 21 – 23 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
“A beautiful, thrilling collaboration…more than opera, more than dance – ‘Abandon’ threw you back into your seat before pulling you into its arms.”
Kris Stewart, Brisbane Powerhouse Artistic Director
Bodies fly, voices soar and emotions run riot in this visceral new dance opera experience.
Abandon is the critically-acclaimed collaboration between Dancenorth’s Raewyn Hill, Opera Queensland’s Lindy Hume and classical accordion virtuoso James Crabb. Hume and Hill co-devised and co-directed the work and virtuoso accordionist Crabb created bespoke arrangements to accompany the soprano, alto and bass voices, which he perform on stage, underpinning each character’s emotional journey. Raewyn created five solo works with Dancenorth dancers France Hervé, Bradley Chatfield, Erynne Mulholland, Alice Hinde and Andrew Searle. At the same time, Lindy and James were working at the OperaQ Studio in Brisbane with singers Monique Latemore (soprano), Annie Lower (soprano), Elizabeth Lewis (alto) and Chris Richardson (bass), and cellist Teije Hylkema.
This is a unique production, so extraordinarily beautiful, which delves deeply into a specific form – the da capo aria form of musical composition – a form with a three-phase journey interpreting, analysing and exploring a single emotion in depth and complexity. Whether or not you’re familiar with the form, or with any or all of the arias from five of Handel’s operas – Tolomeo, Alcina, Acis and Galatea, Orlando and Hercules – the effect is extraordinary, bringing singers, dancers and musicians together on stage to reckon with the force of love and the loss of it.
The force appears to work largely on the diagonal, pulling and pushing the performers across the space, and across the floor, through “fragile” foam block walls constructed, and partially deconstructed by the performers, brilliantly designed for dancers by Bruce McKinven and lit by Bosco Shaw. (Are they foam blocks? They look like foam blocks). Raewyn Hill’s choreography creates stunning still and moving pictures. Incredibly physical, the movement is strong and raw, and it must require nerves of steel from the dancers as they thrust themselves backwards and forwards, literally throwing their bodies to the wind, as if they are propelled by something other worldly. Any fragility is reserved for solo work, and for the support of one another as the singers (operatically) croon in the centre of this incredible ensemble’s embrace.
This production highlights the need for performers to be adept in multiple disciplines, adding to the overall production quality and making each area of expertise all the more exquisite. These singers can dance, baby! In evocative shapes and shadows, the singers’ gestures echo the dancers’ movements, while they’re singing, sitting or lying on the floor, and standing or hanging across other performers or pieces of wall. (Talk about being show-fit!). But not only that, they each have a distinct feel for the space, and for the edge of it, and for their place in it, much more so than many stage actors, and vocalists who are taught so often now (and forevermore I fear) to claim the space, find their light, and look to the camera… Away from the cameras, in live theatre, there is still that magical space between performers and audience. It almost becomes tangible in Abandon. The feeling that you can reach out and grasp it comes too from Alistair Trung’s deliciously spare and layered and textured designs; the blacks, greys and luscious red wine tones cling and fall and drape and reveal…sensible shoes. This is almost a complete wardrobe for anybody who lovingly embraces their awareness of the ways the body moves, though of course, those who spend more time in Noosa than anywhere else would require whites as well. As such, this is not an overly dark production, despite its costuming, its themes and its cries of woe, until the conclusion perhaps, when one individual finds a way (or the will) to leave, or meets his end.
It’s beautifully packaged emotion – the absolute extremes of the highs and lows of human existence – that drives the fluid movement and informs the rich voices. There are a couple of delightfully light moments, very funny, thanks largely to the comedic skills of soprano, Annie Lower, whose character work is evident (I look forward to seeing her as Musetta), and there are a few raw moments that really capture the joy, grief, loss, jealousy, self-loathing and self-destruction of an intense love affair, all supported by projected lyrics, which we’d seen as one complete wall of text upon taking our seats. This, and not its caricature, is the sort of opera/dance theatre I love to experience.
More of this please, so more of us can live life less ordinary more often.