If _ Was _
Judith Wright Centre & Dancenorth
Judith Wright Centre Performance Space
June 23–25 2016
Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway
If Form Was Shifted is a virtuosic reflection of the thought process structured through group manipulation.
If Never Was Now is a surreal hive of buzzing activity reflecting the beauty and brutality of the natural world.
Dancenorth’s Artistic Director Kyle Page set choreographers Stephanie Lake and Ross McCormack a challenge, the end result of which is the double bill If _ Was _.
The challenge was for each to create a work of the same set duration, to sound selected from the same composition (by Robin Fox), using lighting from one design (by Bosco Shaw), and costume design based on one pattern (by Andrew Treloar). During the creation process, neither knew anything about the other’s work.
While these conditions might appear restrictive and likely to produce similar results, the works create very different impressions, McCormack’s dark and more introspective, and Lake’s vivid and full of energy. That said, they do have in common a robotic, ‘popping’ style of movement at times, and in both, the dancers seem to represent non-human creatures living in different dimensions of our world.
For the titles and themes of their works, the choreographers filled in the blanks. McCormack created If Form Was Shifted, which reflects group manipulation of the thought process, and manipulation of the body. Lake created If Never Was Now, a piece about creatures changing in response to a frenetically changing world.
The choreographers chose different segments and combinations of the electronic sound composition. These range from continuous reverberating chords, buzzing noises, repetitive phrases and beating rhythms, overlaid at times by bell sounds or beeping noises.
Each set of costumes creates a very different effect. The trackpants, singlets and shorts for McCormack’s work are dark and unobtrusive; for Lake’s, the dancers all wear trackpants (red with a white stripe for the men, and deep salmon with a red stripe for the women), the men are bare-chested and the women wear flesh-coloured bras.
If Form Was Shifted is the first work on the program. It begins and ends with four of the five dancers standing around speakers on the floor towards the back of the space, and a lone dancer downstage left. This lone figure is a male dancer at the beginning, and a female dancer at the end, echoing the theme of transformation.
The combination of the lighting and the dark costumes emphasises the dancers’ arms and their muscularity, particularly in the first solo, where the man’s hands with splayed fingers are a focal point. In another section, dancers contort their faces into rubbery grimaces. In the final grouping, the lone female dancer moves like a long-legged bird.
The most striking moments of the work involve the whole group moving as one organism, or one shifting aggregate of organisms, with the boundaries between individuals vanishing. Occasionally one dancer rises to the top of a huddle and continues to move on the backs of the other dancers, or is extruded from the centre of a group and reincorporated. The impression is of a constant flux or process of transformation.
The second work, If Never Was Now, opens with two dancers in a circle of white on the floor. The circle has texture, and I wonder what it’s made of – rice? sand? The answer is small polystyrene beads.
The circle is soon broken up by the dancers, whose movements sweep and fan the beads into different patterns on the floor, and into fluid drifts and flurries, with mesmerising effect. They also press the beads onto their faces and bodies as decoration, resembling dots of paint.
Changes in the lighting add other dimensions to the beads, different angles making them look like a relief map on the floor, or showing up every bead, while ultraviolet light makes them glow. Finally, a column of the beads drifts down over the one dancer remaining on stage, and as she sits and then lies down, her movements make the whole column undulate like smoke.
The movement in this piece is generally fast, with turns and jumps, grappling, stamping and running, as well as floorwork. The dancers appear to be creatures fiercely intent on living to the utmost. As in the first piece, their movement is birdlike at times, and they move like a flock at one point. Two dancers mirror each other in one segment, shimmying and increasing their range and speed of movement.
The Dancenorth dancers (Harrison Hall, Mason Kelly, Jenni Large, Ashley McLellan and Georgia Rudd) are strong and superfit. In both pieces, they show an incredible athleticism that really lets fly in Lake’s work.